It’s a foregone conclusion: When it comes to food, kids like it simple. If my kids had their way, they would eat the same thing, every single meal: Breaded chicken tenders dipped in honey….anyone else???
Making lunches for my two older girls, who are in preschool and kindergarten, proved to be a bit of a challenge at first, especially for my younger of the two, who happens to be extremely picky. So finding simple foods that not only travel well for school but are also quick for me to make in the morning AND are lunch approved came to be quite the task, until I figured out a few things:
1. My kids adore “Lunchable” style meals
Perhaps it’s the presentation factor, but my kids LOVE Lunchables. When we would take long car trips, we would be sure to pick up a few of them for the kids to snack on during the trip. The kids would look forward to eating it, constantly asking when they could have their Lunchable container (even if we had just eaten a meal previously!)…and get this, they would actually eat it. All of it!
This got me thinking that I could easily make a “Lunchable” type meal myself, with things I already had on hand (such as cheese, deli meat, fruit, crackers, veggies, dips, etc.) saving on the convenience upcharge and a few unhealthy ingredients as well. I think what my kids love about the presentation also is the fun setup, where the ingredients are separated into their own little compartments, and they can choose to eat each ingredient individually, or create a masterpiece of their own.
So the next step was to find tupperware that has little compartments for keeping all the ingredients separate! What I found are these durable (read kid-proof) “bento style” tupperware sets like this that fit the bill.
2. Kids don’t mind trying SLIGHT variations to their favorite meals
For example, switching out a dipping condiment, such as ranch for honey mustard, gives a different feel to a meal without overhauling the whole experience. Also, using a rollup (a few types are listed below) to perhaps introduce a new vegetable, like cucumbers or cherry tomatoes, again without rocking the boat too much is a great idea to keep the kids satisfied and trying new things, without feeling like you are serving the same meal, ALL the time.
So here’s a fun list of 11 simple and quick meals, many of which can be packed in a Lunchables style presentation, that can be put together for the kids’ school lunches (or dare I say it, even prepped the night before!) If your kids are slightly adventurous, there are few options to take things up a notch for their taste buds. Enjoy!
***Note: Food blog this is NOT, so I won’t be showing professionally photographed, perfectly prepped meals in this post. This post is all for meal ideas to help you keep your sanity during the morning rush. However, as I create these lunches for my kids, I will be sure to snap a picture (with my phone) and update this post!
11 Simple Fun School Lunch Ideas For Kids
1. Baby Carrots, Deli Sliced Turkey, Cheese And Crackers
Keep it “Lunchable” style by taking the sliced turkey and cutting that into quarters then stacking it, along with the cheese (or simply used shredded cheese). Or, maybe your kids would like to wrap the baby carrots up in the sliced turkey and create a rollup! You can also add a stack of crackers into the mix here to make mini sandwiches.
2. Tortilla Chips, Salsa, Cheese Cubes
This has more of a snack-feel to it, but just throw some corn tortilla chips into a bag, and then mild salsa (my kids LOVE salsa!!) and cheese cubes into a divided tupperware dish…you know, to keep the wet salsa from touching the dry cheese, which would be a distaster!
3. King’s Hawaiian Roll or Slider-Size Bun With Cheddar Cheese And Grapes
When she’s feeling particularly picky, Hawaiian Rolls are all my 4 year old will eat, with nothing on it. Nothing! But if you also have a child that is averse to eating meat, using Hawaiian Rolls takes the cheese sandwich experience up a notch. The sweetness of the roll mixed with the savory cheese makes for a delicious no fuss lunch. This can also be dressed up with deli meat as well. Add a side of grapes or cucumbers with ranch dip on the side to round out the meal.
**Tip: I think the Hawaiian rolls or “slider” sized rolls are better for smaller kids because I find that regular sized sandwich bread gets wasted, or half eaten. You can always make more sandwiches for bigger appetites. I usually send my kindergartener to school with 2 or 3 of these, however my preschooler will usually just get one, maybe 2.
4. Mini Pitas with Marinara, (Optional) Pepperoni, And Shredded Mozzarella
Another idea from “Lunchables” that travels well. Send this separated out into a divided tupperware container and the kids will have fun making pizza at lunch. If your kids don’t like or don’t eat pepperoni, try sending sliced black olives as a fun topping instead. The olives might also be a good option for the adventurous eater as well!
5. Ham (Or Turkey) Cucumber And Cheese Rollups
These grain free rollups are a great way to let kids realize that food doesn’t have to be centered around a simple carbohydrate like bread. Cut a cucumber in half, and then slice each half into quarters lengthwise. Take any type of deli meat (my kids prefer honey ham) and a slice of cheese and roll both around a slice of cucumber. Don’t forget to send a side of ranch dressing for dipping! You could also experiment with a smear of cream cheese instead of sliced cheese as well.
