Photo credits: Weelicious/Like Mother Like Daughter/Laura Fuentes/Kristine's Kitchen/Lunchbox Dad/I Should Be Mopping the Floor
It’s back-to-school time and you’re filled with dread — because that means it’s also back-to-school-lunchmaking time. If you’re ready to move beyond PBJs and put some excitement back into lunch, then these 10 easy, healthy & unique school lunch ideas are just what you need!
Incredibles 2 bento boxes
Nothing tells a kid they can take on the world like a bento box filled with his favorite movie characters like these Incredibles 2 bento boxes from Lunch Box Dad. Not only is it unique and fun, but it is extremely healthy, too, and perfect for boys and girls.
Whichever character you choose to make for your little superhero, the ingredients for these bento boxes are similar: All three designs include whole wheat tortillas, sliced meat, strawberries, cheese crackers, Babybel cheese, raisins, fruit leather for the masks and different colored fondant. You can easily substitute bread for the tortillas if you like, and if fondant isn’t handy, you can try using marshmallows, mini m&ms and some Incredibles stickers to complete the theme.
To create the characters’ faces, you can either use cookie or sandwich cutters for the Incredibles 2 characters, or you can even try cutting them out of the tortillas by hand. For this recipe, lunch meat is used between the layers of tortillas, but you can add cheese to that, or substitute with your kids’ favorite sandwich filling.
The strawberries, fondant, raisins and cheesy crackers finish off the theme and the colors tie into the movies. Your little superhero will be the envy of all his friends at the lunch table this year.
Turkey bacon ranch wraps
Turkey sandwich? Yawn. But a Turkey bacon ranch wrap? Oh, yeah! From Like Mother Like Daughter comes this quick and easy lunch that will make your kids actually excited to open their lunch bags. They stay fresh and yummy until lunchtime, and provide the energy your kids need to get through the afternoon. They’re even good enough to prevent little entrepreneurs from trading their lunches for bags of who-knows-what.
Wraps of all varieties are a great choice for a change from plain ol’ sandwiches. Pretty much anything you can put between two pieces of bread can go into a tortilla instead — in this case, deli turkey, cheddar cheese, bacon, lettuce and ranch dressing.
If you want to ensure this lunch is the healthiest it can be, opt for whole-grain tortillas, nitrate-free turkey and bacon, natural cheese and ranch dressing with the cleanest ingredients. For a little variety, change it up with different meats (ham, pastrami, roast beef), cheeses (mozzarella, jack, Swiss) and even dressings (hummus, spicy mustard). Mix and match these ingredients, and you’ll have enough ideas for a wrap a week all year long! Throw some fruit and carrot sticks or whole-grain crackers into the lunchbag for the final healthy touches.
Taco salad lunch bowls
These taco salad lunch bowls from Kristine’s Kitchen will make your kids look forward to lunch for more than just a break from class. They take a tad longer to prepare than the typical school lunch, so you can’t throw them together just before you race out the door; instead, prepare them the night before so they’re ready in the fridge for you to pack in the morning.
Ground beef is always a favorite when tucked into tacos, but you can also try ground turkey, chicken or pork for variety. Season the meat according to your family’s preferences, and let the meat cool as you prep the remaining ingredients.
Given that this is meant to be a salad, putting all the ingredients in the same container makes sense. If your kiddo is one of those who can’t stand ingredients touching, though, simply put the meat, beans and salsa into one container and the lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and corn in another. Your picky eater can mix it all up or eat it separately at lunchtime. You can also toss a tortilla into the lunch box so your child can make a burrito, or add some tortilla chips so she can scoop up the ingredients.
Fair warning: These are going to be so popular with your kids’ friends that you might get requests for extra taco salad bowls to be sent to school. Just pass along this simple recipe, and you’ll have happy kids and parents thanking you.
Ham, mac and cheese muffins
Some kids just refuse to eat sandwiches. Most kids, however, love mac and cheese — but sending it warm in a thermos is not always feasible. The solution: These ingenious ham, mac and cheese muffins from I Should Be Mopping The Floor. They’re easy to prepare, and you can even make them ahead of time and refrigerate them for several days.
If you’re like many parents with hectic schedules, you serve mac and cheese one night a week or so. Make extra so you can use the leftovers to prepare these muffins. You probably have the ham, egg and breadcrumbs on hand already. All you have to do is combine the ingredients, scoop them into muffin tins, and bake them for 20 to 25 minutes.
Keep these healthy by using organic mac and cheese and nitrate-free ham. Include some cut-up veggies and fruit, and your little no-sandwich-eating kiddo will be a happy camper at lunchtime.
Apple cheese wraps
Ham and cheese make frequent appearances in school lunches, but not quite like this. These apple cheese wraps, artfully created by Weelicious, offer a tasty break from the usual.
Kids tend to be more enthusiastic eating food they help pick out and prepare, so take them to the grocery store or farmers market and let them choose the apples (Granny Smith, red delicious, Fuji, gala) and cheese (cheddar, jack, mozzarella, Provolone) they like. They can help wash and slice the apples and cheese (if they are old enough) and assemble the tasty tidbits.
Again, opt for nitrate- and additive-free deli meats, all-natural cheese and organic apples, if possible. A few apple cheese wraps, sliced veggies and whole-grain crackers make this a power-packed lunch sure to fuel your scholar until the last bell rings.
Mini pizza quiches
Pizza is an almost guaranteed hit with kids of all ages. These pizza mini quiches from Laura Fuentes are a delicious, healthier option than individual frozen pizzas.
Not only will your kids love eating these mini pizza quiches, they’ll be excited to help make them, too. From grating cheese and whisking eggs to adding the other ingredients and scooping them into muffin tins, your little (or big) helpers can be involved at every stage. Seeing the process through from beginning to end gives them a sense of accomplishment and an eagerness to try their own creations.
If you have more than one child, getting them to agree on ingredients might be impossible. That makes these mini pizza quiches even better, because they don’t have to. They can choose their favorite add-ins, from meats to veggies. The combinations are limited only by what they are willing to eat.
These quiches are a great grain-free lunch option (no crust!). Go vegetarian by nixing the meats and just adding chopped veggies. As finger foods, they’re easy to build a school lunch around. You can use leftovers later in the week, or you can freeze them for later use. It doesn’t get much easier than this!