It’s back-to-school time! That means crafting your kiddos’ daily lunches again -- so why not consider making lunchtime more fun when you work these adorable and healthy ideas into their lunch boxes? You can even get the littles at home to help. They’re sure to keep them smiling all day while providing a burst of energizing nutrition at the same time! Some of these are so delicious that adults in the house may want to have extras around for their lunch, too!
*For some of our favorite creations, an insulated container would be ideal. Something like a bento box, stainless steel lunch container, or a thermos would be great, so long as it is insulated. Look for whatever works best for you with this in mind: you’ll want something sturdy to protect the shape of some creations, which will keep some cold, and others hot. (Just so you know, we don’t receive anything if you click on a link below. We just want to provide some fun, healthy ideas for your family!)
To make any of these recipes healthier, opt for sprouted, whole grain or sourdough bread. Check ingredients to be sure there aren’t a ton of added sugars. (Peanut butter, jelly, yogurt, and even bread can be terrible culprits of hidden added sugars.)
1. Woodland creature sandwiches
It just takes a few extra minutes to make these adorable, protein-rich goodies for your kiddo’s lunch box. All you’ll need are a few cookie cutters, a pinch of fruit, some different colored breads and a couple of high-quality proteins of your choice, and voila! A critter-filled lunchbox to surprise them at the lunch table.
Want to try some variations on these? Basically, anything you can cut with a cookie cutter (or a knife, if you’re a little bit artistic), and that keeps its shape in a lunchbox can work. Check these out:
2. Butterfly snack bags
Pack healthy fruits, nuts, crackers, and cereal mix in super cute style when you use this fun idea! Paula from Beauty through Imperfection shares her method of beautifying otherwise boring lunchbox contents with pretty painted butterfly clothespins.
You’ll need 8 simple supplies (including scissors, ziplock baggies, and the snacks themselves), several of which you likely have at home already. Set aside an afternoon crafting with the kiddos before they start school, and they can help you make these -- then it will be extra special when they see them in their lunches for the first time! It can help them remember to recycle their snack bags, too.
3. Lunch kabobs
Forget last year’s sandwich and fruit and take things up a notch with lunch on a skewer! There are so many different kinds of kabobs you can make, and as long as your kiddo can handle a skewer without hurting themselves or their tablemates, this idea is good to go. Here are a few ideas for starters, and how to make them (follow the link):
PB & J kabobs ← How to make the kabobs pictured
Mini alphabet melon skewers (super cute for kids learning to spell their names)
4. Pizza muffins
Step aside, blueberry and banana nut! There’s a new muffin in town, and it’s taking over your kids’ lunchboxes. Pizza muffins have everything you normally put on pizza, neatly packed into a flavorful, healthy lunchbox muffin. No muss, no fuss, no microwave needed.
There were actually a few of these savory lunchbox muffin recipes that caught our eye, so we’ll keep a short list below in case you want to try them instead.
Frittata bites (slightly different than a bonafide muffin, but tasty and protein-rich!)
5. Banana sushi
Give them a nice dose of potassium and vitamin B6 with this yummy mid-day treat. A fresh variation on the old school peanut butter and banana sammie, this healthy lunchbox creation makes a great side to just about any main you pack it with.
*If you want to keep your bananas looking fresh until lunchtime, try gently tossing them in a little fresh-squeezed lemon after you slice them (but before you construct the sushi rolls, of course).
You can also turn these into a healthy dessert by adding 1 dark chocolate chip to the center of a slice
6. Colorful bento box ideas
Based on a Japanese tradition of packing healthy boxed meals on the go, bento boxes are now a hot new trend for American lunchboxes, especially fun if you buy the dividers and sauce cups to go with them. You don’t have to buy the expensive kind -- just make sure they’re made of a safe material like stainless steel or BPA-free plastic and start crafting creative lunches--and keep it colorful!
Here are some of our kid-friendly favorites:
7. Healthy pinwheel sammies
If you can slather or sprinkle ingredients across an open tortilla or soft piece of flatbread, you can roll it up, slice it, and make pinwheel sammies. Some of these work with puff pastry as well. There are a million different ways to make them, including bread-free options like these turkey, bacon, and ranch pinwheels. So, take a look at some favorites below and get creative!
Avocado cucumber pinwheels (breadless)
8. Homemade lunchables
It’s easy to make your own lunchables. Basically, all you need is:
2 healthy proteins (i.e. lean turkey and organic cheese)
1 carb (potato, quinoa, beans, banana, and carrots are great sources of nutrient dense carbs- or you can go simple with whole grain crackers or bread)
1 or 2 fruits and veggies (applesauce, celery slices)
1 drink (water in a reusable container, milk, juice with no added sugar)
You can use the same bento boxes we just discussed and just take your inspiration a notch further with these healthy homemade lunchables.
Homemade nachos lunchable (replace guac with cheese if you prefer)
9. Homemade uncrustables
You’ll need a nifty gadget like this (unless you’ve got a better idea) to make uncrustables at home. You could also try this kind that is a little cheaper. There’s also this one, which keeps the square shape of the bread. In a pinch, you could just use the rim of a glass to press in for the circle shape, cut your sandwich out, then press all around the edges with the tines of a fork.
Once you get your gadget, you can start making your uncrustables and freeze them until you’re ready to pack lunches. Check below for some of the best ideas we could find:
Copycat uncrustables - pizza, PB&J, and turkey (these are made with a waffle maker and biscuit dough, and don’t need the sandwich sealer)
10. Healthy no-bake rice Krispy energy balls
Make extra of these so your kid can share -- their friends are sure to want some, too! Just follow the instructions on these nutritious delights and try not to eat them all yourself. If you aren’t familiar with all the ingredients on this first option, here’s a super easy one that requires only rice krispies, dates (or prunes), hot water, plus 3 more items you probably already have in your cupboard, and a food processor.
