100 easy lunch box ideas for kids to give parents a break!

Whether you have a toddler who is off to nursery or a child at school, packing their lunch box can be a chore and so in this blog I wanted to lift the boredom and give you 100 healthy and easy lunch box ideas for kids.

Lunch is actually a really important meal of the day from a nutritional perspective, it needs to provide around a third of your child’s daily nutrients and is often a meal they will eat well at, unlike dinner when a lot of children are just too tired and tend to pick.

So with this in mind below you will find my top tips to packing a healthy lunch for kids as well as 100 ideas for inspiration.

a girl helping her mum to chop vegetables

When is the best time to make a packed lunch?

The idea of making lunches the night before isn’t a new one BUT it’s still one of my favourite tips to make packing lunches less stressful for you!

It’s just one fewer job for you to do on an already full schedule in the mornings.

Things that can go into a lunch box the night before include the non-perishables like water bottles or juice boxes, crackers or bakes and whole pieces of fruit. These foods don’t need to be refrigerated and so the lunchbox can be closed and left on the worktop.

However, if you have space in the fridge, you could pack the whole thing, add your sandwiches, veggies, pasta salads, dips, yoghurts and milk and pop the whole lunchbox in the fridge overnight. 

Aside from time, another benefit of making lunches the day before is that your little one can help you, often this is a great way to encourage them to actually eat what’s in their lunchbox, because there are no surprises, they know exactly what’s in there.

Even children as young as 2 can help in the kitchen, they can spread butter onto bread, decanting packets into containers, mixing sandwich fillings like tuna mayo, wash the lettuce leaves and maybe even do a bit of baking. 

You might be surprised at exactly how much young children can do in the kitchen!

a blue tin children's lunchbox with apple design

Does the type of lunch box matter?

No, not at all.

I really like the bento style lunch boxes with lots of sections and compartments, but that’s because my daughter had sensory issues with food and keeping food divided was important for her.

Have a look at the Bentgo (although the compartments are tiny) or the Yumbox which is cute!

Different lunch boxes are better suited to different types of food.

  • Contigo have a thermos style food container for hot meals. 
  • The Omiebox which is a leakproof container, essential for anything with a sauce.
  • The Fringoo which has an attached water bottle holder but it’s main feature is that it’s insulated to keep food cool.
  • The Sistema Lunch Sandwich Boxes which are sturdy and protective to stop sandwiches getting squashed!

Ultimately, we want a lunch box that protects the food so that come lunchtime it still looks appealing and is safe to eat.

I also think it’s important for your child to have a say in the matter so make it a fun activity to take a trip to the shops so your child can choose their lunchbox. 

Some features are more of a ‘nice to have’ than a necessity and there’s nothing wrong with the plastic lunch box and ice pack that I used to take to school!

What if they come home with their lunch uneaten?

I would encourage you to talk to your little one about why they haven’t eaten.  

Children often leave the crusts of bread and when I asked my children why, it was because the crust didn’t have any filling!  The next day I sent a little pot of the filling as a dip and they ate the lot!  It was such a simple fix!

If your little one has been leaving food uneaten for a while, it might be worth chatting to nursery or school. 

All too often, children are allowed to go out and play after lunch so rush through it so thay have more play time. It might be that school could change their seating so the playground isn’t in plain view or not let playtime start till 20 minutes or so in.

Likewise some children with sensory issues may find a noisy dining room all too overwhelming to be able to eat, others find that the vast array of foods inside their lunchbox visually overwhelming. 

If you suspect your child has sensory issues with food then please do come and chat to me.

Try to include your children in the planning of their lunches so they have some say in what’s in their lunchbox and simple choices such as “would you like an apple or an orange” or “shall we cut your cheese into cubes or would you like a cheese triangle tomorrow” can make the world of difference.

Note you are still in charge of the nutrition here, but your child has some autonomy and choice.  

If you find yourself packing the same foods every lunch time,  because you know they’ll be eaten, it’s likely you have a picky eater and it’s really important to break this cycle. If you are not sure how please explore this blog or get in touch for professional advice. 

Despite what you might hear, picky eating often doesn’t go away on it’s own.

school children sat eating from their lunchboxes

How to support the Division of Responsibility at school

If you’ve been following me for a while, you will know that I like to promote the Division of Responsibility in Feeding as a way to let young children grow up to have confidence around food.

I encourage this both in the home and out, including at school!

Not many schools or nurseries are up to date on positive food parenting strategies and will enforce rules like not being allowed down from the table till they’ve eaten at least half, or having to eat the sandwich or savoury part of the lunch first. 

