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Keep the kiddos (and adults) happy with these delicious and nutritious back to school lunch ideas. Many of these options are budget-friendly and good for meal prep. Plus there’s lots of inspiration for healthy lunch ideas for work because mom, dad and teachers also deserve a good lunch, right?!

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When the end of summer break rolls around, there’s no need to stress about the new school year! (At least not in terms of lunch.) These healthy back to school lunch ideas will help you keep things exciting while nourishing your whole family.

You can make many of these lunches ahead of time, so they’re perfect for meal prep. Because on a busy weekday morning, the last thing anyone wants to do is make lunch, right?!

I’m including kindergarten lunch ideas for the little ones. These will have even the pickiest eaters enjoying their meal! There are also tons of healthy and delicious lunch options for older kids.

I also share lots of healthy lunch ideas for work because mom has to eat too! And also, they’re great for teachers.

the best back to school lunches

Incredibly Easy Back to School Lunch Ideas

Let’s start with the basics for days when you have to throw something for lunch together in about 2 minutes! Here are a few cheap and easy school lunch ideas for kids (beyond peanut butter and jelly sandwiches):

  • Apple slices with peanut butter
  • Celery sticks stuffed with peanut butter and raisins
  • Rolled up turkey and/or cheese from the deli counter served with ranch or honey mustard for dipping
  • Hummus and dippers (like chopped broccoli, carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, etc.)
  • Pinwheels made with rolled up soft tortillas, cream cheese, and deli meat or cheese
  • Lunch toothpick kebabs (just not for the really little ones!) – meat, cheese, vegetables, and/or bread cut into cubes and skewered on toothpicks

Kindergarten Lunch Ideas

We all know that younger children can be really, really picky. Here you’ll find some great kindergarten lunch ideas that your kiddos will actually want to eat!

First think about ease of use. If you give little ones things they can easily pick up with their tiny fingers – such as homemade chicken nuggets and Uncrustables – they’re more likely to eat their lunches.

If you want small kids to try new vegetables, it helps to pick ones with beautiful rainbow colors. You can’t go wrong if you roll up a ton of nutritious, colorful veggies in a soft tortilla and slice it into little pinwheels.

When you’re planning healthy school lunches, keep in mind that you know your own kid. Some of them like bolder flavors, but many young children prefer blander flavors until their palates are a little more developed. Set them up for success by packing a variety of nutritious foods that you know they like. Fruity muffins (like strawberry lemonade muffins!) are a good option, especially if you bake them in a mini muffin pan.

And if you make food look cute, like hippo-shaped sandwiches, even better!

Pizza Pockets
These freezer-friendly pizza pockets are a delicious lunch option! If you place one in your child’s lunchbox frozen (even with an ice pack), it will defrost by lunchtime.
Check out this recipe
pizza pockets
Banana Pancake Bites Recipe
Banana pancake bites use fluffy buttermilk pancake batter to coat banana slices for the perfect little bite-sized pancakes!
Check out this recipe
banana pancake bites featured image
Hungry Hippos (Fun Sandwich Recipe for Kids)
This sandwich recipe is a special lunch box surprise! Choose basic peanut butter and jelly, or venture into our other deliciously creative filling ideas (there are even lots of nut-free options)!
Check out this recipe
hippo sandwiches
Easy 1-Bowl Carrot Cake Muffins Recipe
These healthy carrot cake muffins are fluffy, moist, and flavorful with warm spices – they’re perfect for breakfast, dessert, or snacks. And they’re easy to make in 1 bowl and just 30 minutes!
Check out this recipe
carrot cake muffins featured image
Tuna Pinwheels
Vegetable-packed tuna pinwheels are perfect for school lunchboxes! Loved by kids and adults, they're as fun as they are delicious.
Check out this recipe
tuna pinwheels
Homemade Uncrustables
This easy do-it-yourself Uncrustables recipe is perfect for kid's lunches! They're freezer friendly, so you can make them in advance.
Check out this recipe
homemade uncrustables
Strawberry Lemonade Muffins
Strawberry Lemonade Muffins have a soft, tender crumb and a crunchy sugar coating and are aromatic with strawberry, a hint of a vanilla, and a touch of lemon.
Check out this recipe
Strawberry Lemon Muffins Featured Image
Air Fryer Chicken Nuggets Recipe
Keto Air Fryer Chicken Nuggets made with canned chicken are well-seasoned and crispy outside with no breading! You won’t believe how easy they are to make in just 20 minutes. And using canned chicken means these nuggets are budget-friendly too!
Check out this recipe
air fryer chicken nuggets recipe featured image
Veggie Pinwheel Tortilla Rollups
Veggie-filled cream cheese roll-ups are loaded with delicious herbs, cheese and vegetables all rolled up in a soft tortilla. These yummy bites are full of creamy ranch flavor and are perfect as a party appetizer or for an easy cold lunch.
Check out this recipe
vegetable cream cheese pinwheels
Pineapple Muffins
Pineapple muffins are a delicious and easy tropical treat made in one bowl with simple pantry ingredients that you probably already have on hand. Families love these for breakfasts and lunchboxes!
Check out this recipe
pineapple muffins

