If you’ve been on the hunt for fresh and fun kids’ lunch box ideas, you’ve found the perfect spot. I’ve spent years crafting, testing, and refining an abundance of delicious, nutritious, and kid-approved lunches for my picky eaters. Now, I’m here to share my favorite lunch box ideas with you, conveniently grouped by age range. So, read on for some great kids’ lunch box ideas to try throughout the school year. In addition to sharing my kid’s favorite meals, I will also share my three favorite lunch boxes that my kids have used through their stages and ages.
Welcome to the ultimate guide full of my best ideas for packing your little ones’ lunch box! If you’re a busy parent seeking inspiration and practical advice on what to pack into your child’s lunch boxes – you’ve landed in the right place. As a Mom of two, I understand how challenging it can be to come up with a variety of healthy, tasty, and kid-approved meals every single day. There’s nothing more disheartening than your kids coming home from school with a full lunch box that you spent 20 minutes making with only one bite missing.
That’s why I’ve pulled together my tried and tested school lunch box meals. I wanted to give you some ideas broken down by age range, to help take the guesswork out of your meal prep routine. From toddlers to teens, I am diving into everything from finger foods and fun snacks to hearty, balanced meals that will keep their energy levels up all day.
So whether your little one is stepping into preschool with their first lunch box, your middle-schooler is navigating the day with a practical brain-boosting meal in mind, or your high schooler is balancing their appetite with a stackable lunch box, I’ve got a menu of delicious and nutritious lunch box ideas for every stage. Let’s make lunchtime the highlight of their day!
Tips For Making a lunch box your kiddos will eat
- Engage Your Kids & Let Them Choose: When it comes to brainstorming lunch box ideas, what better way to get a sense of what your child will eat than by encouraging your child to be part of the lunch box preparation process? Let them help choose fruits, vegetables, and snacks at the grocery store. Involve them in assembling their own lunch boxes, allowing them to make choices within the guidelines you’ve set. By involving them, they help you come up with ideas, and you’ll not only save time but also foster their independence and make lunchtime more enjoyable for everyone.
- DIY Assembly Station: Set up a designated lunch box assembly station in your kitchen. Arrange a variety of ingredients like sliced veggies, cheese cubes, whole-grain crackers, and mini sandwich fillings. Let your kids get creative by choosing and assembling their own snacks or mini sandwiches. This hands-on approach will make lunchtime more interactive and enjoyable for them.
- Food Art Fun: One of the most creative lunch box ideas is using art to transform lunchtime into a fun eating adventure! Encourage your children to create food art by arranging their fruits and veggies in fun shapes or patterns. They can use cookie cutters to shape sandwiches or create fruit skewers with colorful combinations. Not only will this ignite their imagination, but it will also make their lunch boxes more visually appealing.
- Balancing Act: Use lunch box preparation as an opportunity to teach your kids the art of building a balanced meal. By presenting them with multiple sections or compartments in their lunch boxes, encourage them to include a variety of foods. Guide them to understand that each section represents a different food group – be it fruits, veggies, proteins, or grains. Let them know it’s not just about having one favorite food in excess, but enjoying a little bit of everything. This way, they’ll understand that every food group brings its own unique nutritional value to the table, and that variety truly is the spice of life. With this approach, they’ll soon learn to appreciate diverse flavors and enjoy a well-rounded, nutritious meal every lunchtime.
How to make packing lunches easier on you
- Plan Ahead: Take a few minutes each week to plan your child’s lunch box menu. You can make things easier by jotting down ideas that come to you on a whim for later reference. Consider the likes and dislikes of your children, and try to incorporate a balance of protein, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Make a grocery list based on your menu plan to ensure you have all the ingredients on hand.
- Batch Cooking: When thinking up lunch box ideas consider what your child will eat in bulk! Spend some time on the weekends or during less busy days to batch cook and prepare ingredients in advance. Cook a big batch of chicken or roast vegetables that can be used in different lunch box meals throughout the week. This way, you’ll have ready-to-use ingredients that can be quickly assembled into a variety of lunch options.
- Get Creative with Leftovers: Don’t let leftovers go to waste! Repurpose dinner leftovers into delicious lunch box meals. For example, turn last night’s grilled chicken into a tasty wrap or transform cooked pasta into a refreshing pasta salad. It’s a great way to save time and reduce food waste.
