School lunch plays a big role in our kids’ day, so it’s important that we pack exactly what they need. A good packed lunch has to be filling enough to keep growing bodies fueled all afternoon, easy enough to eat in the short time most lunch breaks allow, and tasty enough that kids will actually want to eat every last bite. And it should be healthy, too, because the more balanced the lunch, the better it will keep kids satisfied until after-school snack time. Whether you’re packing for a kindergartener or high schooler, we’ve got 12 healthy lunch ideas that are quick and easy to pack.
1. Broccoli, Ham, and Cheese Lunch Box Muffins
Muffins are perfectly portable and delicious at room temperature. Make a savory version using your favorite basic muffin recipe, and add finely chopped broccoli, cubed deli ham, and sharp cheddar cheese instead of the typical fruit or chocolate chip mix-ins. These muffins are perfect paired with sliced apples.
2. Mini Bagel Pizzas
These are not the frozen bagel bites of our youth! Instead, use mini bagels, your favorite marinara sauce, and grated Italian cheese to bake up quick and easy pizza bagels. You can top with mini pepperoni, your favorite sliced veggies, olives, or pickled peppers. This is an especially popular healthy school lunch idea for high schoolers!
3. Broccoli and Cheese Pizza Rolls
Store-bought pizza dough makes prepping this healthy lunch idea for school super easy. Roll out the dough, top with frozen broccoli that’s been steamed, and shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Roll the dough up like a cinnamon roll and slice into 1-inch-thick pieces to bake. Send them to school with pizza sauce or Greek yogurt for dipping.
4. Chia Jam and Nut Butter Uncrustables
Turn last week’s uneaten berries into a sweet jam by mashing them with chia seeds and a little bit of sugar. Use a knife and fork to remove the crusts on a couple of slices of your favorite sliced bread, sandwich the jam with sunflower butter, and press into pocket sandwiches. Here’s a video on how to make these. You can even make them in bulk to freeze for the long school year ahead.
5. Chicken Salad Pitas
Chicken salad is a lunch box classic for many reasons, most notably because it is quick and easy to make. Add a rotisserie chicken and your favorite dressing to your grocery delivery and you’re more than halfway there. If you want to get fancy — or boost the nutrition — combine the chicken and dressing with extras like chopped celery, slivered almonds, and/or grapes.
6. Copycat Burrito Bowls
Season canned black beans with your favorite taco spices and pack on a bed of rice with your family’s favorite taco toppings. Think: shredded cheese, fire-roasted corn, guacamole, and salsa. If you’ve got leftover grilled chicken or shredded pork on hand, pile that on too.
7. Chickpea and Veggie Fritters
Fritters are a great way to use up vegetables that are about to go bad. Grate carrots, zucchini, or finely chop cabbage. Then toss with some flour, an egg, and drained canned chickpeas that you lightly mash. This is your batter. Cook the fritters in the air fryer or in a pan with a little oil. These are easy to make in a big batch for a week of healthy lunches or to pack your freezer.
8. BLT Cobb Salad
Simplify the cobb salad by focusing on the best part: the B, L, and T. Thick-cut bacon, chopped tomatoes, and lettuce are a must, but you can also add cubed sourdough and quartered hard boiled eggs to make it even more filling. Use a hearty, crisp lettuce like romaine or iceberg and pack dressing on the side to ensure that the salad holds up until lunchtime.
9. Build-Your-Own Bistro Box
One of our pre-teens is totally obsessed with Starbucks, and packing a snack box inspired by our favorite DoorDash treat is a huge win. We include hard boiled eggs, and a snack-pack of hummus, baby carrots, crackers, and grapes.
10. Antipasto on a Stick
Lunch on a stick always wins! Cook fresh or frozen tortellini and chill before threading onto skewers, kebab-style, with cherry tomatoes, mini mozzarella balls (or cubed cheese), and salami. Pack Italian dressing or jarred pesto on the side. It’s a healthy lunch for school that always goes down well with our kids.
11. Grilled Veggie Orzo Salad
Orzo is quick cooking and great for pasta salads. We like to build this one by chopping up a bunch of leftover (or meal prepped) grilled (or roasted) vegetables like zucchini, red onion, and yellow peppers. Toss the orzo with the veggie mixture, a can of drained white beans, and your favorite dressing or jarred pesto.
12. California Roll Bowls
If you can cook rice and make a simple salad of edamame, cucumbers, grated carrots, and avocado, you can pack these California Roll Bowls. Top the rice and salad with real or imitation crab (canned salmon is an easy substitute) and drizzle with spicy mayo. Pack seaweed snacks for scooping everything up, hand roll style!
Photography: Paul Quitoriano
Food Styling: Mary Rupp
Art Direction: Sarah Ceniceros