It’s back to school time, and if you’re looking for school lunch ideas kids can make themselves, you’ve come to the right place!
We’re always looking for suggestions that ease the transition from the lazy mornings of summer to “hurry up you are going to miss the bus” mornings; while we’ve shared breakfast ideas that kids can make themselves, this year, we are sharing some of our favorite school lunch ideas that kids can make themselves.
These are all basic, kid-friendly, easy school lunch ideas that can give them the healthy boost they need to get through their day, while making your own morning routine a little less stressful. – Kate, with the team
Easy School Lunch Ideas Kids Can Make Themselves
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If your kids are still learning to prepare meals, help them prep their school lunches ahead of time, then let them grab what they need and pack it up in the morning. If your kids can be trusted to cut, spread, and spear on their own, let them have at it.
We think the independence and responsibility is great for them at any age.
1. Folded Sandwiches, 20 Ways
Folded pizza TikTok sandwich via Scrambled Chefs
Of course we’ll start with the basics: Sandwiches kids can make themselves. But that doesn’t have to mean they’re basic sandwiches! Check out these 20 sandwich ideas using the folded TikTok sandwich hack, plenty of which are kid-friendly, from Philadelphia Cheesesteak Folded Sandwiches to a deconstructed Thanksgiving Dinner Folded Sandwich to a Cheese Quesadilla. But we think kids will love this Folded pizza TikTok sandwich above, from Scrambled Chefs.
2. DIY Uncrustables
Not that you need a whole recipe from us for this, but this is some good inspiration for a sandwich can make themselves, that they’ll actually be excited to eat. Plus, it saves you money. Be sure to check our gluten-free school lunch ideas post, which includes ideas for gluten-free and allergen-free options too.
3. Not-Peanut-Butter-and-Jelly Sandwiches
PB&J mini waffle sandwiches at Cooking Classy
With so many nut-free schools and cafeterias (for good reason), it’s smart to have a repertoire of peanut-butter free sandwich ideas for school, even for kids who can enjoy them at home. These 6 nut-free spreads are creative and you’re sure to find a new idea in there that your kid can make themselves — even if you’re the one prepping the hummus or pesto.
And of course, there’s always Sunbutter, which has saved more than a few of our kids for years.
You can also get rid of the “sandwich” aspect of a pb&j sandwich by swapping in fun alternatives to bread. My kids love this idea for making PB&J with mini waffles from a recipe we found at Cooking Classy. Even my first grader can toast his own waffle and spread the peanut butter (or almond or seed butter) and jelly with his kid-friendly butter knife.
4. DIY Lunchables, A.K.A. Kid-Friendly Bento Boxes
Middle Eastern Meal Prep Bento Boxes from Gimme Delicious
Bento Boxes are really easy school lunches for kids to make themselves and can include just about anything you have in the fridge and pantry–that your kids will eat. Start with these 5 DIY Lunchable Ideas that we’ve shared, ranging from pizza and tacos DIY lunchables to very easy crackers with cheese and meats. Kids can make them to include what they want, and nothing they don’t — so less waste!
I’m using these Middle Eastern Meal Prep Bento Boxes from Gimme Delicious for inspiration. Dips like hummus are full of protein and make for a really smart lunch idea that kids can easily make themselves.
NOTE: It’s ideal to use a reusable bento box like the ones from Planet Box (we’re big fans!),or the less expensive Bentgo. Also check out these 3-compartment bento box containers, which can be washed and reused too. My own kids like them because the food doesn’t get all mixed up as it travels around in their back packs all day.
5. School Lunch Pasta Salads
Pizza Pasta Salad from Momables
One tip I learned from our own Stacie Billis is to always double pasta when you are cooking it for dinner, then use the rest for lunches throughout the week. Kids can toss just about anything into the pasta that they like, from frozen peas to homemade pesto to sliced deli meats and cheese.that we love, and let your kids help you prep them in advance. This recipe above for Pizza Pasta Salad from Momables is brilliant and your kids can pick and choose their own toppings.
Find more school lunch inspiration from these roundups:
- 8 fresh summer pasta salads
- 7 fall pasta salads we love
- The ultimate easy Italian pasta salad
- The basics for our 4 favorite pasta salads: Italian, Mexican, Greek and Asian
- A list of add-ins to make any pasta salad your own.
6. Pinwheel Sandwiches, Wraps, or Mock “Sushi”
Banana and Almond Butter “Sushi” from Gather and Dine
Another variation on sandwiches kids can make themselves is simply to roll them up! Maybe you call them pinwheels or roll-ups or wraps or faux sushi, but they all get you to the same place. Kids can make their own school lunch simply by spreading any kind of tortilla or flatbread with their favorites, then slice them up. They’ll be so proud of their work without a lot of effort.
