The formula for never running out of ideas? Begin with the foods your kid already loves, and use them as your base. Then get creative to the nth degree.

By Anna Helm Baxter
Updated August 07, 2020
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Let's face it: Your kid probably has school-day favorites that you pack over and over again (snore!). To shake things up, we've supplied you with easy twists on popular noontime fare plus sides and snacks that you might have never considered. Follow our plan for an easy A.

Christopher Testani

Start with Pasta:

Noodles may be the most beloved kid food ever. So there’s no need to tell your tots that they’re also the world’s most versatile vehicle for veggies. Recipe to Try: Butterfly Pasta Salad (Pictured above!)

More Pasta Lunch Recipe Ideas

  • Ranch-Style Pasta: rotini + ham + cheese cubes + shredded carrot +  ranch dressing
  • Wagon-Wheel Pizza Pasta: wagon-wheel pasta + mozzarella + marinara sauce + your kid’s favorite pizza topping; served warm in a thermos
  • Pesto Penne Salad: penne + cherry tomatoes + chickpeas + mozzarella + pesto
  • Tuna & Sweet Corn: orzo + canned tuna + sweet corn + olive oil
Christopher Testani

Start with Sunbutter:

You can buy the stuff from the store, but DIY-ing fresh sunbutter is surprisingly simple. Sprinkle in ground cinnamon or cocoa powder to create new flavors. Recipe to Try: Sunbutter & Honey Waffle Kabobs

More Sunbutter Lunch Recipe Ideas

  • Sunbutter and Jelly Crepes: store-bought crepes + jelly + sunbutter
  • Sunbutter & Banana Toast: banana slices + sunbutter + English muffins
  • Sunbutter Pancake Pizza: leftover pancakes + sunbutter + fruit
  • Sunbutter-Apple Sandwiches: cinnamon sunbutter, sandwiched between cored apple slices
Christopher Testani

Start with Rotisserie Chicken

Just as a precooked chicken is your pull-a-rabbit-out-of-a-hat trick to get dinner on the table, it also works magic for lunch. Recipe to Try: Chicken Nacho Box

More Rotisserie-Chicken Lunch Recipe Ideas

  • Cobb Salad Kabobs: skewer chicken cubes + cherry tomatoes + cucumber + bacon + hard-boiled egg
  • Chicken Quesadilla: shredded chicken + shredded cheese + tortilla; cooked in a skillet
  • BBQ Chicken Sandwich: shredded chicken + BBQ sauce + pickles + hamburger bun
  • Chicken Salad Lettuce Cups: chicken cubes + apples + grapes + celery + mayo; wrapped in Bibb lettuce leaves and packed with an ice pack
Christopher Testani

Start with Eggs

Filling and packed with protein, these little guys can handle lunch duty as nimbly as they do breakfast. Recipe to Try: Mini Frittatas

More Egg Lunch Recipe Ideas

  • Hard-Boiled Dippy Eggs: puffed quinoa + crushed garlic chips + toasted sesame seeds + Italian seasoning; eggs dipped into crunchies
  • Omelet Wrap: cooked egg + ham + cheese; rolled
  • Mediterranean Pita: roasted veggies + chopped egg + hummus + pita
  • Egg & Cheese Muffin: sliced hard-boiled egg + ricotta mixed with pesto + English muffin; packed with an ice pack
Christopher Testani

Start with Empanada Wrappers

No kid could turn down these handheld pockets of yumminess. Make a bunch and you’ll be set for weeks. Recipe to Try: Sausage & Cheese Empanadas

More Empanada Lunch Recipe Ideas

  • Creamy Chicken: shredded chicken + cooked onion and mushrooms + ground cumin + chili powder + cream cheese + empanada wrappers
  • Cheese & Onion: cooked onion + shredded cheese + parsley + empanada wrappers
  • Chili: leftover chili + rice + cheese + empanada wrappers
  • Ham & Cheese: sliced ham + sliced cheese + empanada wrappers
Christopher Testani

Start with Sweet Potatoes

Any way you slice it, this spud packs fiber, vitamin A, iron, and calcium in every bite. Recipe to Try: Sweet Potato Cakes

More Sweet Potato Lunch Recipe Ideas

  • Sweet Potato Quesadillas: mashed sweet potato + shredded cheese + tortilla; cooked in a skillet
  • Roasted Sweet Potato Pita: sweet potato fries + hard-boiled egg + lettuce + hummus + pita
  • Sweet Potato Toast: toasted sweet potato slices; topped with mashed avocado or cottage cheese and fruit
  • Sweet Potato Mac ’n’ Cheese: mac ’n’ cheese + cooked sweet potato chunks; packed warm in a thermos
Christopher Testani

Start with Cooked Rice

Today’s lunch can be a real cutup (ba-dum-ching!) when you get creative with sandwich cutters and last night’s leftovers. Recipe to Try: Veggie Burritos

More Rice Lunch Recipe Ideas

  • Rice Bowl: rice + roasted veggies + salad dressing
  • Nori Wraps: rice + leftover carnitas + nori wraps
  • Rice Fritters: rice + egg + Parmesan; formed into patties and fried
  • Unfried Rice: rice + shredded carrot + edamame + soy sauce + honey + lime + meat or egg

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