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Here are easy, proven cold lunch ideas from a pediatric dietitian mom that make packing lunches easy while ensuring your child enjoys balanced, nutritious, and fun meals at daycare, preschool, or grade school.

A six image collage of easy healthy cold lunchbox ideas for kids.
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I find packing cold lunchboxes much easier than packing hot lunches. Mornings are hectic as is and I could do away with the extra step of heating food and ensuring it stays warm until lunchtime.

Cold lunches also offer more flexibility in terms of preparation. You can assemble sandwiches, salads, and snacks ahead of time or pull items such as baked goods, frozen yogurt (here’s how to freeze yogurt), fruit, and pouches straight from the freezer!

Not to mention, my kids schools don’t offer the option to reheat lunch.

While peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a classic favorite, there are plenty of other delicious options to explore. Here are some fun ideas to help get you started!

Packing Tips for Cold Lunch

  • Pack the night before, if able. the longer it stays in the fridge the longer it will stay cold when taken out of the fridge.
  • Get an insulated, soft-sided lunch box (here are the best lunch boxes for toddlers and kids) and use at least 2 cold packs (one on top and one on bottom of lunchbox).
  • You can also freeze water bottles. Fill it about 1/4 full and lay on its side to freeze. This is especially great for those with narrow openings. In the morning fill it to the top with water and pack alongside the lunch box!
  • Prepare cooked food (e.g. chicken, vegetable, pasta) ahead of time so that they’re chilled in the refrigerator (make sure it’s set at 40°F or below).
  • Put the most perishable foods right next to the ice pack.
  • Freeze foods like sandwiches, muffins, fruit, squeezable yogurt tubes, applesauce containers, etc. to keep the food cold.

Easy Cold Lunch Box Ideas

#1 – Banana Sushi

pb banana roll ups in a blue lunchbox with sliced zucchini, bell peppers, apple slices, edamame, and beet hummus.

Spread peanut butter (or any nut butter of choice) or sunflower seed butter onto a tortilla, add banana, roll it up, and slice!

I know it may sound strange, but I like to add some grated carrots or zucchini in the mix too. Here’s how to make veggie banana sushi.

Tip: Add frozen edamame straight from the freezer. It will thaw by lunchtime.

#2 – Vegetable Roll Ups

roll ups in a blue compartmentalized lunch box with parsnips and clementine.

These veggie roll ups are super easy to make and customizable! I like to spread Thai peanut sauce over the tortilla but you can use hummus (like this beet hummus or broccoli hummus), cream cheese, sugar free pizza sauce, or whatever you have on hand!

Same goes for the vegetables and protein. You could add leftover rotisserie chicken, ground beef, tofu, chopped hard-boiled eggs, mashed beans, etc.

And here’s how to make any pinwheel sandwiches.

Fun Cold Lunch Ideas for Kindergarten

#3 – Banana French Toast Sandwich

Banana French toast and Jelly Sandwich in lunch box.

My kids LOVE this banana French toast for breakfast! And with leftovers, I turn them into sandwiches with cream cheese and no added sugar strawberry jam filling. It’s a delicious change of pace from plain bread.

#4 – Cheese Waffle Sandwich

You only need two ingredients to make these yummy cheese waffles, with an optional third for adding vegetables or toppings. They’re so tasty warm, but my kids enjoy them cold too!

Spread some mashed avocado or your favorite spread and turn them into sandwiches. Serve with fruits, vegetables, and crackers to round out the lunch.

#5- Pancakes + Eggs

Spinach pancake sandwich with hard boiled egg, raspberries, butternut squash, hummus, and fun shaped zucchini and carrot pieces in a green lunchbox.

Try any of these healthy pancakes for babies and toddlers!

You can simply add the pancakes as is or turn them into sandwiches by spreading peanut butter or sunflower seed butter, Greek yogurt, mashed avocado, jam, mashed beans, etc. and then pressing another one on top.

You can do the same thing with waffles too!

And here’s how to freeze pancakes so you’ll always have them on hand.

#6 – Broccoli Bites

Broccoli bites and mini burger in bento box.

These broccoli bites are simple to prepare, loaded with nutrients, and provide a great protein boost. They freeze well, so you can make a batch ahead of time. Just thaw them in the fridge overnight, and they’re ready to pack cold or heat up briefly for a quick lunch.

Nutritious Kids Lunch Ideas

#7 – Curry Chicken Salad

Deconstructed curried chicken avocado salad.

You can make sandwiches and wraps with this simple curry chicken salad. However, they tend to get soggy when prepped in advance. So instead, try serving deconstructed with sliced bread, pita, naan, quinoa tortilla, or even crackers!

#8 – Vegetable French Toast

sliced vegetable French toast, frozen edamame, watermelon, broccoli, and yellow bell pepper strips in an aqua kid's lunchbox

If you’ve never tried savory French toast before, oh I can’t wait for you to try this recipe! It’s such a great way to use up leftover vegetables in a form that your child will love.

There’s no need to reheat. In fact my son actually prefers it cold!

#9 – Vegetable Omelette

Vegetable omelette triangles.

Think of this as a cross between a vegetable omelette and a pancake. Feel free to customize this by using whatever vegetables you have on hand and herbs and spices.

