Here are healthy lunch ideas for kindergarten and beyond that don't require reheating. Simply follow the basic formula below to make packing a well-balanced lunch box a breeze!
Basic Formula for Packing a Healthy Lunch box
When packing lunches, rather than thinking "what foods should I include," which is very broad and can feel overwhelming, first categorize the foods by food groups.
Then using the formula below, select at least one food from each of the categories.
Using this approach will make incorporating a variety of foods simple and doable while ensuring your child gets the nutrition and energy they need.
Protein/Fat + Complex carb (e.g. whole grains, beans, lentils, starchy vegetables) + Fruit and/or Vegetable
The Best Lunch Box for Toddlers and Kids
Having an appropriate lunch box that suits your child's age, appetite, and food preferences will make your lunch packing journey so much easier and enjoyable.
Here is a list of good-quality, well-designed lunch boxes for toddlers and kids perfect for daycare, preschool, or grade school as well as road trips and outings.
Healthy Lunch Packing Tips
- Aim for balance. Not every single lunchbox has to be perfect, but do aim to include at least 2 components from the formula mentioned above.
- Consider your child. Include at least one safe food that you know your child will eat. If they like their bread, veggies, etc. cut in a certain way, honor their preferences.
- Get your child involved. This is something I've been working hard on lately. It's so much easier for me to do everything by myself, but my toddler absolutely loves to help out in the kitchen.
- Ask your child. Keep in mind though, you don't want to give them too many choices. Offer just TWO choices from the same food group. For instance, "would you like pasta or bread? Banana or raspberries? Chicken or beans? They're more likely to eat what they chose.
- Try at home first. Try not to pack a completely new food as your child may find it intimidating.
- Start serving dinner leftovers cold or at room temperature at home. This also includes foods that are normally eaten warm. You may be surprised to find that they taste fine without being reheated. With repeated exposure your child won't have trouble eating them at school.
- Don't give up! There will be days when the lunch box you packed comes back hardly touched for whatever reason. Don’t panic or get upset. Rather, the best thing you can do is keep offering a variety of foods with their food preferences in mind. Your child will get the nutrients they need to grow and thrive over the course of days and weeks.
How to Keep Lunch Cool
I personally don't like to bother with warming up food or packing in a thermos. Therefore, all of the ideas below can be enjoyed cold with these tips.
- Get an insulated, soft-sided lunch box 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 ¼ 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)
- Keep cold foods in the refrigerator until the last minute before packing.
- 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 School Lunch Ideas for Kids
Here are 4 main categories with specific foods that pack well in lunch boxes. By all means, you don't have to include all 4 options into every single lunch.
If you find yourself in a lunch rut, I hope this list makes it easy for you to mix and match an endless number of combinations!
You may also be interested in healthy Lunch Ideas for Daycare or Preschool.
And if you are in need of healthy school snack ideas, I've got you covered as well ;).
To make things even easier for you, all of these options contain protein, fat, and complex carbohydrates. So all you need to do is pick a fruit and/or vegetable. And just like that, you have a balanced meal.
But if you'd like to see specific food items for these 3 food categories, check out my Master list of snack tray ideas!
Note: If your child's school is peanut or nut-free, seed butters are great alternatives.
