School lunch ideas for kids

One of the most important things a parent can do to set their child up for success at school is provide a healthy and well-balanced lunch made at home. For many parents, the idea of making elaborate lunches like you might see on Pinterest, with food your child likely won’t eat, is a pipe dream. There just isn’t any time. But with the right selection of small appliances and a bit of prep, you can send your kid to school with something more than just a boring ham and cheese sandwich or pre-packaged food. Having the right appliances to make school lunches a breeze and organizing prep is only half the battle. The other half is coming up with the ideas of what to make. Here are some ideas to help, including many I make for my own 11-year-old son.

Hot lunches

Sandwich maker with sandwich

Grilled cheese

A kid favourite, traditional grilled cheese requires a pan, butter, and stovetop heat. But you can whip up a grilled cheese using a toaster oven or even an air fryer. You could also make one in an indoor grill or sandwich maker. Use minimal butter to make it healthier yet still get that nice, crispy crust. Cut in half, wrap in foil, and place in a Thermos to keep it warm until lunch time.

I make a grilled cheese sandwich for my son at least once every few weeks and it’s always a lunchtime favourite. Some kids love dipping theirs in ketchup so consider adding a side of that in a container (or reusable package) so they can enjoy eating it the way they love.

Chicken nuggets or drumsticks and waffles

Sure, it’s considered fast food. But if you’re making this at home, at least you can search the grocery store for healthier options with less additives. Or go the extra mile and make your own batch of homemade chicken nuggets in the air fryer to freeze and reheat as needed. Tossing both right from frozen in an air fryer for 12-15 minutes will deliver a hot lunch kids will love. A neat trick: use mayonnaise instead of an egg mix to adhere the bread crumbs (or whatever batter you choose) to the chicken.

Liven things up by adding a hot waffle, toasted in the toaster, to accompany the nuggets instead of traditional French fries. Include a small container of maple syrup along with a plastic fork and knife. Voila! Their own version of chicken and waffles. Chicken nuggets or fingers with French fries is another lunch that is part of my son’s weekly or bi-weekly hot lunch rotation. But I do the chicken and waffles lunch on occasion and he always looks forward to it.

Mini pizzas

Ooni outdoor pizza oven

Use a toaster oven or air fryer to warm up a frozen pizza or make a delicious homemade pizza with pizza dough. Alternatively, use pita bread, a thin layer of tomato sauce, cheese, and the toppings of the child’s choosing. This is a lunch they might like to help make, assembling the pizza in the morning for you to cook. Once done, slice, wrap, and you have pizza lunch, any day of the week. I use my air fryer for reheating mini pizzas for my son as a frequent hot lunch. At 350°F, it only takes about 5 minutes so I can quickly heat it up in the morning, slice, and add to his Thermos.


Whether it’s ham and cheese or another filling, place between two slices of buttered bread in a sandwich maker or indoor griddle, and you have your own delicious pocket. Prep ingredients like shredded cheese, deli chopped cooked meats, sliced vegetables, and other toppings ahead of time and keep them in the fridge for quick and easy access. I love to use leftover meat like ham from a holiday meal, chop it up, and make pockets I can freeze and use for quick lunches for both myself and my son. A favourite is ham and cheese but we sometimes also make pizza pockets with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and pepperoni (toss in some ham, too!) or even dessert pockets with fruit filling.

Burritos and quesadillas

School lunchbox with a burrito

One of my son’s favourite lunches is burritos or quesadillas, which I make using leftover flank steak or shredded chicken from dinner the previous night in the Instant Pot. I usually slow cook the meat or poultry with salsa, vegetables, and taco seasoning, setting it to cook at 9 or 10 a.m. to be ready for dinnertime. The great thing about multicookers like the Instant Pot is even if you set the cook earlier (if you have to leave for work, for example), the food will keep warm for hours until you arrive home. A warm tortilla, cheddar cheese, and reheated steak or chicken wrapped in a burrito is a hot lunch that looks like restaurant take-out.

