47 Easy School Lunches Nutritionists Love
Balancing nutritious and tasty is tricky, especially when it comes to kids. These nutritionist-approved lunches—and lunch components—will solve all your problems this school year.
Pita with hummus and cucumber slices
“As a mom, my first priority is to make sure my kids eat! I never thought that would be my first goal but that’s my reality,” says Brooke Alpert, MS, RD, and author of The Detox Diet. “As a rule of thumb, I try to make sure that there is always a protein and fiber option in my kids’ lunches.”
Almond butter and fresh strawberries on banana bread
“I think it’s so important to let your kids have a say in what goes in their lunch. I like to set out a few different choices—baby carrots, string cheese, yogurt, popcorn, snack bars, applesauce, etc.—and let them pick two or three options to put in,” says Alpert.
This smoothie includes banana, peach, collagen protein powder and a handful of spinach. “I also love to think outside the lunchbox too—sometimes leftovers from dinner work great, or I can make healthy muffins with my girls and use that as a main course option—they love banana almond flour muffins,” says Alpert. Kefir happens to be one of the 7 best probiotic foods for your gut that aren’t yogurt.
Apple Chicken Salad
Liz Weiss, nutritionist, and host of Liz’s Healthy Table podcast and blog told Reader’s Digest that she likes to put a fun spin on chicken salad by adding apples into it.
“Ants on a log”
Arianne Perry, co-founder and CEO of Sweet Defeat and a certified health coach, says to put natural peanut butter on celery sticks with raisins for a fun-looking, delicious snack. “[It’s] a delicious combination of protein, healthy, fat, and fiber,” says Perry.
Peanut Butter Banana Wrap
This isn’t your normal peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Lisa Moskovitz, RD, advises putting natural peanut butter or Sunflower seed butter with sliced bananas, cinnamon, and a drizzle of honey on a whole wheat tortilla. “A healthy lunch for kids is one that includes at least two to three food groups and offers a variety of vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber,” says Moskovitz. Tired of stirring that natural peanut butter? You need this simple trick.
Moskovitz suggests making a meal like a personal pizza with whole wheat pita, shredded cheese, tomato sauce, and a vegetable your child likes, such as green peppers or spinach. “The key is to keep meals simple yet fun,” she says. Moskovitz even suggests preparing foods in fun shapes, including messages, packing lunch in bags that feature your kid’s favorite cartoons or sports and allowing your kids to eat with their hands. She also recommends pairing healthy things with something more indulgent, like fruit with chocolate.
Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN founder of Small Bites by Jessica, tells the Food Network that she likes to pack smoked salmon for her kids. She stuffs a tortilla with smoked salmon, cucumber, and cream cheese.
Turkey Swiss Pinwheel
Joy Bauer, MS, RDN, and founder of Nourish Snacks, tells Real Simple that she makes these with whole grain tortilla, turkey, and Swiss cheese. By the way, if you’re avoiding carbs, you should check out these 7 science-backed reasons you should eat more whole grains.
Registered dietician Sally Kuzemchak tells Parents that all food—and especially healthier fare—will look more appealing when put into cute little compartments. She fills bento boxes for her kids with bow-tie pasta, veggies, two cookies, and watermelon.
DIY chicken nuggets
Nutrisystem nutritionist Mandi Knowles, RDN, LDN tells The Leaf that kids shouldn’t be deprived of popular meals like chicken nuggets. To make them healthy, she makes them from scratch. “It takes very little time to cook up a big batch of healthier nuggets on the weekend, using boneless, skinless chicken breast (or chicken tenderloins). Dip the finger-sized pieces into beaten egg and buttermilk, then roll them in panko crumbs.”
According to an article in The Huffington Post, Rick Hall, a clinical professor and registered dietitian at Arizona State University, suggests edamame has a healthy lunch for kids because it’s not only healthy but also convenient to pack.
Whole-Grain Pasta Salad
Melissa Halas-Liang, registered dietitian and founder of SuperKids Nutrition, recommends to The Huffington Post making whole-grain pasta salad with roasted tomatoes, crushed garlic, chicken, and spinach.