I’m a big fan of this Banana “Sushi” recipe from Gather and Dine. Any jam will do of course, but when you have a free afternoon, I recommend you take the time to make a batch of her strawberry chia jam. It’s full of fiber, protein, and fatty acids that may help keep your kids focused at school. Or at minimum, it’s delicious.
Ham wraps, egg wraps, salad wraps, tuna wraps and more from Kids Eat by Shanai
For a pinwheel/wrap sandwich idea that’s more classic, check out 5 kid-friendly wrap recipes from Kids Eat by Shanai for inspiration, then feel free to adapt to your own kids’ tastes.
7. DIY Baked Pizza Pinwheels
Kate Etue for Cool Mom Eats
Pizza-themed lunches are always a winner with kids, and we have a ton of ideas for you there! But this quick and easy recipe for pizza pinwheels (complete with the best no-cook pizza sauce recipe) is a favorite around my house since kids can make their own just the way they like, bake them, then pack them hot (just reheat) or at room temperature for school lunch. I shared a step-by-step how to with lots of photo to help inspire you.
Pro tip: The recipe yields a lot, especially if each kid wants to make their own, so I recommend making these for dinner or on a Sunday afternoon, then letting the kids pack the leftovers in their lunch the following mornings.
8. Sandwiches On a Stick
Sandwich on a Stick from Two Peas and Their Pod
We’re always looking for sandwich alternatives for school lunch, and they’re so easy for kids to pack themselves. One favorite is using long shish-kabob sticks (no sharp ends, hopefully) to make these sandwiches on a stick with tips from Two Peas and Their Pod. It’s not just good for selective eaters who have their own preferences; it’s a nice alternative to bentos for kids who don’t like their foods “touching”–just pop a cube of bread in between the suspect ingredients!
For more inspiration, check out the different ideas for lunch box kabobs from Mom on Timeout, including pepperoni pizza, chicken quesadilla, and this Chicken Cobb Kabob recipe, which is also a smart way to use up dinner leftovers at lunchtime in a way that kids can still do themselves.
9. Charcuterie Board-Inspired School Lunch
Charcuterie board lunch from Budget Bytes
Is the charcuterie trend over? Never! Christina put together this brilliant post on charcuterie board inspired school lunch ideas that includes so many really helpful tips, ideas, hacks and inspiration we all keep coming back to it. At minimum, kids can make their own a single lunch serving with a mix of crunchy crackers, salty salami, sweet dried apricots, cheese and nuts, like in this cheese board lunch idea from Budget Bytes. But it can be as adventurous as they are.
10. Dips! Plus Stuff to Dip! (Not Fingers.)
Greek-Style Cucumber Yogurt Dip by Stacie Billis at One Hungry Mama.
We shared 9 healthy dips for school lunch, for when you’re looking for an alternative to sandwiches. From an avocado-yogurt dip to homemade ranch dressing, to hummus, to a satisfying edamame tofu dip. Highly recommended: Stacie Billis’s Greek-Style Cucumber Yogurt Dip inspired by her own Greek Heritage. Do you know there are 8.5g of protein in just a half-cup of nonfat greek yogurt? Great way to power kids through the afternoon. Just add pita chips, sliced veggies, or a few tortillas for dipping.
11. Mason Jar Lunches
Mason Jar Burrito Bowls from Gimme Delicious
Grab yourself this 12-pack of pint-sized jars from Ball and get inspired withthese 8 ideas for Mason Jar lunches! They are a huge hit with older kids, and easy for them to make themselves for lunch with a little pre-planning. My teens absolutely love these Mason Jar Burrito Bowls from Gimme Delicious, and they are super easy for them to make ahead the night before all by themselves; they just grab everything on their way out the door in the morning.
Also bookmark Brit + Co.’s mason jar ramen recipe by Amanda Sager, which has limitless variations; just substitute anything at all based on everyone’s tastes. (Extra mushrooms for me; none for my teen!)
Want to make it a mason jar school lunch even easier? Try the Jarcuterie recipe we shared here, which is basically just a charcuterie board in a jar. Delicious + easy? That’s a winner for every school lunch.
12. A Grazing Lunch
No-Bake Blueberry Vanilla Greek Yogurt Granola Bars from Half Baked Harvest
If your kids are grazers, like some of the kids on the Cool Mom Eats team, what they might be craving is just a whole bunch of small things that they eat through the day. Of course that’s easier for teens with more flexible schedules, but the idea still holds for kids who just aren’t going to make it through a giant sandwich, two servings of fruit and veggies, and a carton of milk all in one sitting.
If you’re nodding your head, you’ll love our crowdsourced list of the best snack-y lunch box ideas for kids, compiled by our Facebook fans. You’ll find close to 30 ideas suggested as mid-morning snacks that can work as a grazing lunch for kids when they put a bunch of them together. Say, a homemade granola bar (the one above from Half Baked Harvest is delicious!), a box of raisins, a few cut-up veggies, a mini bagel spread with almond butter, and a yogurt drink.
Hey, whatever gets them through the day without starving, right?