***Note: Tofurkey has vegan deli meat in the produce aisle that looks, acts, and tastes just like regular deli meat. That would be a great swap for vegan/vegetarian kids! And in the same aisle if you are lucky, you should be able to find vegan cheese. My favorite brand is Vegan Chao Slices by Field Roast. I have tried two of the three flavors (original and tomato cayenne pepper) that are currently out, and I love them both. Yum!!
6. BBQ Rotisserie Chicken, Cheddar Cheese And Lettuce Wrap
Rotiserrie chicken is so versatile in that it can be eaten hot or cold. Take a tortilla wrap and spread some barbecue sauce on it. Reheat the chicken (optional-this will get the cheese to melt a bit), let it cool, then add some shredded cheddar cheese, and a squirt more of barbecue sauce. If you trust your kids to eat it, keep the lettuce separate so they can simply unfold a small piece of the wrap, add in the lettuce, and wrap it back up in order to keep the sandwich and lettuce from getting soggy. Otherwise, dry the lettuce really well, add it to the wrap, but send the barbecue sauce on the side for dipping at lunch time.
7. Romaine Lettuce, Cucumber, Cheese Cubes and Ranch
Yes, that’s a salad…and yes you can sneak it in on your kids for lunch, and they will enjoy it! On certain days I let my kindergartener buy lunch, and 9 times out of 10, she now willingly purchases a salad…(I know, I can’t believe it either!) And her love for salad has rubbed off on the 4 and 2 year old, who now always ask “I want want some lettuce with the white sauce on it please!” (The baby however is still suspicious of anything green besides avocado.)
I find romaine lettuce travels well, keeps its crunch, and is a less intimidating green than kale or spinach. (Whatever you do, avoid iceberg, it barely has any nutritional value, and just isn’t worth it!) If you buy bagged chopped romaine that is already pre-washed, you don’t have to worry about drying it out, but if you buy it whole and chop it yourself, take the time to dry it out really well before sending it in their lunch. Add sliced cucumber or celery and cheese cubes (and maybe some croutons?) into the divided tupperware along with ranch for dipping. You could also throw in some grilled chicken chunks for the kids who have heartier appetites.
8. Sliced Apples, Cheese And Crackers
Another snackish type lunch, but I find that most days my kids will graze on snacks rather than actual meals. And apples and cheese go together so deliciously!
If time permits, slice the apple width wise to create thin apple discs. You can then use these to stack cheese on to create an apple and cheese sandwich. Otherwise save time (and possibly your fingers) and get an apple slicer and corer (usually found in the produce aisle right by the apples). This will slice one apple into 8 sections and take the core out all in one action. Simple and easy!
9. Cucumber Discs, Smoked Salmon And Cream Cheese
I know, smoked salmon can be a bit pricey (and is definitely for the adventurous eater!) But of course, 2 of my 4 kids hunt me down for my smoked salmon every time they see me sneaking a piece from the fridge.
You can save money on smoked salmon by buying it from a wholesale club like BJ’s, Costco, or Sam’s Club, as opposed to the grocery store which gets really pricey for a small amount.
This is another great meal to dip, stack, and smear all to their little heart’s content. The smoked salmon can be subbed out for ham, smoked turkey, or prosciutto even!
10. Peanut Butter & Jelly Swirl With Crackers And Grapes
This is a spin on the standard PB and J sandwich. Whenever we do this, my kids devour it. Simply mix the peanut butter and jelly together into a nice swirl, until you notice it looks fairly smooth (try to work out those jelly globs if you can!) The kids will have fun scooping the mix up with crackers. Serve with grapes, mandarin oranges, or an apple sauce pouch.
11. Sliced Avocado, Cucumber And Ham Rollups
This is another one for the slightly adventurous eater. You can sub in smoked salmon, prosciutto, or any other deli meat for the ham if preferred. Scoop the avocado meat from its skin, then slice the avocado length wise. Slice the cucumber into quarters lengthwise as well. This will make it easier to wrap the meat around both. These travel well, so you can prep these at home and send them to school with the kids ready to eat if preferred.
***Tips: Prep where you can, pay for convenience when needed or preferred. For example, with cheese, I hate shredding it myself. I absolutely despise it. So I don’t mind buying shredded cheese, but I also don’t mind making cheese cubes, so for that I will buy a large block of cheese and chop away.
For veggies such as cucumbers, those can also be prepped a few days in advance (sliced into discs or cut lengthwise into “fry” shapes) and will stay good in the fridge. With carrots, on the other hand, I prefer to buy a large bag of baby carrots and just portion out as needed from the big bag, rather than peeling and cutting up larger carrots.
Also, be sure to keep extra servings of whatever you make on hand to give to your little ones who are still home with you for their lunch as well!
What are some simple but fun lunches you make for your kids?