- Invest in Quality Containers: Invest in a set of high-quality, compartmentalized lunch containers. Bento-style containers are particularly useful as they allow you to pack different food items in separate compartments, keeping them fresh and appealing. Opt for leak-proof containers to prevent any messy spills, and choose containers that are easy to clean and dishwasher-safe for added convenience.
lunch box ideas video
Picking A Lunch Box For your Child
First things first, deciding how or what you’re going to pack your child’s lunch in!
Selecting the right lunch box for your child can be just as important as the wholesome food you pack inside. It’s not just a container – it’s a personal dining space, a tool for nutrition, and an expression of their individuality. It also makes a difference in what lunch ideas you’ll choose to make. In the sections to come, we’re going to delve into the world of bento-style lunch boxes – a fantastic choice for organizing and presenting food in a fun and appealing way.
I’ll walk you through the various styles suited for different age groups, their unique features, and how to pick the one that’s just right for your kiddo. From compartments designed for tiny toddler hands to stackable containers for hungry teenagers, I’ve got all the insights to help you make the best choice.
Things to consider when buying a lunch box
Below you’ll find some of my thoughts on what type of lunch box works best based on the age range your child is in. This is based on my experience with my own kids with the lunch boxes that made the most sense for them and the food types and quantities most suitable for them during that growth stage.
- Kids Lunch Boxes (3-7): This age group is all about finger foods and variety. You’ll notice the lunch boxes I prefer for this age group have five mini compartments to encourage kids this young to try different foods, textures, and tastes.
- Meal Prep Lunch Box Set (ages 6-10): The lunch box I used for my kids during this stage is actually a meal prep container that was practical for their age and provided ample space for a sandwich, fruits, veggies, and snacks.
- Stackable Lunch Container (ages 9-15): When kids get bigger, they may find themselves wanting more substantial meals at lunchtime. That’s what I love about these stackable lunch containers because they are portioned to provide kids with a full meal in the main compartment, along with smaller compartments for sauces, dips, veggies, fruits, and nuts.
Lunch box brands I love
Everyone wants to know what the best lunch boxes are for kids. I’ve tried so many different kinds over the last 9 years since my oldest started going to school. There’s a lot to consider when picking your kids’ lunch box, including the age of the child, their meal preferences (hot or cold), and the amount and variety of foods they like to eat. My kids have used these four lunch boxes: Yumbox Lunch Box , Bentgo 3-Pack Fresh Pack, Bentgo Stainless Steel Leak Proof and Omie Lunch Box.
This post, though, will feature three lunch boxes, all by Bentgo, because I’ve found it useful to stick with one company and graduate the kids through their different lines of bento boxes. The three lunch boxes featured here and detailed below include:
- Young Children’s Lunch Box
- Meal Prep Lunch Box Set
- Stackable Lunch Container
young kids lunch box
Just like the Yumbox Lunch Box that my kids used when they were in pre-school, this Bentgo is the perfect size for tiny tummies and slow eaters. I love that it’s lightweight and compact with an easy-open latch, so it fits nicely in their backpacks or even in a standard-size thermal lunch tote. Then there’s a leak-free lid, which means you can put salad dressing in one of the compartments or yogurt and not worry about it leaking out. With this lunch box, there’s no need for zip lock bags, multiple containers, plastic wraps, and snack packs…all the lunch is in one compact container…so easy, so cute, and so fun!
Meal prep Freshpack lunch box
While there’s a regular Bentgo lunch box, it’s very similar to the Yumbox one, and my go-to is the Bentgo 3-pack Fres Pack. It’s a leakproof lunch box system that works for older children and adults. It has 3 compartment trays with a removable divider, so you can customize it to create 4 compartments instead. What I like about it is that for the price, you get three lunch box containers instead of just one. So, you can essentially prepare three meals in advance, each with its own meal tray covers, and then transport the meals in the main lunch box whenever you’re ready. This works great if you’re batch prepping on Sunday evening with items that can last 3-4 days in the fridge.
stackable Lunch box
Now that my kids are entering 7th grade and 5th grade, they have really been loving these stackable lunch containers, which are great for bigger appetites and even perfect for adult lunches if you want to double up. The great thing about them is the two areas that allow for a salad, pasta salad, or sandwich at the bottom, along with toppings, snacks, or condiments on the top. In fact, one of the compartments has a small Tupperware with a lid that’s perfect so salad dressings, nut butter, or dips.
