Kids have their own ideas about what makes a great lunch, which can be a challenge for parents who want them to eat healthy. If you're looking for nutritious ideas that children will actually enjoy and finish, try these recipes that are sure to win approval from the short set. From pizza pockets and veggie fried rice to macaroni muffins and hummus wraps, these dishes go way beyond the typical ham and cheese sandwich. Not only will the tasty options please even the pickiest of young eaters, but many are also suitable for kids eating vegan, gluten free, egg free, or dairy free.
Many of these recipes are also quick to put together and make a great packed or on-the-go lunch for adults, too.
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Vegan Hummus Avocado Wrap
Use ripe avocado or even leftover guacamole, and protein-rich hummus to make these vegan hummus avocado wraps. Add some sprouts or salad greens for crunch, but if sending to school, leave out the tomato to avoid sogginess. Plain hummus is delicious here, but a flavored variety, like roasted red pepper, will also work nicely.
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Vegan Asian Rice Salad
A healthy vegan Asian rice salad with plenty of vegetables is a fabulous way to give vegan kids a boost of energy at lunchtime. Brown rice is full of protein and fiber, and kids love the crunchy texture and sweet and sour flavors of the dressing. Carrots, snow peas, celery, bell pepper, and green onion make this rice salad bright and colorful, but feel free to swap any out for your kids' favorites.
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Kid-Friendly Energy Bites
Skip the store-bought, highly-processed, sugar-loaded confections and make your own kid-friendly energy bites at home instead! With just a handful of wholesome ingredients (and a bit of chocolate), these energy bites can be mixed up in a matter of minutes. The peanut butter provides a boost of protein while the oatmeal offers some fiber, meaning these energy bites will leave your little one feeling full and satisfied through the rest of the day.
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Cheesy Meatball Bombs
These cheesy meatball bombs that start with packaged biscuit dough explode with flavor. Filled with the Italian favorites of meatballs, tomato sauce, and Parmesan cheese, your kids will think they've won the lottery. When using leftover meatballs or pre-made frozen, this recipe comes together quickly. Serve these meatball bombs with some marinara on the side for dipping.Continue to 5 of 47 below.
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The Ultimate Avocado Toast
Kids love creamy avocado, and this easy toast recipe is a hit. The ultimate avocado toast can be served simply as is or layered with slices of crispy bacon to make a great open-faced lunch sandwich. If packing up for school, you may want to add another piece of toasted bread on top to avoid messy travel and eating.
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Easy Meatloaf Muffins
Give kids a comforting, home-style lunch with this recipe for cute easy meatloaf muffins that are made from a classic meatloaf mixture baked in muffin tins. The ketchup topping is sure to be a draw for the little ones, and the fact that they can eat their lunch with their hands makes it fun.
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Crock Pot Chicken Noodle Soup
A thermos full of chicken noodle soup is the next best thing to a hug from mom. Make this tasty soup on the weekend and freeze it in individual portions for heating and packing into a thermos for school lunches any day of the week. This recipe is the real deal, starting with chicken pieces, but also includes some chicken broth (along with water) for an extra boost of rich flavor.
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Pasta Salad With Chicken and Spinach
Send yours to school with this packed pasta salad full of chicken, spinach, tomatoes, and other crunchy veggies. Use cooked leftover chicken, canned chicken, or rotisserie chicken for this tasty salad recipe. The recipe is very forgiving, so feel free to change some of the ingredients to suit your child's taste.Continue to 9 of 47 below.
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Pepperoni Pizza Sliders
Your kids will cheer when they sit down to these pepperoni pizza sliders, which layer ingredients from a pepperoni pie onto slider buns to create mini-pizza sandwiches. They can easily be made ahead and then baked and pulled apart for lunchtime. The combination of cheese, sauce, and pepperoni, with a garlic butter brushed on the roll, also makes for the perfect after-school snack.
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Salmon and Cream Cheese Tea Sandwiches
Cream cheese and smoked salmon have traditionally been a favorite topping for bagels, but this combination can also make a wonderful filling for finger sandwiches. This recipe is a quick and easy addition to a light lunch for your more adventurous eater. Place the tea sandwiches in a cold bag with an ice pack to keep them chilled until it's time to eat.
