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10 Surprising Lunch Ideas to Get Kids Through the End of the School Year

From unexpected peanut butter combos to savory waffles, this delicious list will fight the June blues

Published on: June 05, 2024

Surprise your kid with a peanut butter and pickle sando
Trust us on this surprising combo. Credit: iStock 1209174253

Everyone gets bored with the basic sandwich (though it does have its place!), but not all parents have the time or desire to whip up an Instagram-worthy bento box spread. And yet, relying on school lunch or supermarket convenience foods is not necessarily the best solution for your budget or your kid’s health. Here are a few creative ideas to power your hungry little buddies (and you!) over that school year finish line.

1. Peanut Butter Surprise

PB&J will never go out of style, but when the June blues hit it’s time to shake things up a bit for that midday meal so your kid can make it through those last hours of the sunny school day. If your child or their campus is peanut-free, sunflower seed butter is a great alternative. Try these unexpectedly delicious combos: 

  • PB & pickles (sweet or dill)
  • PB & sliced banana & crispy bacon
  • PB & kimchi 
  • PB & thinly sliced apple & honey 
  • PB & sliced fresh strawberries & chocolate chips
  • PB on a hamburger
  • smooth PB & crispy roasted chickpeas

2. Muffins

Everyone loves a good muffin, and they don’t have to be nutritional wastelands. These morning glory muffins are packed with tasty goodness and healthy bits. Do you have a pumpkin fanatic on your hands? Mini pumpkin oat banana muffins will be a welcome addition to the lunchbox. Strawberry jelly muffins pay an homage to the classic PB&J, and dairy-free butternut banana mini muffins are sure to be a hit.

Make-ahead tip: Make a double or triple batch of your favorite muffins and freeze them for months of muffin-y delight.

Photo credit: Rebecca Mongrain

3. Wrap it up!

The humblest of ingredients shine when wrapped inside a tortilla. Make a batch of rainbow vegetable wraps with hummus or spreadable cheese for a prism of flavor. Wrap up some tangy veggie wraps or wrap-and-roll sandwiches for a lunch box feast.

Make-ahead tip: Chop up your veggies at the beginning of the week to speed up your wrap creation on busy school mornings.

Everything tastes better in a wrap. Leftover fried mozzarella sticks with greens and guac make an unexpectedly tasty lunchbox treat. Credit: Junghee Choi/iStock

4. Lunch casseroles

Casseroles are usually reserved for dinner or a potluck, but they are also perfect for the lunch sack. Make a casserole on Sunday and have lunch all week! Half-Baked Harvest’s creamy caprese quinoa bake tastes like homemade lasagna with the protein-packed goodness of quinoa. Cheesy chicken broccoli rice will fill up your student’s stomach all afternoon long.

Casserole travel buddy: This wide mouth thermos for hot food is the perfect size for kids and comes in cute designs. 

Make-ahead tip: Double your casserole and freeze single servings for future lunches. 

5. Melty quesadillas

Cheese and tortillas? Yes, please! Quesadillas are a great lunchtime meal. Keep them classic and simple with just cheese or add a punch with some spinach, black beans or roasted vegetables. Cook Nourish Bliss inspires with quesadillas packed with sweet potato, black beans and kale. Your pizza fanatic will love these pepperoni pizza options, and these spinach, chicken and avocado quesadillas are perfect for any lunch box.

Make-ahead tip: Make quesadillas the night before and pack up school lunches so all you need to do is grab them from the fridge in the morning.

Photo credit: Rebecca Mongrain

6. Breakfast for lunch

Why wait until dinner to enjoy breakfast? Pack pumpkin oatmeal pancakes or ham and cheese waffles along with fruit, and everyone’s favorite meal of the day can be enjoyed whenever you want. Eggy frittata muffins pack a protein punch with tasty flavor, particularly when paired with your kid’s favorite vegetables.

Make-ahead tip: Freeze a batch of waffles, pancakes or frittata muffins for lunch-box enjoyment.

7. Smoothies

Smoothies can be a great way to pack in nutrition while providing a tasty treat. Speed up your smoothie prep by making green smoothie freezer packs in advance. Mix 1 cup greens (spinach, kale, arugula) plus 1 cup fruit (pineapple, banana, mango, strawberries) plus 1 tablespoon booster (chia seeds, flax seeds, nut butter) and freeze in freezer bags. Then the morning before school, blend with 1 cup of milk and put it in a thermos to enjoy later.

Make-ahead tip: Buy large bags of frozen fruit and frozen greens next time you’re at the store and then premix bags of frozen smoothie packs for quick morning lunch prep. Smoothies also make delicious breakfasts!

Here are some yummy flavor combinations for smoothie success:

  • Spinach and peaches with chia seeds
  • Beet greens, steamed beets, blueberries, vanilla yogurt
  • Arugula, pineapple and orange with hemp seeds
  • Spinach, frozen açaí puree, banana, blueberries
  • Spinach and strawberries with flax seeds
  • Kale, mixed berries and almond butter
  • Spinach, blueberries and peanut butter
  • Spinach, mixed berries and oatmeal
  • Kale, mango, banana and nut butter
Those daily veggie servings are no problem with smoothies on board. Credit:
Marcos Elihu Castillo Ramirez/iStock 

8. Entertaining lunch options

Lunchbox hors d’oeuvres bring a bit of elegance to the simple lunch box. Use toothpicks to skewer tomatoes, cheese and turkey slices. Pair crackers with cheese or deli meat for a cracker sandwich. Cucumber-feta rolls are simple and filling. Broccoli-parmesan meatballs and mini tostadas give boring old veggies plenty of taste.

Make-ahead tip: Make meatballs ahead of time, then freeze and defrost them in time for lunch.

9. Sandwich sushi

Bring some excitement to lunch with a sushi sandwich. Take white bread and remove the crusts. Flatten with a rolling pin. Spread your sandwich filling of choice (the classic PB&J is delightful with sunflower butter and strawberry jam) before rolling up tightly. Slice into pieces and serve up your sandwich sushi!

Make-ahead tip: Your sandwich sushi can be easily made the night before.

Photo credit: Rebecca Mongrain

10. Quick and easy fillers

Keeping a stash of convenient foods on hand is a no-brainer! Make hardboiled eggs. Stock up on single-serving hummus containers and cheese slices or sticks. Pack up some cereal for a crunchy treat. Need more new ideas? Try some of these quick fixes from Trader Joe’s or these healthy store-bought snacks

Make-ahead tip: Cut up veggies, make hard-boiled eggs and package up hummus containers for easy grab-and-go lunchtime staples.

Lunchbox tips

  • Clever containers: The perfect lunchbox container will inspire your lunch creations. From the classic PlanetBox to EasyLunchboxes’ three-compartment containers and the Bentology bento lunch box, give structure to your lunch creations.
  • Keep it cool: Keep your child’s lunch chilled until lunchtime with an inexpensive “ice pack” that will keep lunches cool without making a mess. Soak an unused sponge in water and place it inside a freezer bag for this “okay if lost” option. Visit the Dollar Store for inexpensive sponges and freeze a week’s worth of ice packs.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published several years ago and was updated in June 2024 with a new introduction and headline, new photography, and additional creative lunch ideas for kids.

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