School Lunch Ideas for Kids That Go Beyond PB&J

Even your picky eaters will love these ideas!

As we gear up for another year of making school lunch, you might be feeling the sack lunch burnout before it even starts. These are our top two essential components of a school lunch: 

  • 1. (Mostly) Nutritious
  • 2. Things kids will actually eat (versus including things that make us look like good, healthy parents)

Using those criteria, here are seven lunches that your kiddos will enjoy. Bonus points if these ideas prevent you from feeling frustrated and throwing whatever you have in the pantry into a brown paper bag. 

Chicken and waffles

If an entire restaurant concept is devoted to something, it is worthy of our attention. You can either crank out waffles yourself or buy frozen mini waffles  and pop them in the toaster. Gluten-free options abound in both mixes and frozen varieties. 

The beauty of the chicken is that you can use anything from chicken nuggets to leftover chicken parm fillets. Cut into chunks and place atop a mini waffle or 1/4 of a full-size waffle. Add a side of syrup for dunking or drizzling.

Taco bar

We would eat tacos every day for lunch if we could, and this is an easy way to use up your leftover Taco Tuesday ingredients in a Wednesday taco bar lunch. 

Use a Bento Box or a box filled with silicone cupcake liners to separate out the taco base (tofu taco crumbles, ground beef, taco-spiced quinoa) and fixings. Try adding one extra thing that they don’t usually take from the table at home in hopes that maybe they will give it a taste at lunch. Things to try: scoop of guacamole, sliced radish, pickled onions.

Add small corn or flour tortillas in a reusable silicone bag.

Wrap it up

Make a nut butter, apple and granola wrap that is a little pocket of crunchy goodness! Take a wrap (whole wheat, gluten-free, corn tortilla, pita, the list goes on), spread your favorite nut (or nut alternative) butter on one side, and add thinly sliced or chopped apples and a sprinkle of granola.

You can grill it like a quesadilla or wrap it like a burrito. Either way, this protein and fruit packed treat probably won’t make it back home on the return trip!


The most beautiful thing about quiche is that it can be served hot, cold or room temperature. You can also use up leftover chunks of cheese, meat, or veggies to make a custom pie that will please your kiddos.

Make quiche for dinner, then pop it into their lunch the next day. Ham and cheddar is a popular combination, but you can also add items that your kids don’t eat on the daily, like sun-dried tomatoes, asparagus or butternut squash. 

Homemade Lunchables

For a fun Friday treat (and an easy way to clear out your fridge and pantry), fill your child’s Bento box or sectioned lunch container with a strategic, mostly nutritious assortment of snacks and small bites. Include fruits and veggies with dips, snack crackers, lunch meat-and-cheese toothpick skewers and, of course, a dessert! 


If your kids are bored of basic sandwiches, take your deli meats, cheese, leafy greens and veggies and make pinwheels! Simply layer your preferred sandwich fixings on a tortilla or pita (whole wheat, gluten-free, take your pick!) and roll it up! Slice the wrap into 1/4 in. bite-sized “pinwheels” and secure with a toothpick. 


The key element to sending soup is having a leak-proof thermos that your child actually brings back home.

What soup to serve? Well, one that they will EAT is the first requirement! Chicken noodle is a family fave, but homemade Spaghetti O’s that include hidden veggies in the sauce, lasagna soup and broccoli cheddar soup to use up leftover veggies from the night before are all kid approved. 

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Chicago Parent Editorial Team
Chicago Parent Editorial Team
Since 1984, the Chicago Parent editorial team is trained to be the go-to source for Chicagoland families, offering a rich blend of expert advice, compelling stories, and the top local activities for kids. Renowned for their award-winning content, the team of editors and writers are dedicated to enriching family life by connecting parents with the finest resources and experiences our community has to offer.


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