Lunch Box Ideas and Recipes for Every Age
Now that I’ve covered how to choose the perfect lunch box, it’s time to fill those compartments with colorful, tasty, and nutritious meals. In the upcoming section, I’m ready to spill the beans (literally and figuratively!) on the most loved lunch box ideas and recipes for every stage of your child’s life – from toddlers to high schoolers.
Think beyond the traditional sandwich; I’m talking finger foods, rainbow-colored fruits and veggies, hearty meals, and even surprise snacks. These meal ideas are designed to not just satisfy their little (and not so little) tummies but also to cater to their evolving taste buds.
lunch box ideas for toddlers
Toddlers can be picky eaters, so don’t fret if you find a mostly uneaten lunch box returned home. The bento box is ideal for them as it shows off variety and also avoids hard-to-open packaging that may frustrate little hands.
bagel & cream cheese
Mini bagels with cream cheese are popular for toddlers. You can add pretzel sticks or other snacks and small fruits or fruits cut in half, like green grapes and strawberries.
These triangle-shaped cheese quesadillas are a fun shape that is appealing to toddlers, it’s a fun lunch box idea for kids ages 2-5. Including healthy sides that have interesting flavors like black beans, guacamole, and halved cherry tomatoes, which also offer a variety of textures, too. Include fruit in small bite-size chunks like peaches, strawberries, or peaches.
Scrambled eggs with Toast
A toddler lunch box with scrambled eggs, bread cut into small squares, and fresh fruit like raspberries or pears offers a variety of easy-to-eat foods. Include a sweet treat like chocolate chips or coated chocolate candies, and crunchy cheese crackers or toasted oat cereal.
For a quick lunch box idea cut an uncrustable in half and pair it with fresh fruit and vegetables like cucumber or carrot sticks, green peas, and halved strawberries or blueberries. Include a crispy snack like cheese squares or pretzels.
Nut Butter and Jam Sandwich
A favorite of most toddlers, make a peanut butter, almond butter, or sunflower butter and strawberry chia jam sandwich cut into triangles. Include a tube of Stonyfield yogurt and small bite-size items such as edamame, cereal, and blueberries.
Turkey and cheese sandwich
Cut a turkey sandwich into squares and fill the remaining box with a few of your toddler’s favorite textural foods. Use celery that’s cut down into manageable sticks and pretzels for crunch. You can add peeled mandarin oranges or apple slices, plus a small snack like raisins.
lunch box ideas for little kids
By now, you’ve gotten a handle on what your child likes and doesn’t like in their bento box. You can still add new foods for them to try to keep them exploring with food. The larger compartments of this bento box let you add a little more for growing tummies. Pinwheels are one of my favorite lunch box ideas for this age range.
Pesto Turkey Pinwheels
Offer a variety of foods that are appealing and maybe new. Pesto turkey pinwheels have a herby flavor with cheddar cheese. You can also include sliced apples and crispy green peas for crunch, sweet, and salty foods. And as a treat, mini pancakes or a favorite food would be great to fill the last section.
Chicken salad pinwheels,
A chicken salad pinwheel lunch box is a light option for little kids. You can add a medley of fresh grapes and blueberries, cheese crackers or pretzels, and ribbons of carrots and cucumbers for tasty additions to graze on.
Everything Bagel Pinwheels
Do your kids love bolder flavors? These cream cheese pinwheels with everything but the bagel seasoning and fresh tomatoes are super tasty and creamy. Use each section to combine two foods, such as carrot and celery sticks, pretzels and raisins, and cornichons with turkey roll-ups.
Hummus and veggie pinwheels
Creamy hummus pinwheels with cheese and red peppers pinwheels have texture and flavor and are such a fun idea. It may be a new food for your child to try. Include sliced oranges, crinkle-cut carrots and cucumbers, and healthy mini muffins.
