Coming up with cold lunch ideas can feel really daunting—and like peanut butter is jelly is the only option! Good news though—there are actually a lot of options beyond sandwiches that you can pack to be served cold or at room temperature at daycare, preschool, big kid school, and camp.

cold-lunch-ideas-in-lunchboxes

Cold Lunch Ideas

Many kids lunches need to be eaten right out of their lunch bag without reheating and some can’t be stored in the fridge. So if you feel like your options are limited, I hope these ideas give you a few more ideas (even if your kids won’t eat every single one of them!). Each of these can be packed with an ice pack (ideally) or can be served at room temperature if you don’t have the option to send anything reusable.

TIP: You can always send a plastic baggie of ice or freeze one of the foods in my list at the bottom of this post to help keep the lunch cold as those frozen foods thaw.

Tips for Packing Cold Lunches

Aim to include foods that you are reasonably sure that your child likes. Which is just to say, this is not the time to experiment with a completely new set of foods. And try to make them easy to eat, so cut, dice, or otherwise serve the foods in ways that are appropriate for the age of your child. Consider if they have a teacher who can help them open packages too.

sesame-noodles-in-lunchbox1. Sesame Noodles with Snap Peas

Pair pasta and green beans with a simple sesame sauce and easy sides like fruit cup (I like the ones packed in 100% fruit juice) and veggie straws. You can use any type of noodle that your kids prefer—and enjoy this for your own lunch too.

P.S. Scroll to the bottom of this post for the full recipe for Sesame Noodles.

2. Parmesan Noodles with Peas

Toss fully cooked noodles with a little olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese and pack with peas and a side of fruit like a banana.

sandwich-lunch-with-crackers

3. Sunflower Seed Butter and Jelly Sandwich with Crackers, Fruit, and a Veggie

Make a simple sandwich with sunflower seed butter (or any nut or seed butter allowed in your center or school) with jam. Add some crackers, sliced cucumbers, and a clementine along side. (Peel the clementine for younger kids. This partially peeled option works for kids 3 or 4 and up who should be able to finish peeling it themselves.)

4. Sunflower Seed Butter  and Apple Butter Sandwich with Banana

Make a simple sandwich with sunflower seed butter (or any nut or seed butter allowed in your center or school) with apple butter (which is often lower in added sugar, if any, than jam or jelly). Include a banana alongside and a shelf-stable milk or drink.

5. Granola Butter Roll Up with Applesauce and Snap Pea Crisps

Granola butter is another nut-free option that can be nice to have in the mix. Spread it on a tortilla with jam and roll up. Pack with an applesauce pouch, Snap Pea Crisps or crackers, and a drink.

bagel-sandwich-school-lunch-in-container6. Bagel Sandwich with Hummus or Sunflower Seed Butter with a Veggie and Fruit

Use a regular or mini bagel to make a simple sandwich. Try hummus, sunflower seed butter, or another nut or seed butter. Or just use jam! Add a fruit and a veggie and a drink.

7. Mini Bagel Sandwich with Sweet Potato White Bean Dip

Add a smear of Sweet Potato White Bean Dip for a new flavor combination in a cold lunch. Add simple sides like a small peach and fresh snap peas.

pesto pasta salad lunch container8. Pesto Pasta Salad with Fruit and Puffs

Pasta salad is a great cold lunch idea for kids since you can make it in advance and serve it for a few lunches in the same week. This Pesto Pasta Salad is easy to make and easy to pack and you can adjust it with veggies and beans your kids like (or just make it with pasta only). Add puffs and a fruit.

9. Pasta Salad with Italian Dressing and Tomatoes

Make a basic pasta salad with Italian Dressing (or any non-mayo or non-dairy dressing your kids like) with pasta, halved tomatoes, black olives, and call it good. Add a Babybel cheese and fruit.

crackers-and-cheese-snack-lunch

10. Cheese and Crackers with Fruit and Veggies

Babybel cheese can be left at room temperature, which makes it a great option for a cold lunch. Pair it with crackers of choice, simple cucumber sticks, a clementine and a snack bar according to your kids appetite.

11. Cheese and Crackers with Applesauce Pouch and Soft Roasted Chickpeas

Add a few different sides to the cheese and crackers idea above like an applesauce pouch and Soft-Roasted Chickpeas.

12. Cheese Crackers, Applesauce Pouch, Halved Cherry Tomatoes

Cheese crackers—as in puffed cheese that tastes like a crunchy cracker like Moon Cheese–are a protein-rich idea that are great at room temperature. All of my kids love these. Pack with a few simple sides.

hummus-and-cheese-roll-up-lunch

13. Hummus Roll Up with Shelf Stable Milk, Melon, Edamame, and Puffs

Spread hummus onto a whole grain tortilla, roll up, and slice with a serrated knife. Add edamame beans, puffs, fruit, and a drink.

14. Hummus and Pita with Cucumbers and Babybel

Try this cold lunch idea: Pack hummus with strips or triangles of whole grain pita and cucumber or snap peas and a Babybel cheese.

pasta-lunch-with-mango15. Pasta with Olive Oil, Frozen Mango, Snack Bar, Carrot Coins

Plain pasta is usually a hit with a kid and it’s so easy! Pair with a snack bar like a Larabar (naturally sweet and a good source of protein for kids), frozen mango (which will thaw in the time it takes to get to lunch time), and a few carrot chips.