I’ve even had clients who have told me that staff insists on ‘2 more bites’ and when my daughter was 4 her teacher withheld certain foods because she was concerned she was having too much of them!

My best advice is to try to have a conversation with your child’s class teacher about the positive food parenting strategies around food that you foster, and if you’d like a copy of my free lunch box note that you can pop in your child’s lunchbox for teachers and mealtime support staff to see you can download it here.

    How to pack a balanced lunch

    I hear many parents worrying about the balance of each individual meal that they offer their child, and while it’s important to plan a balanced meal, we all know that children don’t always eat everything.

    This is why I prefer to get my clients to think about the balance of foods that you’re offering throughout the whole day or even the week.  

    Here are the main foods and nutrients to consider:

    Carbohydrates

    Try to base the lunchbox meal around a starchy carbohydrate,  this doesn’t always have to be bread for a sandwich!  

    Try rice bowls, pasta salads, crackers and even different types of grains like quinoa and millet.

    Carbohydrates fuel the body and provide energy for growth so it’s important for growing children. 

    Protein 

    These include meat, fish, dairy foods, beans and pulses, and foods made from them such as hummus, seeds and nuts (although I appreciate many nurseries and schools won’t allow nuts). 

    Protein rich foods are needed for growth, they keep your child healthy and well and also repair body tissues such as cuts and scrapes, so again, are really important for growing children.

    Dairy and alternatives

    Milk, fortified dairy alternatives, cheese and yoghurts are also foods that add additional protein, They also contribute to your child’s energy intake and supply essential nutrients including calcium and iodine. 

    They’re really important for healthy bones and teeth but also help your child’s muscles to move.

    Fruits and vegetables 

    We all know how great these are, and honestly anything goes, fresh berries or veggie sticks, frozen peas, freeze dried cherries and any type of dried fruits are perfectly fine at mealtimes. 

    Limit smoothies and juice to just 150ml (the small juice boxes you can get) as these contain free sugars which aren’t great for young teeth. 

    Fruit and veg provide fibre for healthy digestion and also provide a good range of vitamins and minerals essential for a strong immune system.  

    Foods high in fat and sugar 

    I often refer to these as the ‘fun foods’ and they include biscuits, cakes, bakes, chocolate etc. Your child’s school or nursery might have their own rules around whether these foods are permitted. Personally, I think a small amount of fun food each day is perfectly reasonable and it stops them becoming highly desirable and thought of as special treats. 

    It’s up to you (and the nursery or school rules) on when to include these.

    I have an expert masterclass on how to meal plan just like a nutritionist in my Happy Healthy Eaters Club called ‘How to Meal Plan like a Pro’ which I’d love you to dive into if you need a nutrition update. You also get free access to my Toddler Food & Nutrition Course free of charge as a bonus!

    a pink lunchbox with an apple inside

    100 easy lunch box ideas

    Here is my master list of 100 foods that you can include in your child’s lunchbox.  Try to see how many you can fit in over the next school term. Remember even if they come home uneaten, you have offered your child variety and exposed them to something that they are learning to like. 

    Fruit and vegetables

    You could also send in a little dipping pot for your fruits or vegetables. Great ideas include hummus, chocolate spread, either sweet or savoury flavoured yoghurt or cream cheese as a fun little dip.

    1. Corn on the cob – these don’t even need to be cooked!
    2. Carrot sticks
    3. Cucumber sticks
    4. Pepper sticks
    5. Chopped fruit salad of kiwis, melons and satsuma
    6. Frozen mango pieces – allow to defrost in the lunchbox ready for eating
    7. Frozen peas – allow to defrost in the lunchbox ready for eating
    8. Roasted sweet potatoes – leftover from dinner the night before is perfect or pop some in the oven while you’re cooking dinner, ready for packing
    9. Mandarin orange
    10. Tinned peaches
    11. Broccoli florets – either raw or cooked and leftovers from last nights dinner are perfect!
    12. Vegetable based soup
    13. Avocado
    14. Mushrooms
    15. Banana
    16. Cherry tomatoes
    17. Frozen mixed vegetables
    18. Fruit puree
    19. Strawberries
    20. Green beans – another easy one to eat raw
    21. Apple slices – add a spread of nut butter or a sprinkle of cinnamon for extra flavour
    22. Kiwi
    23. Blueberries
    24. Beetroot salad
    25. Sliced tomatoes
    26. Dried apricots
    27. Tinned pineapple rings
    28. Mini gherkins
    29. Chopped grapes
    30. Persimmon

    Starchy carbohydrates

    These make great bases for the main part of the meal – think sandwiches, mixed salads, hot meals…  If your child likes pasta in the evenings, they might be happy taking a food flask with leftover pasta from dinner with a couple of sides.  