Jackie Newgent, RDN tells Real Simple that she packs strawberries for her kids because they’re loaded with antioxidants. She pairs them with a dip like Greek yogurt.
Pizza Stuffed Zucchini
Instead of placing pepperoni and cheese on traditional dough, opt for a healthier topping like zucchini. This recipe from Delish only takes about 15 minutes to make.
Apple Cheese Wraps
This recipe from Weelicious is pretty simple and great. Simply wrap slices of apple and cheese. Add ham for an enjoyable meal your kid will love.
Lunch Box Sushi Sandwich
Turn a boring old sandwich into something surprising. This recipe from The Weary Chef includes simple ingredients like turkey, carrots, and mozzarella cheese in a spinach wrap, which you cut up like sushi.
Moskovitz suggests making a burrito with grilled chicken, cheese, rice, and guacamole. She also recommends not giving up on foods your child has tried only once—especially if the food is healthy. “Experts agree that a food should be offered at least ten times, perhaps prepared in different ways; a consistency change could make the food more appealing to children,” she says.
Baked chicken tenders with sweet potato fries
“Don’t worry about offering unhealthy foods—just don’t serve them too often and make sure to combine them with other good foods so that kids are more likely to eat the healthy stuff,” says Moskovitz. Find out some other healthy lunch ideas that aren’t salad.
Peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread
Sometimes you can’t go wrong with a classic: “Parents should choose foods that are rich in nutrients such as protein, whole grains, fiber, and vitamin and minerals,” says NYC-based dietician Stacy K. Leung. She suggests adding carrots and water to the lunch to balance it out.
Pasta salad with broccoli, mozzarella, and grapes
“Try to include a fruit, vegetable, or both into their lunch bag every day,” says Leung. “Fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of fiber which helps with fullness. Also, the different colors can help bring excitement to the meal. And always include water so your child won’t get dehydrated.”
“I love recommending ‘rollups’ to my clients since you can cut them into bite size pieces and they aren’t huge pieces of bread that can get soggy,” says Amy Shapiro, RD, a nutritionist and founder and director of Real Nutrition. “A healthy lunch is balanced with protein, heart-healthy fats, and fiber from plants.” She recommends taking a whole wheat tortilla and lightly spreading it with peanut butter or sunbutter. Then, place a medium-size banana at one end and roll up. You can cut into about eight bite-size pieces and pack it along with string cheese. If you’re not sure what sunbutter is, you can learn all about it here.
Soba Noodle Salad with Chicken and Scallions
For kids who are a little more adventurous, try this soba noodle salad recipe from Martha Stewart. Soba is normally made gluten-free, which is perfect if your child has a sensitivity.
Macaroni and cheese
Tiffany DeWitt, a dietician with Abbott Nutrition, shares that she loves making mac and cheese for her kids with whole wheat pasta and pairs it with veggies for a balanced meal. Here’s the best way to make mac and cheese.
“They eat well at room temperature,” says Shapiro. “Take two small whole wheat tortillas and put in a pan or on a griddle. Sprinkle about 1/3 cup Mexican cheese mix (I use organic) and a few spinach leaves or sliced leftover grilled chicken or taco meat. Heat until both tortillas are crunchy. Cut into quarters and pack them with cut up cucumber, grape tomatoes, apple slices, and a side of guacamole.”
Fruit and cheese kabobs
“Kids will feel empowered that they can eat without rushing but not overwhelmed by too many items,” says Shapiro. “I always remind them that kids like repetition so don’t feel pressure to make different meals every day. Always pack a fruit or veggie.” She says to simply take a skewer and alternate fruit chunks and cheese squares. Pack some yogurt to dip into and a small cup of granola.
Turkey Hot Dogs
DeWitt tells Abbott Nutrition that turkey dogs are a great source of protein and have less saturated fat than the conventional hot dogs.
Steamed broccoli and lighter ranch dip
Unfortunately, the best tasting sauces—ranch, for example—aren’t the healthiest for you. With this recipe from Martha Stewart, you get a lighter version that makes eating broccoli enjoyable. Broccoli just so happens to be one of the 10 healthiest vegetables you—or your kids—can eat.