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Vegetable Beef Soup
Cook up a big pot of this warming vegetable beef soup on the weekend for thermos lunches. The recipe is packed with potatoes, green beans, carrots, celery, and onion, but you can add whatever vegetables you have on hand, such as corn or zucchini. The recipe freezes well so divide the soup into portions, freeze, thaw, and heat for quick lunch prep.
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Honeyed Fruit Salad
For those hot days when kids often crave a lighter lunch, this sweetened honeyed fruit salad with honey, lemon, and just a little sugar does the trick (eliminate the white wine). Use whatever fruit is in season being sure to include your kids' favorites. Pack it into a plastic or glass container and add some cheese cubes and crackers to their lunch bags as a delicious snack.Continue to 13 of 47 below.
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BBQ Chicken Salad
This BBQ chicken salad is so satisfying even the adults will be fighting over it. This recipe calls for poaching chicken breasts in a flavorful broth and then shredding and tossing the meat with bottled barbecue sauce; you can use a store-bought rotisserie chicken, as well as bottled dressing (instead of the homemade ranch) if you're short on time. Chock full of vegetables, beans, and crunchy corn chips, this salad offers a variety of textures and colors. Pack the dressing separately, and let the kids shake it all together when ready to eat.
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These easy pizza wraps are basically cheese quesadillas with spaghetti sauce added inside. Go ahead and stuff them with your little ones' other favorite pizza toppings, such as diced green bell peppers, pepperoni slices, and mushrooms. They are baked in the oven open-faced, like a pizza, and then folded in half when bubbling and melted. Wrap in aluminum foil to keep warm.
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Chicken Waldorf Sandwiches
The short set will enjoy the sweet, crunchy ingredients in these unusual chicken Waldorf sandwiches. The chicken-and-mayo filling gets extra zip from honey mustard as well as great texture and color from the chopped green apples, walnuts, and dried cranberries. When spooned between slices of cinnamon raisin bread, kids won't be able to resist.
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Vegan Banana Muffins
Vegan banana muffins are a great way to get healthy fruit into kids. Make them with or without walnuts, and feel free to toss some vegan chocolate chips into the batter if offered as dessert. Simple to make, these muffins are a great use for bananas a little past their prime and will satisfy even the non-vegans in the household.Continue to 17 of 47 below.
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Creamy Potato Soup With Ham
This creamy potato soup with ham is like eating a stuffed baked potato in a bowl. Fill kids' thermoses with this rich soup, which—along with some crackers—makes an excellent school lunch on colder days. Chock full of vegetables and studded with chopped ham, the soup is a complete meal. You can cook either on the stovetop or in the slow cooker.
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Vegetable Fried Rice With Spinach
This vegetable fried rice with spinach makes a healthy, meat-free thermos lunch idea for kids. In addition to or in place of the spinach, tomato, and green beans, you could use other vegetables you usually toss into a stir-fry, or some diced marinated tofu. When you have some leftover cooked rice this dish comes together very quickly, perfect for prepping before school.
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Easy Pizza Pockets
Whip up a simple tomato sauce, crack open a tube of refrigerated biscuit mix, gather some favorite pizza toppings, and you've got everything needed to make these kid-favorite easy pizza pockets. For an even speedier preparation, use your favorite jarred pizza sauce. You may want to sneak in a few finely chopped vegetables to boost the pocket's nutritional value.
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A Greek salad has plenty of bright, crunchy veggies, plus salty black olives and creamy feta cheese, all dressed simply in a drizzle of olive oil and oregano. A perfect lunch for your salad-loving kid and a nice change from the basic mixed greens. Pack the olive oil separately for drizzling on at lunchtime.Continue to 21 of 47 below.
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Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
Tender chocolate chip banana bread is a lunchbox snack kids will love and a great way to use very ripe bananas. Pack slices as a sweet treat along with a sandwich and an orange or apple to keep the meal balanced. You could make this bread into muffins, too.
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Crescent Roll Pigs in a Blanket
Little ones will gobble up these crescent roll pigs in a blanket. They will even have fun helping you make them, as they simply require rolling crescent dough around a hot dog and a slice of cheese. Be sure to add extra for sharing and pack them along with little containers of mustard and ketchup for dipping.
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Ham and Turkey Wrap
Deli-style turkey breast and honeyed ham slices are layered onto a whole-wheat tortilla wrap with a Dijon mustard-mayo spread and some greens, then rolled up for an easy ham and turkey wrap. Slice it into pinwheels if you like, for a fun presentation. This recipe calls for low-fat deli meat, but feel free to use your family's favorites.
