Find the best lunchbox ideas for kids (and adults) with this go-to list of favorites. With ideas that work sent cold in a lunchbox or warmed in a thermos, these ideas are versatile, quick to assemble, nutritious, and easy.
When packing lunches for the kids or ourselves, these are my go-to packed lunch ideas for easy, delicious meals that work well on the go. There is a range of ideas here to cover a variety of preferences and appetites, so scroll down to see what appeals. Each of these is shown in a lunch box, but you could also use a thermos to pack warm foods.
Remember to adjust the amount of food for the child you have—make your best guess based on how they usually eat—and pack milk or water as a drink to round out the lunch. And as always, adjust for allergies as needed with allergy-friendly swaps.
These are some of our top picks for kid-friendly meals for lunch.
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Mac and Cheese
Whether from leftovers or cooked to pack on purpose, mac and cheese is a great lunch option. You can add peas to a box of mac and cheese or try a homemade option like my Butternut Mac and Cheese. Add easy sides (such as cucumber, diced fruit, a muffin, or hard-cooked eggs) as you like.
Pesto Pasta Salad
Pesto Pasta salad is an all-time favorite lunch recipe since it’s so versatile (you can make it very basic or add tomatoes, white beans, diced cucumber, or chicken). Pair with a side of fruit, use whole-wheat pasta for more whole grains, and enjoy.
This savory muffin works really well to make ahead and to warm and pack in a thermos. It has carrots right in the mix and pairs nicely with simple sides such as raspberries, blueberries, and a yogurt pouch. You can freeze the muffins and warm as you need, too.
Pair turkey, cheese, and lettuce with a whole grain tortilla for a super simple wrap lunch ideas. Add freeze-dried strawberry slices, a banana, sliced apples, or edamame on the side. (You could also do a classic turkey sandwich or a turkey sandwich on a bagel.)
Hummus and Pita
Pack a fast lunch relying on hummus and pita—or hummus and crackers, tortilla, or even pretzels. Add applesauce, raisins, thinly sliced celery, or another favorite side to go with the main dish.
Think “cheese plate” when assembling this lunch and include a mix of food groups to satisfy. Fresh veggies such as snap peas and bell peppers, fruit including diced watermelon and clementine, cheese, and crackers can be packed together for a range of ages. Add thinly sliced salami or even chicken salad as you like.
These meatballs are great cold or warm and are one of our favorite easy lunch options. You can pair with roasted sweet potato, diced kiwi, sliced peaches, diced pineapple, fresh berries, or mangoes as you prefer.
Sandwich Roll Ups
Change up a classic sandwich into these fun roll-ups. Add easy sides to round out this meal including cucumber slices, vertically halved grapes (for little kids), cottage cheese, avocado with a little lime juice to prevent browning, and crackers.
Breakfast for Lunch
We love pancakes for dinner and for lunch and you can pack them at eat cold or packed in a thermos to eat warm. Add a dip on the side and include milk or another protein option as needed to ensure that the meal is filling.
A make-ahead grain salad can feed a family lunch throughout the week and this quinoa salad is our favorite. Add diced ham and corn if you like, omit or add other ingredients as you like, and try packing with a Drinkable Yogurt or a simple container of Flavored Milk.
Best Gear for Packing Lunches
Below are my favorite products for packing lunches for kids and adults of all ages.
- Kids Lunch Box Picks
- Baby Lunch Boxes
- Best Bento Boxes for Kids and Adults
- Favorite Thermoses for Hot Lunches
- Best Insulated Lunch Bags
- Favorite Kids Water Bottles
Lunchbox Ideas for Work
Feed yourself well during the day with these easy, nutritious lunch ideas for work. Each can be made ahead, stashed in the fridge, and eaten whenever you need a meal. And you can share them all with your kids, too.
Lunchbox Ideas for Toddlers
To make any of these ideas work for a one or two year old, simply dice the food up into bite-size pieces to ensure that it’s easy to eat. Cut any grapes or cherry tomatoes vertically into thin pieces and check my daycare lunch post for more information and ideas.
Lunchbox Ideas for School
When packing lunches for school, my two goals are to pack food that the child usually likes to ensure that they always have enough to eat and to pack food that is easy to eat. Yes, they may need some help opening packages, but since lunch periods are short, it can help to try to pack foods the child can eat on their own. Some favorite ideas are in my Kindergarten Lunch post and in these No-Cook School Lunch Ideas.
I’d love to hear your feedback on this post, so please comment below to share.
Top Ten Lunchbox Ideas
- ½-1 cup fresh fruit (such as diced berries, pineapple, mango, or melon)
- ½-1 cup fresh vegetables (such as thinly sliced carrots, bell pepper, or cucumbers)
- ½-1 cup protein (such as cheese, deli lunch meat, shredded chicken, edamame beans, yogurt, cottage cheese, or hummus)
- ½-1 cup whole grains (such as whole grain crackers, pita bread, tortilla, roll, rice cakes, or snack bar)
- Condiments, sauces, or dips (as desired)
- Prepare the fresh fruits and veggies as needed. Swap in a puree for a younger child or as desired.
- Pack in a lunchbox with the rest of the ingredients.
- Try to make sure that any raw vegetables are sliced in a way that is easy for little kids to eat. Matchstick-size slices are often a great option as they have a low choking risk.
- Use applesauce or a vegetable pouch as desired.
- Do your best with the portion size and include enough food for your child.
- Include a drink as needed.
- Pack the lunchbox with an ice pack in an insulated bag to keep it cold.
This post was first published January 2018.