Easy School (and Work) Lunch Ideas

By , SparkPeople Blogger
What kid or adult for that matter doesn't want to be the envy of the cafeteria, thanks to their delicious packed lunch?  In my family, when the kids hop into the car after school the first question or comment of the day usually pertains to the mid-day meal.
Most days I hear: "It was great, everyone wanted to trade with me!"  Of course, I also hear that lunch wasn't so good some days, too.
What does make a great lunch?  Is it something new, colorful, warm, hot, or one that comes in a packaged compartment tray?  As a Chef and mother of three boys the answer is yes to all of the above.  The chef in me thinks back to simple culinary training and passion for the seasons.  Warm soups, stews, or savory dishes are perfect for lunch on cool days whereas cold salads or sandwiches with fruit hit the spot of the hot days.  Just mix it up!  Check out these fun and easy ideas for you and your family to pack or even eat in for lunch meals.
Nut Butter Banana Wrap:  Spread nut butter on a whole wheat tortilla, along with all-fruit jam or sliced strawberries. Place a whole banana on top and roll it up. Add strawberries if desired. Secure with plastic wrap and tie the ends with kitchen string.  Avoid rubber bands--they are a guaranteed detention for teenage boys.  Trust me, I know.
Vegetarian Bean Chili:  Warm up prepared chili and pack in a thermos, along with shredded cheese, hot sauce, Greek yogurt, and whole wheat crackers in a tiny divided plastic container. Don’t forget the ice pack.
Turkey Sloppy Joes:  Over a weekend or night before, cook 1 pound extra lean ground turkey breast to 165 degrees then add in 8 ounces no salt added tomato sauce, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1 tablespoon barbeque sauce. Simmer for 5 minutes.  Divide into 4 equal portions. Morning of school reheat and pack in a thermos.  Pack 1 whole wheat sandwich thin, tomato slices, and lettuce leaves.
Ricotta and Strawberries Whole Wheat Wraps:  Combine 1 cup sliced strawberries with 1/2 cup ricotta cheese.  Spread onto whole wheat wrap, top with 1 tablespoon ground flax seeds and 1/2 teaspoon honey.  Roll or fold wrap in half, then cover with plastic wrap. This is also delicious with other kinds of fruit, such as kiwi and raspberries.
Turkey Meat Pie: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Roll out a single serving of whole wheat pizza dough.   Fill one half with sliced roasted turkey, grilled onions, spinach, Swiss cheese, and sun dried tomato paste.  Wet edges of dough, fold over sides to make a meat pie. Stamp edges with the tines of a fork.  Mist the pie with cooking spray.  Bake 10-12 minutes until dough is firm and lightly browned.
Salad in a Jar:  Use old plastic or glass mason jars to house your lunch salad.  Pour a tablespoon of your favorite salad dressing into the bottom of a large jar. Layer vegetables (cucumbers, carrots, and tomatoes hold up well), chicken or canned beans, and salad greens. You will be the envy of the work or school lunchroom. By keeping the dressing on bottom your lettuce, which is on top, will stay crisp until lunchtime. Just shake and eat.

Thermos Smoothies:  Smoothies are great for lunch, especially when kids are short on time and easily distracted by recess. Add nonfat dry milk, protein powder or peanut butter for extra protein, and use milk or yogurt as the base. If you don't have a thermos, wash and reuse a bottle.
Breakfast Flip-Flop:  Pack hot oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts in a thermos. Or send whole wheat pancakes with lean maple sausage.  Add fruity Greek yogurt or low fat cheeses.
Whole Wheat Bagel Pizza Lunch:  Spread half a whole wheat bagel with reduced-fat cream cheese mixed with 1/4 teaspoon Italian herbs, chopped peppers and diced tomatoes for a quick no-bake pizza.
Don't forget the sides:
Vegetable Baked Potato Chips:  These almost fat-free microwave chips are perfect as a side dish to a sandwich or soup.

Microwave Herb Potato Chips

Sweet Potato Chili Chips

Zucchini Chips


Pizza Popcorn
: Toss pinches of dried oregano, basil, cayenne pepper and grated parmesan cheese into 2 cups popped popcorn for a fun side.
Any simple meal becomes a star with creative presentation.  Purchase lunch boxes with separate containers or several small sealable jars.  Cut and slice vegetables with a creative flare.  Use julienne peelers to make vegetables into spaghetti or a plain "Y" peeler to makes thick wide strips.  Kids will love sandwiches stamped into animal shapes or decorated into faces using dried fruit.  Adults can turn a packed lunched into a real meal experiences by adding "real" silverware and a cloth napkin.  Give some of these meal ideas a try, and you may find that the old standby PBJ won't look or taste as exciting.