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Mini Cucumber and Cream Cheese Sandwiches
Kids love this mini cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches recipe, which can be cut into long "finger" shapes (or any fun shapes using cookie cutters) for their lunchboxes. Slices of white bread are spread with cream cheese and topped with cucumber slices; you can keep it simple, or add more flavor with a sprinkling of fresh herbs.Continue to 25 of 47 below.
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Beefy Macaroni and Cheese
Take some time over the weekend to make this beefy macaroni and cheese for thermos lunches. It comes together quickly with inexpensive grocery store ingredients, including lean ground beef, canned tomatoes, shredded cheese, and elbow noodles. It is comforting and will keep the kids full and satisfied for the rest of the day.
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Vegetarian Crock Pot Taco Soup
The seasoning mix in this set-it-and-forget-it recipe contributes the familiar taste of the kids' favorite Mexican food, while three kinds of beans provide this Tex-Mex vegetarian crock pot taco soup with plenty of protein. Pack up some tortilla chips for scooping; you can skip the cheese and sour cream toppings to keep it vegan.
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Perfect Tomato Soup
This smooth and creamy perfect tomato soup makes a great lunch for kids on colder school days. It's made with canned and fresh tomatoes, canned broth, onion, carrot, and simple seasonings. Float some goldfish crackers on top for a whimsical surprise.
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When tomatoes are in season, nothing is better than enjoying them in a Caprese salad. Juicy sliced tomatoes are layered with fresh mozzarella—or in kid-speak, "squishy cheese"—and fresh basil leaves, and then simply dressed with olive oil and drizzled with a balsamic glaze. Add a hunk of crusty bread with lunch so the kids can eat as an open-faced sandwich if they like.Continue to 29 of 47 below.
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Simple Chicken Salad
Juicy red or green seedless grapes (cut in half for safety) add a burst of sweetness to this simple chicken salad. You can use the recipe to make sandwiches or add some chopped iceberg lettuce to make it a container salad. If your kids don't like the taste of curry, feel free to omit it.
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Gluten-Free Macaroni and Cheese
Gluten-free kids will be the envy of their friends at lunchtime when you send them to school with this rich and creamy gluten-free macaroni and cheese. Amaranth flour is the secret to the thickened sauce, which is made with four kinds of cheese, including cheddar, Parmesan, Gruyère, and fontina. Full of flavor, this may become a recipe that is requested often in your house.
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Vegetarian Oven-Baked Cheese Quesadillas
Vegetarian oven-baked cheese quesadillas—with tons of melted cheese and a trio of crunchy, diced bell peppers—make a winning school lunch. You can sauté the peppers ahead of time, and then assemble and bake them quickly in the morning. Add little containers of sour cream and salsa for dipping.
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What kid wouldn't want waffles for lunch? These sneakily healthy corn waffles have canned whole kernel corn inside for extra nutrition. Make a batch on the weekend and freeze—you can even heat up in a wide-mouth toaster or toaster oven before school. Wrap in foil to keep warm and add a small container of maple syrup so kids can add a drizzle on top before digging in.Continue to 33 of 47 below.
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Cold Soba Noodle Salad
Cold soba noodle salad is flavorful and fun for kids to eat, thanks to its chewy, nutty-tasting buckwheat noodles. Tossed with fresh carrots, cucumber, bell pepper, radishes, and green onions, along with a sesame-honey dressing, this noodle salad makes a refreshing lunch on warm days. Feel free to swap out the vegetables for your kids' favorites.
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If your kids go nuts for chicken nuggets, they'll love these home-baked chicken tenders with a crunchy panko coating. Make your own honey mustard for dipping or use your favorite store-bought variety. Pack the tenders in an insulated lunch bag for school, along with the dip separately, and toss in some raw veggie sticks or whole fruit to round out the meal.
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Mini Sausage Frittatas
Kids who like breakfast sandwiches will enjoy these mini sausage frittatas that you bake in muffin tins. Eggs, breakfast sausage, and cheddar cheese combine with milk and a few simple seasonings to make the tasty, handheld lunch bites. Place in between a toasted English muffin or roll for a neater eating experience.
