A list of creative non-sandwich school lunch ideas is always an addition to our annual Back-to-School Lunch Guide on Cool Mom Eats. Hey, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from being parents (and listening to all of you for years!) it’s that we’re desperate for sandwich alternatives for school lunches that we can easily pack — and kids can easily eat.
No soups, chili, or salads here — that’s the obvious stuff. Instead, find our favorite creative non-sandwich lunch ideas that you may not have considered yourself, and that our own kids always love.
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First, a few supplies to have on hand for non-sandwich lunch boxes:
- A reusable bento or divided snack container that kids can easily open and close, separates food by compartment, and won’t leak. Our favorites are from LunchBots, which come in multiple configurations; or for bigger eaters try Planet Box, which require a little investment but hold up amazingly
- Reusable baggie alternatives like parent favorite reusable silicone Stasher bags, are a smart eco-friendly option and you’ll get so much use out of them beyond school lunch boxes. If you need something with more structure, Bentgo leak-proof reusable snack containers are a good bet.
- Small insulated containers in different sizes.
- The 10 oz stainless food container from S’Well above is perfect for so many things and keeps food cold for 10 hours or hot for 4 hours.
- Also check out the new insulated food jars from Hydro Flask in 8oz, 12 oz, 20 oz, or 24 oz sizes (for really hungry kids!)
- And there’s always Thermos Funtainers, which are still classics, and have multiple sizes as well.
- Small condiment containers
- Reusable mini plastic containers do the job and are affordable but they do degrade over time.
- Alternately, check out out the Lunch Bots Tiny Dips Condiment Containers that don’t leak. VERY important!
- There are also great insulated stainless condiment containers from S’Well that keep cold dips, dressings, and other condiments safe and delicious.
- Skewers for food on a stick like these 6″ bamboo skewers that don’t have super pointy tips.
- Bento accessories like this super affordable box of 160 cute food picks for kids
- Other cute accessories to make school lunch fun— we’ve created this entire list of fun lunch box accessories from kid-safe fork or spork sets, reusable napkins, no-spill reusable juice boxes, and a lot more.
9 non-sandwich lunch ideas for school
Check out these delicious (and not hard, we promise) non-sandwich school lunch ideas thanks to some favorite food bloggers and recipe sources of ours. And hey, feel free to share your own favorite ideas in comments if you have any. Parents can use all the help we can get.
“Fancy” Fruit and Cheese Tray
Sometimes getting out of a sandwich rut is as simple as just…taking away the bread. We love filling up our reusable Bento containers will all kinds of our favorite goodies, to make our own kid-friendly charcuterie boards for school lunch. We’ve found some brilliant inspiration from this smart list of 16 easy lunchbox ideas at Eazy Peazy Mealz — most of which are non-sandwich school lunch ideas.
This Fruit and Cheese Plate School Lunch shown above is so easy! Nice balance of savory and sweet, with protein from cheese and almonds. And it reminds our kids of their favorite airplane travel snack. If your school is nut-free, consider substituting with items like dried chickpeas, edamame, homemade hummus (or pre-made), or shelled sunflower seeds. There are so many ideas on her site, it’s a great resource to bookmark.
Peanut Butter and Banana “Sushi”
This clever recipe for Peanut Butter and Banana “Sushi” Rolls from the MilkLife site is one they’ve filed under breakfast or an after-school treat, but we think it’s a brilliant non-sandwich lunch idea for kids, too. It’s so fun and simple!
Swap in SunButter or other non-nut spread if you have nut allergies in your home or classroom, and you can even trade the rice cereal for a favorite granola. Just pair with some greek yogurt on the side, a few crunchy veggies and make your kids promise not to trade!
Taco Tuesday Bento Box
Taco Tuesday can live on at school too, with this Taco Bento Box, another creative non-sandwich lunch idea from Sweet Peas and Saffron. Pack up your dinner leftovers, or just open up some cans from your pantry and deck your kids out with everything they need to make their own taco salad or homemade nachos. I loooove that her recipe is no-cook to save busy parents a little time.