- Peanut butter and banana roll ups
- Pizza quesadilla
- Bean and cheese quesadilla
- Cream cheese (or ricotta) and strawberry (or other fruit) quesadilla
- Mashed sweet potato cheese quesadilla
- Pancake sandwich
- English muffin pizza
- Deconstructed tacos with meat or beans, cheese, mild salsa, and tortilla
- DIY lunchables with meat or tofu, cheese and crackers
- Dry cereal with cheese or eggs
- Pesto pasta (here's a nut-free broccoli pesto recipe)
- Veggie nuggets
- Bagel and cream cheese
- Master list of Sandwich Ideas
- Salmon quiche
- Salmon patties
- Deconstructed breakfast tacos with scrambled eggs, beans, cheese
- 5 minute Breakfast sandwich with freezer sheet pan eggs
- Hard boiled eggs + crackers
- Grilled cheese with store-bought or homemade hummus
- Wrap (try serving deconstructed. For example, shredded chicken with pesto, sliced tortilla)
- Pizza eggs
- Chickpea veggie patties
- Veggie French toast
- Plain Greek yogurt and granola
- Yogurt and cereal or sliced bread to dip
- Veggie Omelette
- Oatmeal balls
- Baked oatmeal
- Broccoli hummus pasta
- Zucchini pesto pasta
- Plain pasta with cheese and/or beans
- Dinner leftovers
- Apples (and applesauce)
- Mandarin oranges
- Melons (honeydew, cantaloupe, watermelon)
- Freeze-dried fruit and canned fruit in 100% juice are also great options
Tip: Frozen is just as good as fresh fruit. Add straight from the freezer as it will help keep food cold. It will thaw by lunch time.
- Bell peppers
- Butternut Squash
- Celery (try ants in a log!)
- Snap peas
- Sweet potato
- Cherry or grape tomatoes
Healthy School Lunch Ideas
Here are the actual lunches I packed for my son. I used the exact list above and aimed to incorporate an item from each of the categories as much as I could.
As a visual person, I find seeing photos of what other mamas pack for their child very helpful. I want to emphasize that this is not meant for comparison.
If you'd like to see more ideas: 60 Healthy Lunch Ideas for Kids
Tip: These cookie cutters are a great way to make veggies fun and exciting!
Zucchini pesto pasta + chicken + fresh berries
Vegetable tortilla roll ups + clementine + roasted parsnips
Roasted cauliflower and chickpeas + cereal + persimmons + whole wheat bread
Mini bagel and cream cheese + cherry tomatoes + cantaloupe
Deconstructed easy chicken salad (added cilantro instead of carrots) + pita bread + apple + tomatoes + frozen peas
Butternut squash and cream cheese sandwich + carrot and cucumber sticks + raspberries + frozen edamame
Cheddar cheese and crackers + peaches + cucumber
Enchilada chicken + corn tortilla + cheese + avocado + mangoes + broccoli + cucumber
Vegetable oatmeal balls + chickpeas + peas + strawberries + mangoes
Plain pasta + cheese + baked veggie nuggets + cantaloupe
Vegetable omelette + sweet potatoes + freeze-dried strawberries
Peanut butter chickpea sandwich (recipe below) + spinach muffin + hard boiled egg + apple + butternut squash
Did you make this recipe? Leave a rating below and let me know how you liked the recipe! Your feedback means so much to me!
Lunch box Idea for Kids - Peanut Butter Chickpea Salad
- 15 ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- ¼ cup peanut butter, room temperature (or any nut/seed butter of choice)
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- Bread of choice
- Mash the chickpeas in a bowl.
- In a small bowl, combine peanut butter and cumin. You may need to add a little bit of water to thin it out.
- Add to chickpeas and stir to combine. Spread onto your bread of choice.
- Can use any nut or seed butter of choice
- Any white beans will work
- Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Spinach pancakes and cream cheese sandwich + hard-boiled egg + fruit/vegetable
- Banana pb hemp seed roll ups + frozen edamame + beet hummus + fruit/vegetable
- Zucchini pesto pasta + chicken + fruit
- Vegetable tortilla roll ups + fruit + vegetable
- Vegetable French Toast + frozen edamame + yellow bell pepper + steam roasted broccoli + watermelon
- Mini bagel and cream cheese + cherry tomatoes + cantaloupe
- Deconstructed easy chicken salad (added cilantro instead of carrots) + pita bread + apple + tomatoes + frozen peas
- Butternut squash and cream cheese sandwich + carrot and cucumber sticks + raspberries + frozen edamame
- Vegetable oatmeal balls + chickpeas + peas + strawberries + mangoes