High School Teenage Lunch Ideas

By the time kiddos are in high school, school lunches look a little different! I remember as a teenager, I either skipped lunch (terrible, I know!) or grabbed a salad at the salad bar in the cafeteria. I would pile the veggies high, top it with a little chickpeas and a lot of shredded cheddar, and douse the entire thing in ranch dressing, lol.

The great thing about the high school lunch ideas in this recipe collection is that teenagers can make most (if not all) of these recipes on their own, or with just a little bit of adult supervision. It lets mom and dad off the hook for having to make their teen’s lunch, and it helps teenagers learn how to cook! Win-win, right?

And a lot of these lunch recipes will stay good in the fridge for a while, and also freeze well. They’re perfect for meal prep!

These high school lunch ideas should stay chilled (all they need is an ice pack placed in the lunchbox), and they can all be eaten cold. I wanted to make sure that none of these school lunch ideas for teenagers require reheating. I remember as a teenager I didn’t always have access to a microwave in school. Sometimes it was a teachers-only situation, lol.

A lot of these lunch ideas are super simple, like canned chicken salad, roasted red pepper hummus, and pimento cheese. All of these can be used to make sandwiches or wraps, spread onto crackers, or served with raw veggies for dipping.

There are a couple filling pasta salad recipes here, my favorite of which is copycat Portillo’s chopped salad. Like any salad you pack for lunch, pack the dressing separately so the salad doesn’t get soggy.

Also, there are a couple taco ideas (if you’re from the WNY area or just really like beef tacos, the homemade Mighty Taco beef copycat is a must-try) because tacos are always a hit!