    See how creative you can get and how many different ways you can use the same base such as pitta pizzas, or stuffed pita.

    1. Pasta shapes
    2. Sandwich bread
    3. Pita bread
    4. Noodles 
    5. Tortilla wraps
    6. Boiled new potatoes
    7. Oat cakes (for a build your own lunchable)
    8. Bread sticks (send in nutritious dips such as hummus or a dairy based spread)
    9. Couscous
    10. Chapati
    11. Scone – serve sweet with jam or savoury with cheese
    12. Savoury muffins
    13. Crackers
    14. Croissant
    15. Pastry – think the occasional cornish pasty or a slice of quiche
    16. Rice
    17. Savoury pancakes
    18. Bread rolls
    19. Pizza base
    20. Dry cereal
    21. Filled pasta
    22. Soft pretzel
    23. Bagel
    a plate of muffins

    Dairy and alternatives

    1. Cubes of cheese
    2. Cheese triangles
    3. Plain or flavoured yoghurt
    4. Yoghurt bark
    5. Custard dessert
    6. Babybel
    7. Cottage cheese (it’s great with chopped peaches added in!)
    8. Strips of mozzarella

    Proteins

    The protein foods are great additions to the carbohydrate base whether it’s a noodle dish or a bread roll.  

    Try and think about the flavourings that you could add – curried chickpeas are one of my favourites or make a tuna mayo mix with chopped celery added to cooked pasta. Maybe a quesadilla with shredded chicken, cheese and vegetables? 

    If you have leftovers from a cottage pie at dinner, pop it in the freezer and bring it out when you need an easy lunch.

    1. Boiled egg
    2. Shredded or cubed chicken
    3. Omelette or frittata
    4. Tinned salmon
    5. Tinned tuna
    6. Kidney beans
    7. Chickpeas
    8. Slices cooked beef
    9. Peanut or other nut butters
    10. Mincemeat (leftover bolognese wrapped into a tortilla wrap as a burrito) 
    11. Dhal
    12. Hummus
    13. Meat balls 
    14. Breaded chicken
    15. Seafood sticks
    16. Ham
    17. Prawns
    18. Nuts (if allowed at your school)
    19. Pumpkin seeds
    20. Slices of pork

    Oil and spreads

    Oils and spreads don’t need to be an added extra to the meal but it’s likely that you’ll use some as you’re preparing it.  There are a couple of preferred varieties to look out for.

    1. Olive oil based spread
    2. Olive oil
    3. Rapeseed oil (often standard vegetable oil but check the label!)

    The fun foods (AKA High fat and high sugar foods)

    1. Chocolate dipped mandarins
    2. Banana chips
    3. Flapjack
    4. Small chocolate bar
    5. Small muffin or cake
    6. Fruit bars
    7. Cereal bar
    8. Jelly pot
    9. Flavoured popcorn
    10. Biscuit
    11. Fruit malt loaf
    A girl holding a glass of water

    Drinks

    1. Water bottle
    2. Small carton fresh fruit juice
    3. Yoghurt drink
    4. Carton of milk
    5. Smoothie

    If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve learned here and want to know more about feeding children successfully then I’d like to introduce you to the Happy Healthy Eaters Club. This is a members-only club where you’ll learn how to raise a child who skips to the table (without you having to ask 50 times first), sits down, and happily munches away.

    The club will teach you all about food and parenting techniques so that you can nip fussy eating in the bud (or prevent it before it begins) and make you’ll feel safe in the knowledge your child has eaten their nutrients, that they’ll sleep well, grow healthy bones and brains, and not pick up all those bugs.

    Your parenting around food means that your little one will learn to be excited to try new foods, family mealtimes are a breeze and there’s not a reward, bribe, or iPad insight and you haven’t spent hours in the kitchen cooking up different meals for everyone either. And I promise you… you’ll no longer be scraping rejected food from the floor!

    Here’s the link to learn more: https://www.thechildrensnutritionist.com/HHEC

    Sarah-Almond-Bushell-MPhil-BSc-Hons-RD-MBDA-Registered-Dietitian-Childrens-Nutritionist
    Sarah Almond Bushell MPhil, BSc (Hons) RD MBDA – Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist

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    meet Sarah

    I’m Sarah, a Registered Dietitian, Children’s Nutritionist and mummy from East Sussex. My blog is to guide & inspire you with information about weaning, nutrition, food and toddler feeding. Learn more about me here.

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