After years of sharing the school lunches I pack for my kids on Facebook, I decided to combine all the pictures together below in one easy-to-reference place for inspiration.
I know some readers love to sit down and look at these pics with their kids so they can point out what they want (and, more importantly, what they’ll actually eat!), which I think is a great idea.
If you find it helpful as well, please consider bookmarking this page, sharing it using the social buttons, or leaving a comment with star rating (at the bottom of the page) to help others find this guide. 🙂
Table of Contents
360+ Healthy School Lunch Ideas
Narrow results with the drop down filter or search box. Note some of these lunch ideas incorporate real food leftovers, which can be a real time saver. Most recipes can be found here on the blog via the included links, but a few are from my best-selling cookbooks.
- Homemade White Bean Dip (from #100dayscookbook ) with blue tortilla chips
- Apple sandwiches
- Oatmeal Cookie Energy Bites (from #100daysonabudget cookbook)
School Lunch Ideas Packing Chart
See my School Lunch Packing Chart post for more details and how to get your free printable copy (a reusable version is also included in my Meal Planner Workbook). Basically you have your kids fill out the chart with all the ingredients they’d like in their lunches for the week, and then take the chart with you on your grocery run so you know what to buy. You’ll have all the fixings on hand, plus buy-in from your kids!
School Lunch Ideas “Recipe”
This is similar to the packing chart in that you can get inspiration and buy-in from kids for new lunch combinations.
School Lunch Ideas
- Sandwich (☐Whole wheat bread ☐Whole wheat pita ☐PB & J ☐PB & honey ☐Cheese ☐Hummus ☐Organic ham ☐Organic turkey ☐Lettuce ☐Sliced pickle ☐Sliced cucumber ☐Mustard ☐Mayo )
- Bagel and cream cheese (☐With cucumber slices)
- Cheese and crackers
- Cheese quesadilla (Cold)
- Deviled eggs
- Egg salad
- Grilled cheese (Cold)
- Oatmeal (☐Hot ☐Cold)
- Pasta salad
- Waffle and cream cheese sandwich
- Whole wheat pita pizza
- Whole wheat pita triangles and hummus
- Other (Write in:_________________________ )
Fruits and Veggies
- Apple (Red)
- Apple (Green)
- Avocado half
- Bananan half (☐With peanut butter or other nut butter)
- Bell peppers (Sliced)
- Broccoli (Raw or cooked)
- Celery (☐With peanut or other nut butter ☐With raisins)
- Cherry tomatoes
- Dried fruit (Raisins, apricots, apple, or other)
- Frozen peas
- Honeydew melon
- Oranges (☐Big ☐Small)
- Pomegranate seeds (Fresh or frozen)
- Radish slices
- Star fruit*
- Sugar snap peas
- Other (Write in:_________________________ )
Grain or Snack
- Brown Rice Cakes (☐With peanut or other nut butter ☐With raisins)
- Cheese cubes/slices
- Dip (☐White bean ☐Other, write in:____________________)
- Granola chunks
- Hard-boiled egg
- Powerballs (homemade)
- Snack bar
- String cheese
- Trail mix
- Whole wheat noodles
- Whole wheat pretzels
- Choose an ingredient from each category to create new lunch combinations (I recommend doing this with your kids).
- Jot your ideas down as you go for a quick school lunch meal plan.
School Lunch Meal Plans
Get our uber-popular packed lunch meal plans! Our Real Lunches, Real Easy ebooks are each a complete system that tells you what to buy, what to prep, and what to pack (including colorful pictures) so you’re not stressing out at the last minute. Grab one version, or all four, and even have your kiddos help pack their new wholesome, hearty, real food lunches. See samples of each week and learn more here.
More School Lunch Resources
To learn more about the lunches I pack, here are some helpful links…
- Our favorite school lunch supplies including the commonly pictured plastic Ziploc divided containers (each compartment is leak-proof).
- Everything you could ever want to know about those colorful smoothie pop molds used in some lunches.
- Why we don’t track protein or worry about getting “enough.”
- My cookbooks all contain more lunch box ideas as well.
- You can also find more school lunch resources (among others) in our free member’s area.
School Lunch Ideas FAQ
I’ve get a lot of comments/questions/etc. when I share my kids’ lunches on Facebook, so I’d like to address a few of the more common questions below. Read more in the full FAQ.
I’ve written a post that includes everything you could ever want to know about the colorful “freezie pop molds” that I use frequently to add smoothies to their lunches.
Many of the school lunch supplies we use, including the divided lunchbox containers, thermos cups, and freezie pop molds, are detailed in the My Favorite School Lunch Supplies post and my Amazon Favorites page. The lunchbox containers fit nicely (with a drink cup) in both Lands End and Old Navy cloth rectangular lunch boxes.
Some readers ask if these lunches provide enough food for my children, and while I am probably not spot-on with portion size 100% of the time, the short answer is “yes.” First of all, “real food” is a lot more filling than highly processed food (especially the refined grain stuff like white flour). Secondly, portion sizes are getting out of control in America and have unfortunately skewed the public’s view of what is appropriate. Thirdly, my children were 7 and almost 5 when I started photographing their lunches. Lastly, both my children eat after-school snacks. Okay, got that off my chest. :)
A few occasionally ask if these lunches have enough protein. First of all, part of eating a “real food” diet means you no longer have to count calories, fat grams, protein, carbs, etc. You simply eat a variety of whole foods (including lots of veggies) without “overeating” and the rest will just fall into place. It’s kind of nice not to have to worry about that stuff anymore. But, if you aren’t quite ready to forget about your daily protein intake please know there are MANY sources high in protein aside from just meat products such as yogurt, eggs, cheese, cream cheese, nuts (including peanut butter), seeds (including sunflower butter), and beans. When we switched to a “real food” diet we purposely reduced our meat consumption.
