5 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, I am sure you feel the sack lunch burnout before it starts. Here are the must-haves in a lunch for my children: 

  • 1. Mostly nutritious
  • 2. Things my kids will actually eat (vs. things that just make me look like a good mom for including)

That’s about it. Here are five lunches that with (a reasonable amount of) certainty will not make me default to a brick of cheese in a brown paper bag.

Chicken and waffles

If an entire restaurant concept is devoted to something, it is worthy of my attention. You can either crank out waffles yourself or buy mini waffles frozen 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

I would eat tacos every day for lunch if I 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. I like to try 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

You can 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.

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


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 I have even made homemade Spaghetti O’s that they love (and they include hidden veggies in the sauce). I adore broccoli cheddar soup to use up leftover veggies from the night before, and lasagna soup has been hit as well.

Handpicked by Cheryl Leahy

Cheryl Leahy is a savvy, millennial mom of two who knows how to show her kids a good time with a lot of style. Follow more on Instagram or visit alldressedupwithnothingtodrink.com.

Handpicked is a section in our bi-monthly magazine where we feature local and influential parents, and ask them to share bits of fun, inspiration and cool finds for you. Know someone that would love to contribute? Email us at editor@chicagoparent.com.

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