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healthy lunchbox with sandwich, grapes and crackers - creative back to school lunch ideas for kids

10 Creative Back to School Lunch Ideas for Kids

February 01, 2016

Back to school time is looming. Along with new books and uniforms, the old school lunchbox will be dusted off and parents of fussy eaters everywhere will try to figure out what to fill it with. Growing brains and bodies need quality fuel to learn and have fun so it can be worth shaking off old habits and making lunchtime a bit more fun. It will make life a little easier in the long run. Here's 10 creative back to school lunch ideas for kids that will go down a treat!

10 Creative Back to School Lunch Ideas for Kids

Looking for inspiration when it comes to filling those lunchboxes? We've got 10 creative back to school lunch ideas the kids will love. 

1. Get Creative with Your Sambos

When it comes to the main event, we can all picture that generic cheese and ham sandwich that greeted us daily on opening the school lunchbox. While sandwiches are by definition a convenient portable meal, they can just become so boring!

Bread

Variety is the key... pitta, wraps, sliced pan, soda bread, rolls, crackers... just keep them guessing. The important thing is to buy the best quality you can afford, think wholemeal and read the labels - this is their main carbohydrate fuel of the school day.

Processed white sliced pan is high in salt and sugar and low in fibre and while most kids love it (who would blame them with that ingredient list) even the simplest palate enjoys a little change once in a while. So experiment - most kids are more adventurous than we give them credit for.

Fillings

Again a little variation goes a long way. It's easy to reach for that same packet of ham and ‘easy singles’ in the supermarket each time. The possibilities are endless but here are a few suggestions - use your (or your kids) imagination:

  • banana with peanut or almond butter
  • bagel with cream cheese and grapes
  • grated carrot with cheese and hummus in a wrap
  • add pear or apple to a toasted ham and cheese sandwich
  • classic egg salad, tuna and sweetcorn
  • turkey with cheese and avocado, mozzarella and pesto

2. Ditch the Sandwich Every Now & Again

Why not ditch the sandwich altogether once in a while? There are some great alternatives kids will be chuffed to see. By just adding a fork, you can get creative with left overs... cold pasta, noodles, roast chicken, even cold pizza can go down a treat.

In the winter, a thermos of soup can be a welcome warm up. Think outside the box! If your kids are fans, falafel or a peeled hard boiled egg can make a great bite-sized savoury meal.

3. Mix Up Your Fruit Choices

Everyone gets sick of apples and bananas. Children are often attracted by size and colour. Invest in some small Tupperware containers - easy to fill with blueberries, strawberries, grapes. Teach them how to eat a kiwi like an egg with a spoon or mandarins when in season are perfectly child sized.

4. Veggies Make a Great Snack

Many kids will enjoy raw vegetables while turning their nose up at their cooked counterparts. Why not team a small portion of hummus or another favourite dip with sticks of brightly coloured pepper, carrot or cucumber? Cherry tomatoes or gerkins can be a nice a treat on the side instead of a soggy tomato slice in a sandwich.

5. Don't forget about dried fruit

Children will enjoy snacking dried fruit - raisins, apricots and seeds all make a naturally sweet and nutritious snack filled with protein and fibre. Again no need to buy pre-packaged, instead buy in bulk and refill your own small containers.

Don't forget most schools are nut-free!

6. Welcome Treats

When it comes to creative back to school lunch ideas, treats are a winner. Homemade museli bars, flapjacks, scones, fruit muffins or banana bread make a great lunchbox treat, and they freeze well. Or go ‘old school’ with a fig roll!

There are some great pre-packaged museli bars available if baking is not your forte but read the labels carefully as some products may be high in sugar and salt and although labelled as ‘healthy’ can contain as many calories as a chocolate bar.

7. Whip Up Some Smoothies

You may not have time to make a batch every day but smoothies make a great occasional treat. It's the perfect way for children to reach their 5 a day and can be made even more nutritious by adding yogurt, nut butter or some oats to the blender. They're also ideal for kids who aren't great breakfast eaters.

8. Don't Forget About Dairy

Remember the importance of dairy for growing bones and muscles - milk, yogurts and cheese are all ideal lunchbox fillers. However, it's important to remember to buy quality products. Avoid flavoured milks, along with many of the branded yoghurts targeted at children, they are full of sugar - some as much as a fizzy drink. If unsure read the labels. In general, if the ingredient list is short, with a real fruit base and few additives or colouring, you're on the right path.

9. Cheese Please

Cheese is a great food for kids but unfortunately many experience it only in its highly processed/high salt forms - avoid ‘plastic’ processed children’s snack cheeses when possible. If time is of the essence, good quality cheddar etc. can be bought pre-sliced or simply cut off a finger of your favourite cheese and pop it in a small tub. If kids are fussy, try it grated in a wrap, or added to pasta, or as a cold toasted cheese sandwich (almost as good as leftover pizza!)

10. Drink Up

When it comes to drinks keep it simple - milk or water are best. Even some of the fruit juice drinks marketed at kids can be very high in sugar and bad for little teeth. Look for the sugar content on packaging. 4g is about 1 teaspoon as a rough guide... would you add that to their glass of water?

Top Tip: Get Kitted Out!

If you're looking for creative back to school lunch ideas, your tools are important too. Make lunchtime appealing with a fun lunchbox. A set of Tupperware in various sizes for a fiver (IKEA do a great one!), a good refillable water bottle and a bit of imagination in the supermarket is all that is needed. It doesn’t have to cost the earth. Be creative with leftovers.

And when time is short - as is often the case for busy families… read the labels. You will soon recognise a few favourite healthy products to make life easier and these can then be popped in the lunchbox guilt free. Little tummies will thank you for it!

Checked and updated: 18 August 2021

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