My daughters used to go to a peanut/tree nut-free school, so I often used sunflower butter and cream cheese as an alternative to peanut butter. You can filter the lunches above or visit my Nut-Free Lunch Ideas post for more ideas.
What Do Packed Lunches Look Like by Lunchtime?
I’ve gotten quite a few questions asking what these carefully prepared lunches actually look like come lunchtime—especially after they’ve been tossed all around while in my kids’ backpacks and since “liquidy” foods like yogurt or applesauce are involved. Let’s face it, no child keeps their lunch bag or box in one perfect position all day, and that is certainly something I would never expect of my own children.
So when I was having lunch with my daughter at school (and risking looking like a lunatic), I took a bunch of pictures for you! :)
So that’s all there is to it! And since I know some will be wondering :) ….
- Those are Ziploc brand divided lunch containers – super cheap, lightweight, BPA-free, and available online. I have no relationship with Ziploc whatsoever. We just really like these lunch boxes.
- I got the muffin cups here. Here are the Thermos cup, the flexible ice blanket, and the fun character ice pack.
- I bought the fun toothpicks at Party City, although I’ve found cute ones at several different places including Martha Stewart Crafts, and cute Meri Meri Toot Sweet Cupcake Picks.
- The lunch bag is by Lands End and we have the matching backpack that goes with it. This is the brand my older daughter has been using for almost 3 years now and it is still holding up great.
I hope these lunch ideas have been helpful. Please feel free to share your “real food” school lunch ideas in the comments below…
472 thoughts on “360+ Healthy School Lunch Ideas”
Just a side note. I love your food ideas, but they do not meet the guidelines for early education. For licensed daycare centers and preschools, we need to send 1 veggie with 1 fruit, or 2 different kinds of veggies. The government lists out exact portions that need to be sent, along with what counts as a fruit or veggie. Example – #4 and #6 both lack a veggie. So we’d have to pack additional items and cannot just follow your guides. Thankfully, once in Kindergarten, the food mandates are no longer required. So, while I appreciate all your lunch ideas, it would be helpful to include possible add on items if packing for daycare or preschool. Thanks! Btw – love your other recipes :)
Thanks so much for that information. This is a generalized list of ideas for all ages. Lisa also has blog posts about preschool snack ideas and elementary lunch ideas. While they may not list specific government guidelines, they are a helpful resource for food ideas for those who may not know what to pack. – Nicole
We got this packing chart with the meal planner workbook and love it!
So glad to hear you’re loving it! – Nicole
Thanks for the school lunch ideas. I’ve been doubling recipes and repurposing a lot of leftovers (per the weekly meal guide advice) and using those in lunches….It has been a huge timesaver!
So glad to hear it! – Nicole
My kids love these. We’ve made so many!
So glad to hear they are loving them. – Nicole
Awesome ideas for healthy school lunches!
Thanks so much! Glad they are helpful. – Nicole
These are great! Thank you! And I have a dumb question. You show frozen peas and corn. Do you just put them in frozen and then do they thaw by lunchtime?
Yes, they’ll thaw by lunchtime :) – Nicole
This looks way better than the stuff they used to serve us in school. I remember my school would gives us cinnabuns for breakfast with even more sugar packed juice.
About four years ago, I found your “School Lunch Roundup,” and there were dozens and dozens of lunches. There are many idea here, but where did those other archives go? I loved looking through them for ideas.
They are still there if you do a search for school lunch roudnup. This should get you there: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/?s=school++lunch++roundup
Just wondering your thoughts. A lot of people I know are doing the Paleo diet and I just was curious about your take on it. Thanks so much! Love your site.
Hi there. Lisa loves her whole grains so Paleo is not a way of eating she would choose for her family. Personally, I feel better if I don’t eat many grains or much meat but strongly believe that everyone’s physiology is very different and you have to make the choices that work for you.
You are blessed your kids eat so little, my 5 kids by age 4 would eat more than is in any of those lunches lol By 7 my kids eat a grown man’s portion, none are fat, have way too much energy and we eat whole foods. Ah well, c’est le vie. Someday I ll have leftovers again without cooking double meals lol
When you are eating whole foods you are filled up way more than when you eat processed foods. So it might look like a little amount but you will feel more full if you eat whole.
Your kids are very lucky :D I’m sure they feel very loved! Beautiful & healthy ideas, thanks for sharing.
How do you stop the fruit going brown. Peeled apples and banana’s always go brown in my kids lunch boxes and melon is always off by recess.
Not sure about the bananas or melons, but to keep apples from turning brown just squeeze lemon juice on them. It works perfect every time.
These are so inspiring! I’m having to pack lunches for my preschoolers, and this is really going to help me up my game.
Great post! Thank you so much for your excellent ideas. This is a big help. :)
d is Very Good Food Thank you