Breakfast for lunch
“Pack foods that kids can eat with their fingers and in one bite,” says Shapiro. “Always pack what you know your kids like and don’t try ‘new’ things on them as they likely will not eat it.” She suggests packing two whole wheat waffles with peanut butter or sunbutter and a drizzle of honey in the middle; add a side of fruit and veggies, and a hard-boiled egg.
DeWitt, an RD with Abbott Nutrition, notes that avocados have healthy fat, fiber, and vitamins. She loves spreading on toast, crackers, and sandwiches.
Baked sweet potato chips
Kids love potato chips, but those found at your local grocery store are loaded with sodium and fat. But you don’t have to give up on this snack for kids: Try this recipe from Martha Stewart—you get a low-fat version of their favorite that the kids will still love. Here are some other healthy snack ideas approved by nutritionists.
Peanut butter and banana sushi
“Most picky eaters love this flavor combination, and the finger food aspect makes it appealing for kids (and adults). For those with food allergies or nut-free classrooms, simply substitute sunflower butter or soy butter for an easy swap. It’s also a vegan recipe filled with plant-based protein, fiber, and potassium, which are nutrients often lacking in lunches,” Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN tells NBC News.
DeWitt tells Abbott Nutrition that these fun snacks are much better made at home with real fruit juice—and your kids won’t be able to tell the difference.
Hungry Boy Granola Bars
Don’t let the name fool you; these bars from Martha Stewart are great for all kids. They are packed with oats, coconut, almonds, sesame seeds, and raisins. Here are 10 more granola bar recipes that your kids will love.
Bean and veggie sliders
Martha Stewart gives kids a healthier version of the sliders that everyone loves so much. Patties are made with rice and beans and topped off with cilantro and mango for a nice kick.
Maya Feller, RD, owner of Maya Feller Nutrition, tells the Huffington Post that she packs her kids yogurt along with other snacks for their lunch. “I have two children who both have great palates, so I feel lucky that packing lunch is not too much of a challenge. Every day, I pack a mid-morning snack that usually consists of a Siggi’s yogurt tube or goat milk squeeze pouch, cucumbers, baby bell peppers, and a side of hummus for my son. For my daughter, I pack a Siggi’s yogurt tube or goat milk squeeze pouch, cucumbers, berries, and cherry tomatoes,” she tells the site.
Wholly Guacamole Classic Minis
Pack something easy and fun like these Wholly Guacamole Classic Minis. “The healthy fat will help keep kids full,” Jessica Cording, RD, founder of Jessica Cording Nutrition, in New York City tells Parents.
Bean and cheese sushi
Halas-Liang tells the Huffington Post that she makes bean and cheese sushi by spreading mashed black beans with a bit of lemon juice on a whole grain tortilla, sprinkling shredded mozzarella cheese, and rolling it into a tight log. Then she cuts slices just like sushi. She’ll add in oranges and veggies like edamame or sugar snap peas.
If you’ve had a great, healthy dinner the night before, it doesn’t hurt to serve it as lunch for your kids the next day, according to Laura Lagano of Laura Lagano Nutrition.
Newgent tells Real Simple that she likes to pack hard-boiled eggs for her kids as a quick and easy source of protein. “Eggs provide high-quality protein that’s key for kids’ growing muscles—and so much more.”
Healthy chicken salad
Registered dietitian and chef, Jessica Ivey tells NBC that she likes to make chicken salad with nonfat plain Greek yogurt instead of mayo. “When you substitute Greek yogurt in place of mayonnaise, you reduce the saturated fat while adding healthy nutrients, like bone-building calcium,” she tells the site. Check out these 10 delicious ways to have Greek yogurt for breakfast.
Sarah Remmer tells RD to pack finger foods for kids so that they get a variety of things to eat. She suggests things like whole grain crackers with cheddar cheese cubes and sliced pieces of fruit.
Unsweetened ice tea
Bauer tells Real Simple that if you want to add sweetness to tea for your kids, try adding a small portion of 100 percent fruit juice.