School Lunch Ideas

School lunches become boring if you make the same thing day after day.  Here are some very easy ideas to build a child’s nutritious school lunch with finger foods that kids normally love.

Remember that for some of us, the kids are little; that is, preschool age, so we are trying to make food interesting and fun or they may well not bother eating it.

  1. Bagels and Cream Cheese.  Use reduced fat cream cheese and whole wheat bagels or seeded bagels. Use one large bagel, or maybe better for little kids, bagel bites or large bagel cut into triangles, then include as many as your child will eat. Resist the temptation to include jelly, if possible, or try low-sugar jam.  Try one of the nut butters below for variety.
  2. Grilled Cheese That Gets Eaten. Make a simple grilled cheese sandwich in a frying pan or griddle. Butter the outside of the bread slices and lay the cheese slices between them. On med-low heat, grill the sandwich only until the cheese is melted.  Cool a minute and then cut the sandwich into small triangles and package up. It’s the finger-food triangles that kids like. Vary the cheese for variety.
  3. Mini Pizzas. Toast one side of a bagel and spread a light layer of pasta sauce on top.  Sprinkle with Jack Cheese, Mozarella Cheese, or better yet, Pepper Jack Cheese, and broil for 3 minutes or microwave for 1 minute. When cooled, put in a lunch box or (make sure it’s cooled) plastic container.
  4. Peanut/Almond/Macadamia Nut Butter Sandwiches.  Kids love peanut butter, so the PB&J definitely has a place in the school lunch box. Nut butters provide heart-healthy fat and protein. On whole grain nut bread, it is a great lunch!
  5. Remember that almond butter and macadamia nut butters vary the flavor and bring in additional nutrition. Nut butters are a much better source of heart-healthy protein than processed meats! Trader Joes always has wholesome, inexpensive nut butters available. Use reduced sugar jellies—inside the sandwich, little Johnny won’t know. Variation: instead of jelly, mash a banana and butter the sandwich with banana.
  6. Face it, lots of kids hate crust, and there’s no extra nutrition in crust, so use a cookie cutter to cut out a fun-shaped nut butter sandwich that he or she will want to eat just because of the shape.
  7. Fresh Fruit in a great way.  Rather than just filling a bag or container with fresh grapes, use toothpicks to make a character, like a caterpillar (grapes strung in a row) or a larger fruit in the middle and head, arms, and legs of grapes tooth-pick’ed on. Allow the toothpick to stick out a bit so the kids will see they’re there or use colored toothpicks to draw their attention.
  8. Hard Boiled Eggs. Cook the eggs the night before. Peel the egg, salt it, and put in a snack bag. If the kids are older and can peel their own egg, the snack bag still goes along as the place to put the egg shell. Little salt and pepper packets are nice but not essential.
  9. Apple Slices that don’t yellow.  Kids eat more apple if it’s sliced but not tarnished. In a half glass of water, mix in a half a teaspoon of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). (You can buy powdered forms in some grocery stores and online.) Slice the apple into wedges and remove the core. Mix ¼ tsp. of the ascorbic acid in a glass of water. Dunk slices into water briefly, which won’t allow the fruit to tarnish, but by lunch time, it won’t taste too sour, either. Remove apple slices and let air dry for a minute before putting them in a snack bag or container. Your child will get a little extra Vitamin C for lunch!
  10. Hummus and fresh vegetables.  Kids introduced to hummus early will learn to love the taste.  Put a heaping tablespoon of hummus in a small plastic container with a tight lid. Wash and put in a plastic snack bag: fresh carrots, sliced green sweet peppers (or orange or yellow or red), raw green beans, asparagus, broccoli, celery, or lettuce slices for dipping.  It is important to buy only organic celery, which is at the top of the EWG Pesticide avoidance list each year.  EWG Pesticide List
  11. Fruit and Nut Butters.  Put a heaping tablespoon or two of peanut or any nut butter into a small container with a tight lid. Pair that with sliced apples, bananas, grapes, apricots, pineapple, Asian pears, or virtually any fruit so your child can dip the fruit into the nut butter. If the fruit tarnishes, dip it in ascorbic acid for a second first. Add a plastic knife for the clean kids to scoop with and a big paper towel for the little sloppies who will dip in their fingers.
  12. Leftover pizza. Most kids will love cold pizza, cold hotdogs, etc. Pair them with fresh, brightly colored raw vegetables.
  13. Sliced meats. Roll up slices of cooked ham or beef into tubes and stick a toothpick in them to keep them rolled. Can be eaten as is with raw veggies on the side.
  14. Pita and Hummus.  Most kids love hummus. Cut pita breads into slices and put hummus in a separate compartment of the plastic container. Add sliced veggies and dip everything in the hummus.
  15. Delicious Bean Salads.  Make this the night before! Combine several kinds of cooked beans (and lightly cooked, sliced vegetables) with a dressing made from olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, dash of prepared mustard, fresh or dried herbs, touch of cumin, a little soy sauce, etc., as you would make a salad dressing.  Mix or shake the dressing well and mix into the bean dish. Send it to school in a plastic container with a spoon.  Shop yard sales for extra spoons if you prefer not to use plastic. If they don’t bring the spoon home, it’s only a quarter down the drain.
  16. Cooked Rice and Bean Salad.  Combine the cooked and cooled rice and beans with the dressing above for a whole protein, delicious lunch. Add the small, diced frozen vegetables (thawed) for the veggy serving.
  17. Homemade burritos.  Spray a burrito wrap lightly with water and lay on a plate. Put grated cheddar cheese, beans and or rice on top and microwave for 1 min.  After, add shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes. Wrap up in tin foil as you would a burrito and go.  Put in a plastic bag if there’s too much moisture or take the juicy parts out of the tomato first.
  18. String Cheese and Crackers. Kids seem to love string cheese but you have to show them how to open the package the first time.  Older kids can eat 2. Whole wheat crackers and raw veggys complete a great and simple lunch.
  19. String Cheese and Corn Bread.  Make a simple corn bread and put 2 slices in their lunch with 2 string cheeses. If you aren’t bothered by the sugar, cut open the corn bread pieces and put a light layer of honey on each side. If they’re warm, put butter on each side instead of honey. Stick them back to together and package up for lunch.
  20. Naan and cheese (or hummus).  Trader Joes has packages of Naan bread (whole wheat and curry—both great!).  “Butter” it with spreadable cheese, like spreadable feta, cream cheese, Brie, or any of a million flavored cheeses.  Fold it over  so the cheese is inside and package up for a nice lunch or snack. Add fresh, sliced raw carrots.

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