14 Smart Ideas for Packing a School Lunch

Updated: Jan. 31, 2022

Pack a school lunch your child will actually eat with these smart ideas. We'll show you how to tailor meals to different ages, dietary restrictions and more.

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Woman preparing lunchboxes with fruits and sandwiches for school
Shutterstock / Photographee.eu

Packing a school lunch for your child (or children!) can be a real challenge. Between preferred foods, allergies and different needs for growing bodies, it can seem impossible to pack a meal your kiddo will actually eat. Here at Taste of Home, we understand the school lunch struggle—which is why we did the heavy lifting for you and found recipes for children of all ages, diets and preferences.

Once lunch is covered, get started on dinner with these super easy school-night recipes.

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Cheeseburger Mini Muffins Recipe photo by Taste of Home

School Lunch Ideas for Toddlers

Whether your little one is spending the whole day at preschool or coming home mid-day, these school lunch ideas for toddlers will please even the fussiest eater. Pint-sized portion sizes and fun flavors are guaranteed to make meal time a success. In this collection, you’ll find pasta dishes, finger foods, soups and more.

Find more school lunch ideas for toddlers here.

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Taste of Home

School Lunch Ideas for Kindergarten

Kindergarten is a big deal. And for many kids, it’s the first time that they’re away from home for the whole day. Keep nerves at bay by packing your child’s favorite foods for lunch. In this collection, you’ll find fun sandwich ideas, portable pizzas, sweet snacks and more.

Find more school lunch ideas for kindergarten here.

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Kids’ Lunch Ideas

Your elementary or middle schooler will love these yummy kids lunch ideas. Each recipe was designed with kids in mind—so it’s unlikely that they’ll be swapped for a stale fruit roll-up. In this collection, you’ll find both yummy cold lunches and lunches to pack in a thermos.

Find more kids’ lunch ideas here.

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School Lunch Ideas for Teens

Though it might not seem cool to have a packed lunch from mom, your teen will definitely appreciate the effort by the time lunch break rolls around. In this collection you’ll find protein-packed ideas that will help your high schooler stay full and focused all afternoon. If your kid is involved in after-school activities, make sure to pack a few extra snacks.

Find more school lunch ideas for teens here.

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Vegetarian Lunch Ideas

No meat? No problem. Packing a vegetarian mid-day meal is simple, you just need to make sure that there’s enough protein to keep your child full all day. In this collection, you’ll find vegetarian lunch ideas chock full of whole grains, fresh produce, nuts, beans and more.

Find more vegetarian lunch ideas here. 

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Gluten-Free Lunch Ideas

If your child has Celiac disease (or is avoiding gluten for other health reasons), you can still pack a hearty lunch. Plan to incorporate lean meats, fresh fruits and veggies and gluten-free grains into their lunch box. In this collection, you’ll find ideas for lettuce wraps, salads, grain bowls and more.

Find more gluten-free lunch ideas here.

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Vegan Lunch Ideas

A vegan diet eliminates all animal products—including meat, eggs, dairy and honey. Plan to pack plenty of whole grains, produce, tofu, nuts and beans in your child’s lunchbox to keep them focused throughout the day. In this collection, you’ll find plenty of filling (and delicious) vegan lunch ideas—such as an asparagus tofu stir-fry, a chickpea & potato curry and General Tso’s cauliflower.

Find more vegan lunch ideas here.

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Back-to-School Lunch Ideas

Back-to-school is a big deal. Whether your child is starting a new school or just a new grade, it’s easy to feel flustered and maybe even a little fearful. Ease the anxiety with some classic comfort foods. In this collection, you’ll find cozy chilis, fun roll-ups, bite-sized mac and much more.

Find more back-to-school lunch ideas here.

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Sandwich Ideas

Some kids are tried-and-true sandwich eaters, but after awhile PB & J gets a little old. Switch things up with one of our sandwich ideas. In this collection, you’ll find a mix of hot and cold sammies perfect for lunch time.

Find more sandwich ideas here.

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Cold Lunch Ideas

When your kiddo has a field trip, reach for one of these cold lunch ideas. All you need is an ice pack—no microwave or fridge required. In this collection, you’ll find recipes for sandwiches, wraps, salads and more.

Find more cold lunch ideas here.

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PB&J on a stick
Taste of Home

School Lunch Ideas for Picky Eaters

Ah, the dreaded picky eater. If your kiddo only eats a handful of foods, these recipes are for you. We found palate-pleasing lunches even the pickiest of eaters will enjoy. In this collection, you’ll find simple flavors, comfort foods and much more.

Find more school lunch ideas for picky eaters here.

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Cheap Lunch Ideas

On a budget? These cheap lunch ideas will keep your family (and your wallet!) well-fed. In this collection, you’ll find pantry-stretching staples like pasta, rice, tomato sauce and more.

Find more cheap lunch ideas here.

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Taste of Home

Healthy Snacks for Kids

Once the school day is done, your children will be hankering for a snack. Tide them over until dinner time with one of these healthy snacks for kids. In this collection, you’ll find recipes boasting fruits and veggies, fiber, lean proteins and more.

Find more healthy snacks for kids here. 

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Dinosaur case
Suck UK via Amazon

Bonus: Adorable Lunch Boxes

Your child will be the coolest kid at the table when they’re sporting one of these amazing lunch boxes. From dinosaur head totes to a 3-D Stormtrooper, these cute carry-alls will make lunch time fun again. In this collection, you’ll find our top lunch box picks from Amazon.

Find our favorite lunch boxes here.