You think you’ve got school lunch packing down to a science, but then one day your child tells you they hate sandwiches (!) or they’re bored with their usual lunch rotation. Never fear – I’ve rounded up eight sandwich-free lunches that your kids will love. They’re wholesome, healthy, and simple, and can often be made in advance.
[Note: Some of the recipes below are not complete meals, so you need to add sides. In every lunch, aim for 1-2 servings of grains, 1 serving of fruit, 1 serving of vegetables, 1 serving of dairy, and 1 serving of protein].
Katie Serbinski, registered dietitian and founder of Mom to Mom Nutrition, LLC, found a way to turn pizza into a healthy lunch: pizza kabobs. Thread a skewer with cheese tortellini and your child’s favorite pizza toppings, and pack a side of marinara sauce for dipping. Her kids love pizza kabobs because they can help pick the ingredients, and she loves it because “you can get most of the food groups on one skewer.”
Everything they like in a sandwich, without the bread. Little hands can easily pick up these two-bite treats, where apple slices and cheddar cheese cozy up inside a slice of deli turkey or ham. Involve your kids by bringing them to the farmers market to sample and choose a variety of apples.
Who can resist breakfast for lunch? Whip up some whole grain pancakes, slice them into sticks and serve alongside fun toppers like nut butter and fruit preserves or a maple yogurt dip (combine plain yogurt with maple syrup and a little vanilla extract). Make them even healthier by picking seasonal fruit-related themes like banana bread pancakes in the fall and pumpkin pancakes at Halloween. Whole grains will help keep them full (and their bowel movements regular), preventing the sugar crash that would follow traditional pancakes and maple syrup.
When the weather gets cold, send your kids off with a hot thermos of 20-minute tortellini soup. As they slurp on cheese tortellini, they’ll also be getting nutritious spinach and tomatoes. To round out this family-friendly meal, pack a side of soup crackers, fruit, and some crunchy vegetables.
Pack a simple snack-style lunch with eggs as the main source of protein. “My daughters both love hard-cooked eggs (although one skips the yolks – her loss!)” says Holley Grainger, registered dietitian and mom to two young daughters (Ellie, 4, and Frances, 18 months). She completes their meals with a variety of sides, like hummus, cucumbers, grapes, and air-popped popcorn for Ellie, and clementine wedges and strawberries, a vegetable squeeze pouch, and whole grain cereal for Frances.
Send your child to school with this healthy tuna salad from the Meal Makeover Moms, plus a side of scoopers, like cucumber wheels, sliced bell peppers, mini whole-wheat pitas and/or baked tortilla chips. You’ve covered the grains, protein, and vegetables in one scoop…I mean, swoop.
A zucchini pie that reminds kids of pizza? Yes, it exists. Aviva Goldfarb, family dinner expert and founder of the meal planner, The Six O’Clock Scramble, developed a simple, savory pie, which includes a filling combination of zucchini, eggs, mozzarella cheese, and prepared pie crust.
Surprise your kids with a vegetable lasagna roll, instead of a traditional slice. “Kids feel special when they get anything that is their ‘own,’,” says Catherine McCord of Weelicious. In addition to the typical blend of cheeses, the lasagna rolls (which also freeze well) have spinach or chopped broccoli inside for an extra healthy bite.
Caroline Kaufman, MS, RDN, is a freelance writer, blogger, and nutrition counselor with a holistic approach to healthy living. She has an A.B. from Harvard University and an M.S. in Nutrition Communication from Tufts University.