Easy Lunch Box Ideas

#10 – Rice Balls

6 chicken rice balls with carrots and cucumber.

The great thing about these rice balls is how versatile they are. You can mix cooked rice with any ingredients you have available, such as leftover chicken and vegetables, to create a fun, portable, and easy-to-eat option. You can even make them larger to resemble jumeokbap (Korean rice balls).

#11 – Egg Oatmeal Balls

Oat balls with chickpeas.

The addition of eggs makes the oatmeal creamy and fluffy while boosting nutrition! Be sure to whisk it really well before mixing it in to oatmeal. I like to shape into balls to make them finger friendly.

#12 – Pesto Pasta

pasta tossed in pesto with cubed chicken and raspberries in stainless steel lunchbox.

Pesto pasta is flavorful, convenient, customizable, and a balanced cold lunch! Here are some veggie-loaded pesto recipes to try:

#13 – Deconstructed Pasta Salad

This is a great option if your child doesn’t like mixed foods. Pack a lunch box with separate containers or compartments containing cooked pasta, some type of sauce or dip (here I’ve added mango salsa), protein, fruit, and fresh veggies.

Pictured: spinach muffins

The second example is deconstructed pesto orzo salad. Notice the tiny piece of salmon for exposure. That’s because my daughter is learning to like it and seeing too much can be very intimidating.

#14 – Healthy Cold Lunch Idea – Pasta with Veggie-Loaded Sauces

A four image collage of tomato free pasta sauces.

Speaking of pasta, here’s a collection of veggie-loaded pasta sauces without tomato that will elevate your child’s lunches.

#15 – Healthy Cold Lunch – Sweet Potato Patties

Patties in a school lunch box with ricotta, peaces, cucumber, and bell peppers.

Made with sweet potatoes, quinoa, cheddar cheese, and almond flour, these sweet potato patties are filling and delicious! They freeze really well too. I like to pack alongside yogurt or some type of dip, crunchy veggies, and fruit.

Quick Kids Lunchbox Ideas

#16- Sweet Potato Tots

Sweet potato tots with hardboiled eggs, peaches, tomatoes.

You just need 4 ingredients to make these flavorful sweet potato tots! Pack alongside hard-boiled eggs (or other protein of choice, like tofu , chicken, or beans), fruits, and veggies.

#17 – Crackers and Cheese

Crackers and cheese lunch box.

Simple. Familiar. Always a hit! This was for my preschooler so adjust the quantity depending on your child’s needs.

Here are the best crackers for babies and toddlers

#18 – Muffins

A sliced vegetable muffin in a school bento box with shredded chicken and watermelon.

Muffins are a great cold lunch option! Include a protein, fruit, and a packaged snack.

Here’s a master list of healthy muffins for babies and toddlers.

Healthy and Fun Kids Lunch Ideas

#19 – Mini Pizza

3 mini pizzas with blueberries and extra sauce.

These mini pizzas are so fun and are the perfect size for lunch boxes. If your child hasn’t had cold pizza, I suggest serving it at home first so they can get used to it.

My kids weren’t a fan at first but now they love it!

#20 – Mini Bagel Sandwich

Mini bagel sandwich, cantaloupe, and cherry tomatoes in a stainless steel lunch box.

Here are some iconic, as well as unique, bagel toppings or fillings to try!

#21 – Butternut Squash Cream Cheese Sandwich

butternut squash cream cheese sandwich.

This is such a great way to use up leftover cooked butternut squash! And here’s the ultimate list of sandwich ideas for kids.

#22 – DIY Nachos

This lunch idea is super fun and your kid’s going to love it! And you’re going to appreciate how quick it is to assemble. It’s such an engaging meal option that encourages creativity, customization, and a balanced combination of flavors and nutrients.

See the recipe card below for guided instructions.

More School Lunch Ideas

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5 from 1 vote

Cold Lunch Ideas – DIY Nachos

Here's a list of easy cold lunch ideas to spice up your child's lunchbox! With these ideas, you can introduce exciting new flavors and keep your child's lunchtime experience enjoyable and diverse.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Servings: 1
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  • 1 serving tortilla chips
  • 1/4 cup protein (black beans, shredded chicken, ground beef)
  • 2 tablespoons shredded cheese
  • 1/2 cup vegetables (cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots, lettuce, etc.)
  • 2 tablespoons guacamole, salsa, or sour cream
  • 1 small apple or fruit of choice


  • Pack all the components in separate compartments of bento-style lunch box.


This is your DIY nacho lunch box so have fun experimenting and customizing it! 


Calories: 380kcal | Carbohydrates: 56g | Protein: 11g | Fat: 15g | Fiber: 12g | Vitamin A: 865IU | Vitamin C: 20mg | Calcium: 147mg | Iron: 2mg
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About Min

Thank you so much for stopping by! I am Min, a Registered Dietitian, a Christ follower, a wife, and a mom to our two miracle babies! Currently, I’m having a ton of fun feeding their tummies and sharing our baby led weaning journey! Follow me on Instagram if interested in seeing daily menu as well as tips and tricks.

5 from 1 vote (1 rating without comment)

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