Canned Chicken Salad Recipe
This Canned Chicken Salad recipe is easy to make in less than 10 minutes! It's creamy like tuna salad and seasoned simply with seasoned salt, black pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder. This version is healthier than most and replaces most of the mayo with Greek yogurt!
Check out this recipe
canned chicken salad featured image
Buffalo Chicken Pasta Salad Recipe
Buffalo chicken pasta salad combines chicken, carrots + celery, and pasta in a creamy, zippy sauce! It's a perfect side dish for a summer picnic or potluck, and it can also be a full meal if you add a big green salad.
Check out this recipe
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Cuban Sausage Pinwheels
Cuban Sausage Pinwheels are perfect for parties or lunch boxes! Serve this dish as an appetizer or simple snack that is loved by both kids and adults alike. And they make a great lunch item for school or work!
Check out this recipe
cuban sausage pinwheels
Creamy Chipotle Shredded (Pulled) Chicken Tacos Recipe
This creamy chipotle shredded (pulled) chicken tacos recipe takes just 10 minutes to make with leftover chicken! It’s a great way to keep Taco Tuesdays (or any quick weeknight dinner) exciting, and it’s also the perfect game night food.
Check out this recipe
shredded chicken tacos featured image
Copycat Portillo’s Chopped Salad Recipe
With lettuce, tomato, cooked chicken, crispy bacon, tender pasta, gorgonzola cheese, and a flavor-packed creamy vinaigrette, this easy copycat Portillo's chopped salad will become a summer favorite at your house!
Check out this recipe
portillos chopped salad recipe featured image
Homemade Mighty Taco Beef Copycat
Deliciously seasoned with just the right touch of spice, this copycat recipe for homemade Mighty Taco Beef was inspired by the popular Buffalo taco joint. Now that I moved to the other end of the country, it's a life-saver when a hometown craving hits.
Check out this recipe
homemade mighty taco beef copycat recipe featured image
Roasted Red Pepper Hummus Recipe
Save money and learn how to make this flavorful Roasted Red Pepper Hummus Recipe at home in less than 10 minutes! It’s way better than store-bought!
Check out this recipe
Close Up of Roasted Red Pepper Hummus in Metal Bowl
Buffalo Chicken French Bread Pizza
This easy 30 minute Buffalo Chicken French Bread Pizza is full of gooey cheese and chicken with a spicy kick served on crunchy French bread.
Check out this recipe
buffalo chicken french bread pizza featured image
Easy Pimento Cheese Dip Recipe
This easy pimento cheese dip recipe combines two types of cheddar in a creamy base, and whips up in just 15 minutes for a crowd-pleasing appetizer! It's naturally low carb and keto friendly with just 2g net carbs per 1/4-cup serving. Serve it with crackers or chips, or keep it low carb with veggies like green bell pepper, celery, and broccoli for dipping.
Check out this recipe
pimento cheese recipe featured image

Teacher Lunch Ideas

Let’s not forget school lunches for teachers! I remember a couple of my favorite high school teachers telling me that lunch was their favorite part of the day. Dealing with kids nonstop, I can imagine a little peace and quiet and a good meal is something to truly look forward to mid-day.

These teacher lunch ideas range from flavor-packed leafy green salads to pasta salads and nutrient-rich quinoa salads.

These lunches need to stay chilled, but an ice pack is enough to get the job done if you don’t have access to a fridge. Some of these lunches are served cold, and others need to be heated for those that have access to a microwave.

A lot of these school lunches are quick and easy, and others are recipes that you can make ahead and portion out (perfect for a meal prep day!). For example, black beans, chicken panang curry (which only takes 30 minutes to make!), and Instant Pot creamy tortellini soup are all great options if you want a hot lunch and have a way to reheat food.

One of my favorite teacher lunch ideas is individual charcuterie boxes. You can fill them with any foods you like (cheese, nuts, fruit, dip, crackers, etc.), and they’re essentially like Lunchables for grown-ups!