Be sure to read her substitution ideas if you’ve got selective eaters. And you want to add some protein, you can pack cold shredded chicken that you might have leftover in the fridge; or warm it up any leftover ground beef and pack it in a small insulated food jars to keep it warm.
For more bento ideas, see Kate’s clever post on packing lunch for four kids, featuring 6 of her kids’ favorite bento style lunches, from chicken nuggets to deconstructed salads for the older kids.
Sandwiches on a Stick
If your kid loves sandwiches but you want a fun way to change it up, how much do we love this Sandwiches-on-a-Stick idea from Two Peas and their Pod! It’s so easy to make, and they have the added bonus of letting you make multiple variations for multiple kids with different tastes — without feeling like a short order cook.
Just add the extra cherry tomatoes for your tomato-loving kids, or double the cubes of cheese and fresh cut slices of ham, salami or turkey for your kid who needs more protein. She’s got four variations on her site to get you started with some inspiration.
Bonus: This non-sandwich school lunch idea is also great for kids who like different foods but don’t like them “touching” because it’s easy to divide each ingredient with a small slice of bread so they can eat each one individually if they prefer.
If kids are sick of sandwiches but still love their lunch meat, we’ve got a whole post on 5 DIY Lunchable ideas whether your kids like the pizza ones, lunch meat with cheese and crackers, or hummus.
Kate has had success rolling up luncheon meats in a bento without bread — or you can even wrap cold cuts around a piece of string cheese — like we did in the DIY Cold Cuts Lunchable-Style Lunch Box idea (shown above) that Kate makes for her own four kids.
You can include nuts, fruit, veggies, chips, a granola bar, crackers…you name it. So easy and once you get in the hang of making them, this will give you weeks of non-sandwich lunch box ideas.
Mac n Cheese — The Easy Way
Of course, a Thermos Funtainer or other insulated container is a parent’s best friend when it comes to non-sandwich lunch ideas. Especially if it’s a hot lunch you’re after, and protein-packed mac and cheese is a favorite with our kids. While there’s always the boxed stuff (no complaints, we love it!) it’s so asy to make your Mac homemade with a recipe like Emma Christensen’s recipe for One-Bowl Microwave Mac & Cheese that she shared on The Kitchn.
Her instructions are crazy easy, and we love that it yields enough for one or two servings at a time that you pack it right into that Thermos. She even has some fantastic add-in ideas, if you want to add some veggies or meat to yours.
Mini Pizza Toasts
When I say this Pizza Toast school lunch idea from The Baker Mama is brilliant, I’m not exaggerating. Especially since you can prep these the night before, then heat up the slices for each kid all at once in the oven in the morning before packing. Wrap in foil, and you’ve got a clever way to use bread that’s not a sandwich! (Also, come on..tell me their friends will not be totally jealous.) Visit Maegan’s site for really simple instructions.
Breakfast for Lunch
Our kids love unexpected meals, and we’re all flipping out these Banana Oatmeal Protein Pancakes from The Wholesome Fork as a creative non-sandwich idea for our kids’ lunches. It’s not just a smart gluten-free lunch meal that will thrill your kids, it’s so easy–just three ingredients plus a sprinkling of cinnamon. But check the comments on her site for some terrific variations from her readers.
Our tip: Skip the messy syrup in a lunch box and instead fill a tiny reusable condiment container with some peanut butter or SunButter, a bit of Nutella, their favorite jam, or even cream cheese as alternative pancake dip ideas that won’t leave a sticky mess in their lunch boxes.
Okay, so these these PB&J Tacos at Homemade Interest are kiiiiind of a sandwich — but not really. And wow, how fun is this idea! There are so many variations on the ingredients to try, ike drizzled honey and banana slices with the nut butter (or SuBbutter of course), cream cheese with fresh strawberry slices, or even hummus and red pepper slices. If your kids just can’t get through lunch without their bread, at least it’s a fun, surprising way to serve it in their lunch boxes!