Breakfast for lunch is a great idea to add in variations to the everyday lunch routine. Prepare a hearty breakfast box for your kids that is rounded out with crispy jicama sticks and a hefty breakfast burrito. And to lighten up this breakfast, add creamy guacamole in a silicone muffin liner to dip the jicama sticks in and a medley of fresh juicy berries.
Use leftovers from dinner like this quinoa salad to fill a lunch box. Pair it with green apple slices, grape tomatoes, and chewy apple butter cookies.
This cucumber sushi lunch box is a fun way to eat vegetables. You can vary which vegetables your child enjoys and pair the vegetable sushi bites with whole edamame in the shell, turkey roll-ups, and fresh fruit like strawberries.
White Bean Avocado Sandwich
This sandwich lunch box is really great for picky eaters who hate meat. It’s a beautiful variety of veggie lover foods like a white bean sandwich with avocado, sliced cucumbers, and carrots, cheese crackers or pretzels, and fresh cherries. This kind of lunch box can be versatile in choosing their favorite vegetables.
Tuna and Rice
You can really get creative with your lunch box ideas for kids, like this sushi-inspired box. Include a few pieces of seaweed snacks, a mix of tuna and rice with sesame seeds, fresh pomegranate seeds, and fresh vegetables like avocado and cucumber.
lunch box ideas for big kids
Ah, the pre-teen and teenage years! That old saying, the kids will eat you out of house and home really comes alive during this time. That’s why these stackable bento boxes are so great. It really lets you provide the main course and some great side dishes.
Big kids can have big appetites and picky ones too. With breakfast boxes, you can give them a variety of foods that will surely satisfy growing kids. Include waffles or pancakes, fresh fruits such as strawberries and blueberries, a small section filled with Greek yogurt, some crunchy granola, and a sliced boiled egg for protein. This is a well-balanced meal for kids and adults alike.
Using these stackable lunch boxes gives you larger sections to fill for a hungry teen. For the sectioned container, include fruit such as halved kiwis or mango slices in the larger part, and then pretzels and cherry tomatoes in the quarter sections. Fill the center cup with pizza sauce for dunking the pizzadilla in that is stored in the larger bowl.
Tuna Salad Sandwich
Make a tuna salad sandwich to put in the large lunch box container. Then, include fresh fruits, veggies, and snack foods in the section container. Some options are celery sticks, pineapple chunks, saltine crackers, and marinated olives.
Tuna Pasta Salad
Adults and teens will love this wholesome, fully loaded lunch box with a hearty tuna pasta salad filling the large box, and pretzels, strawberries, sugar snap peas, and roasted cashews for grazing in the sectioned box.
Veggie-loaded macaroni salad makes for a light but filling lunch box dish. Pair with whole multi-colored mini bell peppers, Oreo cookies, peeled clementines, and cream cheese with everything but the bagel seasoning.
Mediterranean Pasta Salad
A great leftover and meal prep salad, this Mediterranean pasta salad has all the best flavors, with olives, red onions, and tomatoes. Fill the other lunch box with apple bread or another sweet bread, whole cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumber planks, and mixed nuts.
Veggie hummus sandwich
For the vegetable-loving teen, make a hearty veggie hummus sandwich on multigrain toast. Include sliced peaches, cheese cubes with sliced cucumbers, wheat crackers, and diced avocado for munching on.
This tasty pizza sampler lunch box has pizza bites, crispy green peeper sticks, juicy sweet grapes, black olives to munch on, and pizza sauce for dipping.
Egg, Cheese & Bagel
Mornings are essential for filling yourself up with fuel for the day. This breakfast box is perfect for older kids with a variety of foods like a bagel, grapefruit, cubed cheese, some protein from hard-boiled eggs, and a juicy Roma tomato.
more Kids Lunch box Ideas by Types
If you are packing a lunch box, it’s good to keep it as well-balanced as possible with a mix of protein, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. This will give your kids the energy to make it through the afternoon!
Sandwiches & Handheld lunch box ideas
If your kids love having sandwiches but you want to avoid deli meats and other processed meats, here are some yummy substitutes. Don’t worry that your kids need an abundance of protein at lunch. They just need a well-balanced meal that contains whole grains, fruits, and vegetables that will provide them ample nutrition and energy for their busy days.
