School Lunch Ideas and Snacks for Kids

If your kids are tired of the same old peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in their lunchbox, we have some great school lunch ideas for the upcoming school year!

School Lunch Ideas

My kids like to pick out their own lunches (and I like one less chore to remember)!  Before we go grocery shopping, I ask the kids to write down two choices from each category below.  Then, we clean the fruit and veggies and sort them into servings ready for their lunch boxes. This makes it easier to grab servings for their lunches, and we always make a few extra for on-the-go snacks. These are great ways to give kids responsibility and get them involved with mealtimes.

Investing in a good kid-proof thermos is also a great way to keep foods hot or cold and can spark some creativity into their lunchtime routine. Given the choice, you might be surprised at how adventurous and inspired your kids will become! Below, find some of our favorites:

Fruit for School Lunches

  • Fresh berry mixes (blueberry, raspberry, strawberries sliced)
  • Dried cranberries or raisins
  • 100% fruit leather roll ups

Vegetables for School Lunches

  • Bell pepper slices
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Cucumber slices
  • Cherry tomatoes

Protein for School Lunches

  • Cheese sticks
  • Chicken breast slices, oven-roasted turkey, and low-fat salami
  • Yogurt (add your own fresh fruit)
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Almond, cashew, peanut butters; Sunbutter is nut-free. Great spread on a tortilla or on celery sticks!

Grains for School Lunches

  • Air-popped popcorn with parmesan cheese or cinnamon sugar
  • Whole-wheat waffles, bagels and tortillas
  • Homemade oatmeal granola
  • Overnight refrigerator oatmeal (add chia seeds too)
READ
Searchable Preschool and Daycare Guide for Families in Chicago's Western Suburbs

Lunch Ideas

  • Homemade “Lunchables”: Instead of the pre-made version, give your kiddos a round cookie cutter and some slices of meat and cheese. This way, they can choose the meats, cheeses, and crackers themselves and you know that it’s a better deal—all the way around! My kids love low-fat salami, provolone, and whole wheat crackers.
  • Breakfast for Lunch: Whole wheat waffle sticks with fresh berries and yogurt for dipping and a hardboiled egg with sliced bell peppers on the side.
  • Dippers Delight: Are your kids “dippers”? Mine will try almost anything as long as they have something (ranch, hummus, and yogurt are favorites) to dip into. My oldest was totally against bringing soup for lunch until I asked if he wanted to bring grilled cheese to dip into the tomato soup. Now it’s a favorite!
  • Deconstructed Tacos: Seasoned ground beef kept warm in a thermos; chopped tomatoes and avocados, shredded cheddar and a side of mild salsa with tortilla chips for dipping. Apple slices with almond butter for dessert.
  • Farewell to Wonder Bread: We got tired of regular bread sandwiches that were easily “smushed” in the daily rush—and I hated cutting the crusts off. My kids love tortilla wraps instead. Some favorites tortilla wrap combos are peanut butter, raisins, and banana slices; turkey, cheddar, and green apple slices; and hummus, avocado, and red bell pepper slices. I love lettuce chicken wraps with shredded carrots and cabbage, too!
READ
Searchable Preschool and Daycare Guide for Families in Chicago's Western Suburbs

Snacks for Kids

Crackers or chips may seem like an easy fix, but empty carbs will have your kids cranky and back for more food in no time. Before sports practice or a long day, my kids do their best with a mix of fiber and protein to keep them going. Make sure you check your school guidelines before sending any snacks to the classroom; a few of these snacks may contain nuts, dairy or egg. 

1. Hardboiled eggs and cherry tomatoes

2. Slices of green apple and cheddar wrapped in ham slices

3. Greek yogurt with fresh fruit on top (I throw frozen mixed berries on top of the yogurt- easier to keep on hand)

4. Homemade guacamole (we mash avocado and lime juice together) and pita chips

5. Hummus and sliced green, yellow and red bell peppers

6. Homemade “trail mix”- we use dried cranberries, raisins, popcorn and chocolate chips

7. Raspberries with a mix of white and chocolate chips tucked inside

8. Avocado slices rolled in a slice of turkey

9. Celery and sunbutter sticks- add raisins on top if desired

10. Squeezable fruit pouches

11. Cucumber slices with veggie cream cheese

12. Baked apple chips recipe here or homemade kale chips recipe here

13. Clementine wedges and pear slices

14. Plantain chips and raisins

15. Dried strawberries: Place washed strawberries on a baking sheet at 210 degrees for 3 hours.

READ
Searchable Preschool and Daycare Guide for Families in Chicago's Western Suburbs

16. Grapes and pretzel sticks

17. Squeezable yogurt tubes

18. Mini pancakes with a smear of cream cheese and strawberries

19. Cottage cheese with blueberries

20. Homemade fruit leather (only two ingredients!) recipe here

21. Pre-made cheese, black bean and bell pepper quesadillas (served room- temp or cold) with sour cream or guacamole on the side as desired

22. Kid-approved  lettuce wraps- we use butter lettuce pieces with a mixture of corn, shredded carrots, black beans, avocado chunks tossed with ranch dressing as the filling

23. Cauliflower and broccoli florets with mini ranch dipping cups

24. Yogurt-covered raisin boxes

25. Carrot and apple oat cookies recipe here

26. Rainbow fruit kabobs- make sure there are no sharp ends! (Strawberries, mandarin oranges, pineapple, kiwi, blueberries, red grapes).

27. Homemade “lunchables”: colby jack cheese cut in circles, pepperoni slices and round crackers

28. Broccoli cheddar bites recipe here

29. Strawberry and banana slices skewered with pretzel sticks

30. Banana slices on a popsicle stick, dipped in dark chocolate and frozen

31. Cheese (we like Babybel rounds) and apples

Hopefully these ideas will help you break out of a snack “rut” and get you and your child trying some new fruits and veggies!

Did we miss your child’s favorite lunch or snack? Leave a comment below, or better yet: tag your Instagram lunch with #mykidlist so we can see your creative ideas!

You can find more great resources on our Resources for Families page!

About the Author

Liz Haskins
Liz is a mom of three equally active and adorable sons, aged six, eight and twelve. As a child, her family moved to Western Springs from Central Illinois, and she and her husband are thrilled to raise their own family here. She works two days a week as a medical assistant, so she tries to fill her time with the boys outside of school with activities that they can all enjoy. This winter, they’ve enjoyed swimming at a few indoor pools, and the boys love going to zoos and children’s museums. In the summer they love to do anything outdoors; they try to hit a different park every week! Their go-to for indoor days are open play spaces that have a range of activities to accommodate her children’s age differences. Outside of being a mom and working, Liz’s passions are photography, reading, and, as an extrovert, she loves meeting new people and connecting over mutual interests.

1 Comment on "School Lunch Ideas and Snacks for Kids"

  1. Thanks for going over these school lunch ideas. I’m glad that you mentioned that could have the option to pick the kind of meats, cheeses, and other ideas to have in their lunch. It could be a fun activity that you guys can do together too when planning the lunch, and come up with some different combinations to try out.

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