By Carolyn Hodges

When you consider parents pack nearly 200 lunch boxes per child each school year, it's no surprise we find ourselves in a lunch rut from time to time! But switching up what's on offer keeps lunch time exciting for kids. It's also a great way to encourage them to try new flavors and textures.

Feeling like your well of lunch-box inspiration has run dry? We're here to help with tips for using simple ingredients in fun and exciting ways. Check out these six easy lunch box upgrades and suggested recipes to help you elevate your school lunch game without a lot of time or fuss.

1. Layer Lunch Foods on a Stick

Transform an ordinary deli sandwich or salad into something fresh and fun by layering ingredients on a skewer! Aim to include a starch (bread or crouton), protein (cheese and/or deli meat), and vegetable (halved cherry tomatoes or mini iceberg lettuce wedge) on each skewer. Pack mustard or dressing on the side for dipping.

Turkey Club Skewer

Alternating layers of turkey, bacon, Cheddar cheese, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and multigrain bread are dressed up with a tangy hoagie dressing.

Photo by Allrecipes

Chicken Caesar Salad on a Stick

Here's a fun twist on a classic! Cubes of cooked chicken and Parmesan cheese combine with croutons, and wedges of romaine.

Photo by Lindsey

2. Wrap it Up

Wraps and roll-ups are so visually appealing—especially when you add in bright vegetables, like shredded carrots or sliced red bell pepper. Opt for whole-grain tortillas or try thinly shaved cucumbers for a fun, crunchy twist! Use toothpicks to help hold wraps together until lunchtime.

Easy Snack Wraps

Allrecipes cooks Jillian and Navy_Mommy both recommend mixing a little dry ranch dressing mix in with the cream cheese for a flavor boost in these Easy Snack Wraps.

Photo by Deb C

3. Let Kids DIY their School Lunches

Use small containers or snack-size zip-top bags to pack crackers and sliced deli meat and cheese, then let kids build their own cracker stacks. Tuck a small container of hummus or guacamole in their lunch box to add even more flavor. Round out the meal with a piece of fresh fruit and carrot or celery sticks.

Homemade Lunch Combination

A DIY lunch is a win/win: you have less assembling to do at home, and your kid gets to enjoy making lunch to suit his or her tastes at school. This recipe is "a great alternative to the expensive stuff you get from the supermarket," according to recipe creator blondecellist.

Photo by Let's Eat

4. Pack Breakfast for Lunch

We're sure kids won't complain about another round of breakfast! Let them build their own parfait by packing yogurt, granola, and berries in separate mini containers for kids to assemble at lunch time, or keep things savory with frittatas or scrambled-egg cups that can be eaten warm or cold. Consider prepping these over the weekend for even easier weekday mornings. (Scrambled-egg cups, which are made in muffin tins, can be frozen and added to lunch boxes in the morning. They'll thaw in plenty of time for lunch.)

Scrambled Egg Muffins

Recipe tester Saxony Snow says, "Super easy and delicious! Use a silicone muffin tray for the easiest clean up ever."

5. Sneak in Some Vegetables

Tucking vegetables into familiar favorites, like cheese quesadillas, may be an easy way to encourage kids to eat them! To keep quesadillas and grilled sandwiches warm until lunchtime, cool them slightly after cooking, then pack in a thermos you've pre-heated with hot water. (Yes, you can buy a thermos that's square-shaped to keep sandwiches warm!)

Farmer's Market Vegetarian Quesadillas

Allrecipes cook Amanda Y lends some kid-friendly advice, noting "I love this versatile recipe, and the smaller I cut the veggies, the more likely my kids are to eat it."

Photo by CCLoves2bake

Waffle Sandwich with Cheese, Spinach, and Spicy Mustard

Recipe developer Desiree Howell notes, "This sandwich is super easy to make, and children can help with the assembly or, if supervised, the waffle iron. Use multigrain or whole wheat sandwich bread for a chewy treat."

Photo by Christina

6. Skip the Sandwich

If sandwiches are on heavy rotation, surprise kids with something totally different, like an easy pasta salad or English muffin pizza. Both can be made in advance and eaten all week! Bulk up pasta salads with protein by adding diced ham, chicken, cheese, or hard-boiled eggs.

Chicken Club Pasta Salad

Recipe user Tara Winter appreciates this easy recipe for chicken pasta salad, saying "This is quick and easy! It can also be served hot or cold for a one dish wonder meal!"

Fast English Muffin Pizzas

Feeding a picky eater (or two)? Allrecipes cook Jennifer DeFosse says, "My boys love these. They will eat them however I make them—they like them fresh out of the oven, or as cold lunchbox pizzas to take to school. Terrific idea—thanks!"

Photo by Tricia


Check our collection of School Lunch Ideas and Recipes.


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