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Peanut Butter Hummus
Peanut butter hummus is a great way to sneak some legumes into your kids' lunches; naturally high in protein, this recipe is great for picky eaters who don't eat a lot of meats. The creamy combination of chickpeas, peanut butter, lemon juice, and garlic is perfect spread onto crackers or pita bread, or packed into a cup along with veggie sticks for dipping.Continue to 37 of 47 below.
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Pasta With Vegan Spinach Cashew Pesto
This vegan spinach cashew pesto has plenty of protein and vitamins to keep vegan kids going, and when tossed with cooked pasta, packs easily into their school thermos for a warm lunch. Make a batch of the pesto and freeze the extra for quick, flavorful sandwich or pizza toppings.
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This hummus sandwich is so easy to make and a great way to sneak extra protein into vegan and vegetarian eaters at lunchtime. All you need is pita bread, store-bought hummus, and your kids' favorite crunchy vegetables. It's the perfect meal when you're pressed for time or out of your typical lunch food ingredients.
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Crock Pot Hamburger Soup
Kids will get plenty of energy from this meaty crock pot hamburger soup. Including ground beef, frozen and fresh vegetables, onion soup mix, canned tomato sauce, elbow macaroni, a little soy sauce, and Italian seasonings, this hearty soup is full of flavor and sure to keep the kiddos feeling full the rest of the school day. Make in the crock pot the day before—it will taste even better the next day.
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Chicken Kabobs for Kids
Putting food on a stick somehow transforms the ingredients from ho-hum to fun. These chicken kabobs with vegetables get a nice sweet and tangy flavor from the marinade made of pineapple juice, soy sauce, and honey. Keep the kabob theme going and have the kids thread grapes, pineapple cubes, melon, and/or berries onto sticks to add to their lunchbox.Continue to 41 of 47 below.
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Vegetarian Tofu "Egg" Salad
Vegan and vegetarian kids can enjoy the texture and taste of "egg" salad with this sneakily healthy vegetarian tofu egg salad. Vegan mayo and sweet pickle relish give the fluffy, protein-packed sandwich a great tangy taste and creamy texture. Serve in a cup with crackers or toast on the side, or pile onto a roll or bread for a hand-held treat.
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Salmon Croissant Sandwiches
This salmon croissant sandwiches recipe is a fun idea for your little one's lunchbox, especially if they are a fan of bagels with cream cheese salmon spread. Smoked salmon is blended into cream cheese, butter, and mayo and then spooned onto buttery toasted croissants along with fresh basil. Feel free to slide in some cucumber slices for added crunch.
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Broccoli Cheddar Soup
If your kids enjoy broccoli with cheese sauce, they're sure to like this warming broccoli cheddar soup recipe. The creamy, comforting mixture includes sautéed onion, half and half, vegetable broth, broccoli, carrots, and cheddar cheese, making for a healthy lunch the kids are sure to enjoy.
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Gluten-Free and Vegan Italian Rice and Beans
This gluten-free and vegan Italian rice and beans is made with just four pantry ingredients, including instant rice, meaning this recipe comes together quickly. Everything goes into a pan and is cooked in under five minutes, perfect as a last-minute lunch idea on colder days. The Italian-seasoned canned tomatoes gives the dish a familiar "spaghetti dinner" flavor that almost any kid will love.Continue to 45 of 47 below.
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If your kids love tacos, this loaded taco salad will put smiles on their faces at lunchtime. Like a deconstructed taco, this salad has ground beef, refried beans, cheddar cheese, taco seasonings, and chunky tomato salsa, along with a creamy dressing. Add some tortilla chips in a baggie for scooping or crumbling on top.
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Ham Salad Sandwiches
Use leftover cooked ham and your kids' favorite bread to make these easy ham salad sandwiches. Celery and onion add a nice crunch to the filling, which gets some extra tang from a little yellow or Dijon mustard mixed into the mayonnaise. This ham salad would also be delicious on a toasted croissant or a fluffy biscuit.
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Bierocks—pronounced bee-rock—are a German/Eastern European meat-filled pastry that made its way to the American Midwest. The pillowy soft, golden-brown crust is stuffed with a ground beef, cabbage, and onion mixture. The recipe includes a homemade dough, but feel free to use store-bought pizza dough or even canned biscuits.
Brown Rice. Fooddata central, United States Department of Agriculture