Like adults, kids get tired of eating the same meals over and over. Yet, trying to be creative with lunches five days a week for the entire school year can add up to a lot of unnecessary stress.
If you’re like me, I often find myself last minute, scanning the shelves of my open fridge or pantry for a spark of inspiration, only to fall back on an old faithful. A sandwich, a wrap, the basics. They work – but I’d love to offer some variety into the mix of school lunches.
In an effort to help ease lunch-making, I’ve compiled a list of creative school lunch ideas that are easy to make, many ahead of time, and easy to pack, for lunchtime wins at least a few days per week.
Sandwich Kabobs/Fruit Kabobs
Think sandwich on a stick and make use of whatever meats, cheeses and veggies your kids like. Great things to include are cherry tomatoes, avocado, hard-boiled egg, cubed cheese and meat. Or get a little sassy with some grilled tofu, peppers and feta. Arrange on a skewer, trim off the sharp end and you’re done! A fun and healthy lunch for your little one.
Muffins in their original, meant-to-be-sweet form are always great for lunch, especially if you’ve added in some ground flax, chia seeds or grated veggies. Try expanding on the traditionally sweet muffin with a savoury variety. The internet is full of great recipes for lunchtime options that are always a hit with kids and easy to make. Some winners in my home are lentil and veggies (full of protein!); ham, cheese and red pepper; tomato, spinach and feta; and cheesy veggie.
Think of this as a charcuterie board for kids. Little bits of healthy additions make for a fun and colourful lunch. Go for seasonal fruits and veggies like strawberries, grapes, carrots, snap peas, and cucumbers. Then add some extras like pickles, a protein option like chickpeas, grilled tofu, cubed cheese or meat and a sweet treat for dessert.
English muffin or naan bread mini pizzas
This one’s pretty self-explanatory and a huge “yes” with kids every time. English muffins are great for soaking up the pizza sauce and naan has a wonderful texture that kids adore. Add your kids’ favourite pizza toppings and bake! Easy to make ahead of time and who doesn’t love cold pizza?
Kids love their noodles, so take this classic and give it a twist with variations like edamame or lentil pasta for an extra punch of nutrition. Some favourites in my home are Greek style with cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers; BLT avocado style with bacon, lettuce, tomato and cheese; or apple and broccoli. Add in some homemade ranch or other simple dressing and get ready for smiles.
Another favourite that can easily be made ahead of time and enjoyed at room temperature. Choose your ground meat, like these turkey meatball bites, or if you’re looking for a vegetarian option, try a chickpea or ground tofu recipe. Variations include Greek style with ground chicken, dill, Greek seasoning and spinach; Thai style with garlic, ginger, lime juice and panko crumbs; or chicken parmesan style, stuffed with cheese. Mmmeatballs!
Sunflower butter and banana burritos
Easily made the night before, these are a favourite with my kids. Grab your favourite wrap, add a thin layer of sunflower butter and thinly sliced bananas – make sure you don’t overstuff – and fry lightly on both sides on until golden brown. Let cool before packing into your child’s lunch so they won’t get soggy. Variations include ham and cheese; almond butter and jelly; brie and pear; or cream cheese and strawberries.
Veggie pita pockets
A nice alternative to a sandwich, small kid-sized pita shells can be filled with a ton of yummy veggies for an extra special lunch. Try options like apple and goat cheese; chickpeas, chopped tomato, lettuce and feta; cheddar, pickles and lettuce; or strawberries, banana and cream cheese. Any leftovers and veggies will work here and will keep little tummies full and happy.
Mac and cheese balls
An easy twist on a classic, mac and cheese balls are easy to eat as hand-helds, travel well and delight kids of all ages. Add chopped broccoli or some red or green pepper for extra nutritional benefit and flavour. These are easily frozen and can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days. You can bake them, fry them or simply chill your leftover mac and cheese and form into balls. Easy, peasy mac-and-cheesy!
Muffin tin pizza bombs
I have a hard time resisting these little yummies. A variation on the traditional hot pocket, these can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge or freezer. You can either make your own or buy your dough, which I highly recommend to help you save some time. Divide it into 12 pieces and fill with your favourite pizza toppings (check out the tons of recipes online like this one). Bake in a muffin tin prepped with cooking spray; top with some grated parmesan cheese and let cool before packing. Delizioso!
Your kids’ school lunches don’t have to be fancy or complicated to make them happy and leave them satisfied. Simple is often best, so add in fruits and veggies where you can, try some variations on common favourites, and make some meals ahead of time. Lunchtime will no longer mean stress time!