Back to school may feel more like back to the drawing board for parents trying to conceive of new, interesting and healthy lunches their kids will actually eat. Sandwiches may never go out of style, but sometimes your little tikes get sick of tuna fish or PB&J—and we can’t totally blame them.
Related Reading: Tuna Again?! Why You Should Consider Eating the Same Lunch Every Day
With a little creativity and a few handy dandy morning kitchen helpers (and I don’t mean a cocktail), you can get them excited about lunch all over again with these big-flavor, low-stress lunchtime options.
No kid can resist a good chicken finger for lunch or any other time. This recipe delivers flavor and is healthy to boot, using whole-wheat crackers for the crust and baking instead of deep-frying. Get our Baked Cracker-Crusted Chicken Finger recipe.
Related Reading: One Mom’s Tips for Feeding Picky Kids
Who says burgers are just for barbecues? Martha Stewart riffs on the classic burger with ground turkey and cheddar, and makes them the perfect mini size for little ones’ lunchboxes. Achieve a similar kid-pleasing result with our Mini Turkey Meatloaf recipe.
Silicone Muffin Baking Tray, $9.99 on Amazon
You'll want one of these on hand for easy mini meatloaf.
3. Pizza Buns
Imagine if a cinnamon roll and a pizza had a baby, and you’ll get pizza buns. Rebecca from Simple As That makes them like cinnamon rolls, but with pizza ingredients. They’re super portable, perfect for a lunch box! Get our Pizza Buns recipe.
4. The Elvis Burrito (or Elvis Sandwich)
This recipe pairs peanut butter with bacon, honey, and banana in a whole-wheat tortilla (just think of bacon as the new jelly), but the same combo also works as a classic sandwich. Get our Elvis Burrito recipe.
5. Hummus & Veggies (The Greek PB&J?)
Chef Cat Cora wows her kids by spreading hummus and black-olive mayo on pita bread, then adding a few veggies like cucumber, lettuce, and tomato and serving it sandwich style. You can also pack it as a bento-style box lunch. Get our Hummus recipe.
Related Reading: Allergy-Safe Snacks to Pack for School Lunch
Lauren from the blog Lauren’s Latest packs a ton of veggies into this noodle salad, and makes even the pickiest eater want to scarf it down thanks to a tasty dressing flavored with sesame oil. Get the Sesame Noodle Salad recipe. If allergies aren’t a concern, try our Asian Peanut Noodle Salad recipe t00.
Omiebox Lunch Box, $39.50 on Amazon
Keeps lunch hot, cold or in between with compartments and a vacuum-sealed lid.
Who says shepherd’s pie is only for dinner? Tracy from The Lucky Lunchbox uses jumbo muffin cups to make a Mini Shepherd’s Pie for lunches. Bonus: They can be frozen and reheated individually! Same goes for our Mini Tamale Pie recipe.
8. Bento Tacos/Nachos
Blogger Keeley McGuire likes to pack up leftover taco meat with tortilla chips, shredded cheese, and tomatoes, turning lunch into a kids’ make-your-own affair. Mild salsa and guacamole would be other good additions to the nacho bar.
For a veggie-centric kid lunch beyond the basic sandwich, make easy fritters by mixing whole-wheat pancake batter with corn and shredded zucchini (or corn and bacon). Pack with Greek yogurt for dipping. Get our Corn and Zucchini Fritters recipe.
With the addition of bacon, in place of pork, Chinese food gets a kid-approved makeover. Get our Kid-Friendly Fried Rice recipe.
Shish kebabs are about as easy to make as they are fun to say. Grill some good marinaded beef at the beginning of the week and you can serve it as is, over rice or dice with veggies and toss with Asian noodles. All good healthy lunches that don’t involve grape jelly and wonder bread. Get our Beef and Vegetable Shish Kebabs recipe.