Bread Crumb Salad
This bread crumb salad recipe is as simple as it sounds with toasted breadcrumbs, fresh mozzarella, good quality olives, and canned chickpeas, and it's every bit as delicious as it is easy to whip up. In just 15 minutes, you'll have a beautiful salad that's satisfying enough for a full meal!
Check out this recipe
bread crumb salad recipe featured image
Sundried Tomato Pasta Salad
Sundried tomato pasta salad is a hearty vegetarian salad bursting with flavors. The best part is the dressing, which is made with sundried tomatoes and walnuts, and gives it a taste similar to pesto pasta salad. It's delicious!
Check out this recipe
sundried tomato pasta salad
Banh Mi Sandwich with Instant Pot Short Ribs and Quick Pickled Slaw
This Banh Mi Sandwich with Instant Pot Short Ribs and Quick Pickled Slaw is the perfect combination of tender meat and zesty fresh, flavorful slaw.
Check out this recipe
Overhead View of Banh Mi Sandwich with Instant Pot Short Ribs and Quick Pickled Slaw on Silver Plate
Chicken Panang Curry Recipe
This satisfying Chicken Panang Curry Recipe has a creamy coconut milk base and a delicately balanced flavor profile, and comes together in just 30 minutes!
Check out this recipe
chicken panang curry featured image
Individual Charcuterie Boxes
Anything you would add to a traditional charcuterie board works well in an individual charcuterie box. They're portable and ready to pop into a bag or backpack to go on a fun adventure – or to school! Think of them as Lunchables for teachers.
Check out this recipe
charcuterie boxes
Black Beans Recipe
This easy, from-scratch Black Beans recipe combines bold savory flavors like onion, garlic, and smoky cumin with humble beans, and transforms them into something special. Two pantry-staple SECRET ingredients are added at the end to create a wonderfully balanced flavor profile!
Check out this recipe
black beans featured image
Roasted Vegetable Quinoa Salad with Feta and Pine Nuts
This Roasted Vegetable Quinoa Salad recipe is nutrient-dense, easy to make, and full of flavor with sundried tomato vinaigrette, feta, pine nuts, and fresh basil. It pairs well as a side dish with just about anything you can grill up, and it’s satisfying enough to stand alone as a main dish. And you can customize it to suit your tastes or what you have on hand!
Check out this recipe
quinoa salad recipe featured image
Instant Pot Creamy Tortellini Soup Recipe
This rich and flavorful Instant Pot Creamy Tortellini Soup with sausage and kale is a cozy, warming meal that comes together in less than 30 minutes!
Check out this recipe
intant pot creamy tortellini soup featured image
Thai Noodles Recipe with Vegetables and Chicken (Soy Sauce Noodles)
This Thai Noodles Recipe with Vegetables and Chicken (Soy Sauce Noodles) was inspired by my trip to Thailand! It’s packed with flavor thanks to a sweet, salty, umami sauce, and is loaded with vegetables and chicken.
Check out this recipe
Thai Noodles Recipe in Metal Dish on Marble Countertop

Back to School Lunch Boxes

Here are a few lunch boxes I hand-selected that are functional and look great!

Kindergarten Lunch Box Top Pick

This kids lunch box on Amazon looks like the perfect balance between adorable and functional! It has the following features:

  • Insulated lunch bag
  • 5-compartment bento + spork
  • 16-ounce water bottle
  • Ice pack
  • And there are tons of designs and colors to choose from!

Teenager Lunch Box Ideas

This reusable brown paper lunch bag on Amazon is my absolute favorite budget-friendly lunch box for teens. It’s thermal-insulated and water-proof, and comes with a spork and pouch for it. But I mostly just love that it’s a play on the classic brown bag look.

If you want something that’s a little more durable, my top pick is this Yeti lunch box on Amazon. It has a Thermosnap closure and Coldcell Flex insulation that’s designed to keep your hot food hot and your cold food cold.

No matter what lunchbox you go with for your high school kids, a stackable lunch container is perfect for packing things like salad or leftovers.

Functional Teacher Lunch Box

I love this bento box set on Amazon. It’s perfect for teachers! It features:

  • Insulated tote bag
  • Stackable bento box
  • Travel mug
  • Cutlery set (steel-tipped chopsticks, fork, spoon, and knife – no plastic utensils!) with zippered pouch
back to school lunches pin

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This post was first published on An Edible Mosaic on August 23, 2019, and updated on September 1, 2023.

Faith, author of An Edible Mosaic.
About Faith

I’m the writer, recipe developer, photographer, and food stylist behind this blog. I love finding the human connection through something we all do every day: eat! Food is a common ground that we can all relate to, and our tables tell a story. It’s my goal to inspire you to get in the kitchen, try something new, and find a favorite you didn’t know you had.

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