A serving size is one energy ball, so keep that in mind for your lunch packing. Two or three per day ought to do it, assuming they’ll share with a couple of friends.
11. Mason jar lunches
If your kiddo is old enough to handle glass without dropping it, these are really fun. The one pictured is a healthy ramen recipe, but other versions are especially pretty if you layer them up in rainbow order, or otherwise try to make the layers stand out. It’s great if they can be eaten straight out of the jar (pack a nice, long, sturdy fork or spoon), or if they can be poured out onto a plate or into a bowl at lunchtime (pack a paper plate if that works).
Here are some favorites:
Layered rainbow salad pots (pasta and tuna salad + veggies)
Sweet & spicy chili with cornbread topping in a jar (leave out the cayenne for younger palates)
12. Homemade hot pockets
Replace the store-bought variety with the healthy homemade version and surprise your kiddos with your amazing new lunchbox skills! Anything they have in the hot pocket freezer at the grocery store can be made in your own kitchen -- minus the sugar, saturated fats and preservatives.
These are best if your kid has the option to use the microwave at school for a few seconds to warm them up, but most of them are fine at room temperature as well.
If you make them ahead of time, you can freeze most of these for up to 3 months.
What are your favorite hot pocket flavors? See if we found them below:
4-ingredient homemade pizza hot pockets (pictured above)
13. Under the sea fish snacks
With only 5 ingredients needed (the creator also adds a smidge of blue coloring, but you could probably leave it out if your blueberry yogurt is blue enough) -- which you can easily grab at any major grocery store.
If you’ve got the right kind of container that can protect their design and also keep them cool, you’ve got a great dessert for your lunchbox.
14. Easy lunchbox noodle wraps
Double up on this if your kids have bigger appetites. This recipe makes two large rolled up lasagna noodles stuffed with goodies. Play with the recipe as you wish to satisfy your littles’ palates. (I might slather on a light dressing or marinara sauce personally, but that might make things messy too, so use your best judgment!)
Variations? We found a few, although these aren’t quite as simple:
15. Homemade SpaghettiOs
Only 7 ingredients are needed (and 2 of them are optional) to make this delicious lunchtime classic in your own kitchen. If you make it the night before, just heat it up in the morning, spoon some into a thermos to keep it warm until the kids go to lunch, and make sure to throw some soft breadsticks or crusty bread in the lunchbox to go with it.
This is superb comfort food for the cool fall days coming up. This recipe makes 4 servings.
16. Fruity fish with pretzel rod poles
This is an excellent way to get kiddos to eat their fruits, and a super fun surprise for the lunchbox. Just pick your fruit, add some pretzels, edible eyes, and some string, and you can make a rainbow school of fish! Play around with the fruits you like (sliced melons, kiwi, or go with a bunch of different aquatic cookie cutters for a slight variation.
They should fit into the right length section of a bento box. Have fun with these and be sure to make enough for others at the table to enjoy too!
17. Flip flop sandwiches
These cute flip flop sammies will bring back fond memories of their summer adventures so they can share stories while they munch at lunch. A refreshing hint of cucumber and some protein-packed hummus meet up with a light, crustless bread and thick cheese sticks for the win.
You can also add a little layer of turkey underneath the cuke, remove the cucumber completely if your kiddo doesn’t like them (although they might change their minds if they try it in this sandwich!), use a different piece of fruit on top (small red grape, blackberry) or some pretzel sticks instead of cheese sticks. Hold it all in place with a pinch of tahini paste or something edible of a similar consistency.
18. Super fun veggie bug snacks
Assemble these cuties in just a few minutes using fresh produce and proteins inside the crunchiest celery you can find -- a perfect side dish in any kid’s lunch. The creator uses organic cream cheese to fill the celery, but suggests you can also use hummus instead if you want a variation, a different flavor, or just to veganize it. Peanut butter or sunflower butter might work all right, too.
Serve them next to any type of sandwich, soup, homemade hot pockets or pinwheels.
19. Apple slice donuts with healthy cream cheese instead of icing
These are so pretty, they’ll think they’re eating a batch of Dunkin’ Donuts! They are really easy too. Just follow the creator’s instructions (she even provides pictures) and you’ll be done in minutes. Basically, you just mix up some food coloring into batches of softened cream cheese (or keep the cream cheese white, if you prefer), slice up and core your apples, toss them in a little lemon juice for preserving, let dry and apply the pastel ‘frosting’ to one side. Then add sprinkles and you’re done! The prettiest apple snacks in town are now in your kid’s lunchbox.
You can try a variation with these similar banana pops too, but they’d definitely need to stay refrigerated until lunchtime.
20. Rainbow grapes
If you have trouble getting your kiddos to eat their fruit, we’ve got a solution. These colorful rainbow grapes will appeal to many finicky eaters -- and they’re easier to make than you think.
Just follow the instructions (you’ll only need water, toothpicks and a few different gelatin mixes -- vegans can use this instead) and you’ll have bright, vibrant grapes in no time. The gelatin may look white or very light in color, but when you dip the wet grapes in, most of them change to a brighter color.
These are best served after being kept refrigerated as well, so if your kid has a fridge at school, that would be ideal. If you have the right thermos or other container that keeps things cool, that would probably work too.
At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.