- Chicken salad, tuna salad, or egg salad. Consider using Greek Yogurt or avocado instead of mayo
- Vegan “turkey” made from tofu – aka tofurkey – which tastes just like the real stuff and doesn’t have all those nitrates and preservatives.
- Variety of hard/soft cold/grilled cheeses with sprouted whole grain bread (I do this a lot)
- Sunbutter (for nut-free schools) with bananas or other fruits or even honey in a wrap.
- Veggie burger, bean burger, or quinoa burger
- Black bean and cheese quesadilla, quinoa pizza bites
- Veggie-filled cucumber sushi: An easy recipe that’s fun to put together and a yummy twist to sushi. Plus, you can easily adapt to any taste preferences.
Salad ideas for Lunch boxes
Fresh salads and pasta salads are a great option to fill a lunch box with additional sections for dressings and toppings.
- Hummus Salad Bowl – This is a hearty lunch with homemade hummus, fresh veggies, quinoa, and feta that would be perfect for older kids, or packing lunch for adults.
- Greek Orzo Salad has some bolder flavors the older kids will love, with feta cheese, olives, and red onions.
- Tuna Pasta Salad is a kid-friendly dish for any age, with a creamy dressing and a bunch of delicious veggies.
- For more salad recipes, you can check out my post with over 50 salad ideas!
Snacks and Dessert ideas
On the sweeter side of handheld options, you can also throw in some of these treats!
- No Bake Pumpkin Spice Balls: Have the kids help you make the batter. It’s vegan, no-bake, and packed with lots of good protein and fats. Such a nutritious and delicious treat!
- Kid-Friendly Muffins: The batter is pretty basic for this, and the fun comes in what you choose to stuff them with. Check out the list of ideas I included.
- Fruit Leather
- For more sweet lunch box ideas, check out my post featuring 50 no-bake desserts that are quick and easy!
Other Lunch Box Ideas To Try
If your kids don’t mind having something other than a sandwich, you can put leftovers from last night’s dinner (I sometimes make extras for this very reason), which is always practical for busy days, or you can try some of these ideas.
Cold options for Lunch Boxes:
- Macaroni Salad: Pick their favorite pasta shape and throw in kid-friendly veggies like carrots, peas, and corn. You can use any on-hand salad dressing or the one I use with pickle juice in this macaroni salad.
- Caprese Pasta Salad: Green pasta is so fun for kids. Try to find little pearl mozzarella and cherry tomatoes to add to it, and it makes for a colorful, nutritious lunch!
- Tomato Cucumber Avocado Salad: This is Adam’s favorite salad. Since I pack the lunches at night, I usually add the avocado in the morning and make sure it’s well coated in the lemon juice from the salad dressing.
Warm options for Lunch boxes:
- One-Pot Chicken Rice & Veggies: This one is better served warm, so it’s perfect for the Omie lunch box, but my son usually doesn’t mind having it at room temperature, so I also pack it in the Yumbox.
- Pasta in a mug: You can literally make these two pastas while the kids are putting on their shoes. They take a couple of minutes in the microwave, use only one mug, and are perfect for one person.
Frequently asked questions about school lunches
What do you put in a fussy eaters’ lunch box?
If you have a fussy eater, I find that it’s best not to stray too much from what you know they like. Ask them what they would like to eat, so they feel like they have control. Make the lunch boxes colorful and do fun things like cut sandwiches into shapes.
What drinks are best to pack in a kid’s lunch box?
It’s important that children stay hydrated throughout the day, and more so in the hot weather. Plain water is great for them to take to school. Let them pick out a water bottle with a design they love, and hopefully, they will use it more! Try to stay away from sweetened drinks. If they don’t like plain water, try adding a few pieces of frozen fruit to give it some flavor.
Are there any foods parents should not pack in a lunch box?
This will come down to your own personal preferences, but for me, lunchtime is an opportunity to ensure that my kids are getting a well-rounded meal in the middle of their day when they need energy and stamina for learning and playing. Personally, I try to avoid foods with high sugar, processed deli meats, and packaged salty snacks as much as possible, but always make exceptions!
I hope these kids’ lunch box ideas serve as an inspiration and encourage your little ones to eat more whole foods and especially fruits and vegetables. Keep it colorful, keep it simple, and keep it interesting!
This article originally appeared on Feel Good Foodie and was syndicated by MediaFeed.
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