Want to get kids off to a healthy start this school year? So does SparkPeople! With "A Month of Fun and Healthy School Lunches," you'll end the food fight and get kids excited about packing lunch--with fun yet simple meals they'll actually eat. Written by a mother of three, with 50 easy and healthy recipes plus plenty of ideas tested by real moms in real life, this e-book turns lunchtime into fun time! Bonus: You'll also get 25 healthy, kid-friendly after-school snack ideas!

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JUNETTA2002 4/3/2020
Thanks for sharing Report
GEORGE815 3/24/2020
Thanks Report
KHALIA2 3/11/2020
Great Article! Thanks for sharing!!!!! Report
CECELW 1/4/2020
i add a bit of almond butter or peanut butter to my apple or pear Report
Great Ideas! Thanks! Report
Thanks Report
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
Thaks Report
Great suggestions. Report
Thank you for these great ideas! Report
Helpful ideas. Report
Great ideas! Thanks for sharing! Report
Great ideas. Report
Good ideas I'll be trying some Report
Great ideas. Report
Apple for a snack is what my child gets. Report
Love the idea for wraps that are healthy and portable. Report
Salad in a jar sounds like a great idea. Report
I'm liking the salad in a jar. Report
Knowing what is served in public schools, these are excellent alternatives. Report
Great information Report
great article Report
great artilce Report
nice ideas Report
There are some good ideas here Report
I always like finding new lunch ideas. Keeps me from having boredom and the inclination to cheat. Report
Love these ideas even for an adult! Report
I can't wait to try the zucchini chips ... Ive had the sweet potato chips and they are fabulous Report
CATNURSE1 thanks for the powdered pb idea. I will be trying a few Report
My newest go-to is peanut butter powder. I add it to Slim Fast strawberry shakes for a "peanut butter and jelly" smoothie. Put in freezer for an hour and shake and it's perfect! Report
In all my years of school, I NEVER wanted to be the envy of my cafeteria, nor ever at work, either...........just saying. Report
I'll be using a few of these. But I have to wonder, who picked the pictures? They clearly didn't match the recipe ideas. The no bake pizza was baked and the veggie chili sure looked like it had (gasp) meat crumbles in there. Report
Looking for some new lunch ideas ... just downloaded it to my kindle! Report
I have to try the salad in a jar. Report
Wonderful ideas! And having raised 4 boys AND worked in the school system for years, I got a laugh from your comment on teenage boys and elastic bands! Believe me, they don't even have to be teenagers! Report
Some of these look awesome!! I must try the zucchini chips.. Report
great ideas, the most of them just way to messy for my preschool-kids (and hubby too i believe ^^) ... i have to stay with handy bite-sized snacks for now (apple slizes, celery sticks, half oatmeal-bars etc.) ... i tried all kinds of wraps at home and even here it's always just a huge mess, at least that way i make sure to get one extra little workout with cleaning up from top to bottom one more time. *lol* ;o) Report
"That the old standby PBJ" is surprisingly healthy when made correctly. I tell you now, if I'm packing a lunch for a trip climbing up a mountain (which I do on occasion), I will pick peanut butter & jelly every time! It's fast, easy, and filling. Report
I can not wait to wow my coworkers with a salad in a jar. I may pack two because when they see me shaking up my healthy lunch, I know someone else will want one. What a fun new purpose for those layered jars of dry cookie ingredients that went directly to my waistline after I received them for Christmas. This is a WAY healthier way to enjoy these jars! Report
I work at a JH school so I've been eating a salad at lunch for the past month and I'm not bored yet but will try these ideas at some point. Report
Great ideas! I will definitely try some of these. I do not like sandwiches and am lucky to have a microwave at work, so I usually have leftovers from the night before for my lunch (I cook an extra serving for this reason). Sometimes I take a big salad for my lunch, I just keep my vinaigrette in a small separate container. I also stock my desk with apples since they last long and the work fridge with yogurt for snacks. My file cabinet has a snack and drawer where I keep nuts, fruit leather, seed crackers, home made larabar bites (I call them energy bombs, LOL). I also keep individual microwavable bowls of brown rice and individual packs of micowavable madras lentils. The rice and lentils contain two servings each, so I can mix one half of each in a bowl and save the other half for the next day. This has saved me a couple of times from eating out when I forgot my lunch at home (or did not have time to make one). I also keep instant oatmeal in my desk, in case I missed breakfast at home. Report
I'm diabetic and pack my lunches and sometimes breakfasts for work. It's hard to find potable foods you like. Thanks for the ideas. I usually do veggies and dip or make soup at home. Report
These are some awesome ideas. Can't wait to try them. Thanks Report
Great information. I'll tell my daughter to do those lunch ideas for his dad. Report
Thank you! Great ideas I will make use of! Report
Terrific ideas! I especially love the salad in a jar. I'm going to try it this week. Report
Yum! I'm going to try some of these, especially the salad in a jar. Awesome idea. Major upgrade to a boring lunch. Report
Great heathy options. Report
Thanks for some GREAT ideas! Report