16. Granola Bar, Fruit, Veggies

Try a snack lunch with a granola bar, fruit like a small apple or banana, bell pepper strips, and a drink. Not enough food? Add a yogurt pouch (try freezing it overnight so it stays cold and thaws).

blueberry muffins and applesauce in lunchbox17. Blueberry Zucchini Muffin with Carrots and Applesauce

Most muffins are perfectly great served cold or room temperature and we love these Blueberry Zucchini Muffins. Add an applesauce container and carrots. (Slice into thinner strips or shred for younger kids.)

18. Mini Carrot Cake Muffins, Almond Butter, Pear

Pack a few mini Carrot Cake Muffins with a packed of almond butter (though skip it if no tree nuts are allowed) and a small pear. Add milk or water as needed.

pancake-lunch-in-pink-lunchbox19. Pancake Sandwich

Pack leftover pancakes as a sandwich! Spread on nut or seed butter or jam (or both!) and pack or dice as needed for a younger child. Add some simple sides as shown above.

20. Freezer Waffle Sandwich

Try the above idea with freezer waffles!

foods you can freezer for lunchFoods You Can Freeze and Use as Ice Packs

If you aren’t able to send an ice pack with a lunch and there’s no fridge option, or you just want to keep the food colder, try freezing these items the night before and packing frozen. They all thaw in about 3-4 hours at room temperature. (Skip the dairy-based items if you expect the lunch to be in warm temperatures.)

TIP: You can always test these out at home. I’ve tried them and am sharing what has worked for us, but the size or brand of a certain item may thaw faster than others with smaller tubes and pouches thawing faster than larger ones.

snack-bars-for-kids-in-grid-of-6Shelf-Stable Lunch Sides to Add

You can look at my favorite Healthy Kids Snacks for more ideas, but here are some great shelf-stable ones to add to lunches.

disposable-containers-for-lunchDisposable Containers for Packing Lunches for Kids

If you can’t use a reusable container, here are some options you can consider that can be tossed right after using.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas or if you have others to add. Please comment below to help make my content better and share with more families!

cold-lunch-ideas-in-lunchboxes

20 Easy Cold Lunch Ideas For Kids (that Work at Room Temp!)

Below is the recipe for the Sesame Noodles. The rest of the ideas are in the Notes so you can print them all for easy reference.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Cuisine Asian
Course lunch
Calories 356kcal
Servings 6

Ingredients

  • 1 pound fettucini (or linguine or spaghetti)
  • 4 cups chopped green beans
  • 1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce (or tamari if gluten-free)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup (or honey for kids over 1)
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger (optional; grate on a microplane)
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice

Instructions

  • Prepare the pasta according to package directions. Add the green beans for the last 6 minutes of cooking. Drain.
  • In a large bowl, stir together the soy sauce, maple syrup, sesame oil, ginger (if using), and lime juice. Stir in the pasta.
  • Pack in lunches or store in a container in the fridge for up to 5 days. Serve cold or at room temperature. (This can also be served warm.)

Notes

Here are the rest of the ideas for easy reference:
  • Parmesan Noodles with Peas
  • Sunflower Seed Butter and Jelly Sandwich with Crackers, Fruit, and a Veggie
  • Sunflower Seed Butter and Apple Butter Sandwich with Banana
  • Granola Butter Roll Up with Applesauce and Snap Pea Crisps
  • Bagel Sandwich with Hummus or Sunflower Seed Butter with a Veggie and Fruit
  • Mini Bagel Sandwich with Sweet Potato White Bean Dip
  • Pesto Pasta Salad with Fruit and Puffs
  • Pasta Salad with Italian Dressing and Tomatoes
  •  Cheese and Crackers with Fruit and Veggies
  • Cheese and Crackers with Applesauce Pouch and Soft Roasted Chickpeas
  • Cheese Crackers, Applesauce Pouch, Halved Cherry Tomatoes
  • Hummus Roll Up with Shelf Stable Milk, Melon, Edamame, and Puffs
  • Hummus and Pita with Cucumbers and Babybel
  • Pasta with Olive Oil, Frozen Mango, Snack Bar, Carrot Coins
  • Granola Bar, Fruit, Veggies
  • Blueberry Zucchini Muffin with Carrots and Applesauce
  • Mini Carrot Cake Muffins, Almond Butter, Pear
  • Pancake Sandwich
  • Freezer Waffle Sandwich

Nutrition

Calories: 356kcal, Carbohydrates: 69g, Protein: 13g, Fat: 4g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 1g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 64mg, Sodium: 376mg, Potassium: 396mg, Fiber: 5g, Sugar: 12g, Vitamin A: 554IU, Vitamin C: 10mg, Calcium: 71mg, Iron: 2mg
Tried this recipe?Rate in the comments and tag @yummytoddlerfood on IG!

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  1. 5 stars
    Thank you for always sharing your content with such a helpful and realistic approach to “life with toddlers.” Love your recipes and the ease and joy it brings to real life. So we can enjoy meals more with our family.