To make a quesadilla, add the filling to one half of the tortilla in a large cast iron pan with a bit of oil and once it’s fully heated and cheese melted, fold it over in half and flip it. Once the tortilla is nicely browned, remove and slice into four quarters. My son doesn’t like sauce, but if yours does, so you can add a small container of salsa or sour cream for dipping. For a burrito, reheat the protein, warm up the tortilla, then add the protein and cheese to the bottom half of the tortilla. Fold over the bottom to the halfway point, pull in the two sides, then roll until you have a tightly wrapped burrito. Wrap it in foil to both keep it intact and warm.


Store-bought soups contain a ton of sodium, but using leftover stock, vegetables that are on their last days, noodles, and leftover meat or poultry, you can create a hearty and delicious soup for lunch during the colder winter months. Cook it in a slow cooker and use a blender to make the texture nice and smooth for cream-based soups like pumpkin or squash. Some blenders even have heating elements to not only blend the soup ingredients but also warm them, allowing you to go from fridge to Thermos in minutes with minimal clean-up. Don’t forget a side of crackers or bread for dipping.


Hamburgers on a griddle

Use a griddle to cook or reheat a burger in the morning (one you made from scratch on the barbecue the night before, perhaps?) and store in an air-tight container. Pack the bun and toppings separately, including sliced cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and condiments (this is where keeping those tiny packages from fast food restaurants can come in handy) and let them assemble their own burger. For a side dish, consider homemade chips or French fries made in the air fryer. My son prefers plain burgers, usually with just the bread, meat patty, slice of cheese, and bacon. As with the grilled cheese, I’d recommend wrapping it in foil to retain the heat for as long as possible until lunch time.


My son absolutely loves pierogies, so much so that he has them for lunch at least once a week. While there’s an ideal way to cook them, you can make them quickly by boiling frozen (either store bought or homemade) pierogies for about 5 minutes. Drain, add to a Thermos with some vegetables (his favourite is green beans with a touch of salt) and pack.


Whenever I make a noodle dish for dinner, I always make an extra serving to pack for my son’s lunch the next day. It’s easy to reheat, add to a Thermos, and send them to school with a hot lunch right from home. I’ll usually make it with some type of protein like chicken along with mixed vegetables. Make sure they have a fork in order to eat it comfortably, or even chopsticks if they prefer.

Hot dogs

A super quick lunch idea is a simple hot dog. Boil in water in the morning, put in a bun, cut in half, wrap in foil, and toss into a Thermos. For kids who like condiments, pack these separately so they can dress it before eating to prevent the hot dog from getting soggy. This is a great way to use up leftover ketchup, mustard, and relish packets from fast food restaurants or take-out. A useful tip: hot dogs freeze well, so once you buy a pack of 6, 10, 12, or more, you can freeze what you don’t use after 5-7 days. I usually boil a frozen dog for a few minutes longer than fresh and it turns out perfectly. This is great for families like mine with only one child, or to ensure your kids have variety. You don’t need to feed them hot dogs all week to use up the package before they go bad.

Cold lunches

Flatbread and hummus

A simple lunch that requires very little prep, slice flatbread into triangles and pair with hummus for dipping. Try making your own hummus at home using a personal blender. With a few simple ingredients you might already have at home, including chick peas, paprika, and tahini, you can whip up a batch in minutes, refrigerate, and use throughout the week. Make sure to include a side of fresh vegetables, like cucumber and carrot slices, for dipping as well. If your child prefers a dip like guacamole, make sure to squirt a bit of lime juice into it before packing to keep it from browning.


A woman pouring a smoothie

Some kids love to sleep in, or go to before-school care, which makes having a healthy breakfast in the morning difficult. Blend fresh fruits and vegetables in a blender with a liquid like milk, milk alternative, water, or fruit juice, add ice, and pop into a bottle for breakfast on the go. With a thermal bottle, the smoothie will keep cold for hours. The child can then rinse it out in the sink at school and refill with their water for the rest of the day. For kids who don’t eat a big meal at lunch, a smoothie might be a good option to ensure they’re getting the vitamins and nutrients they need. Occasionally, my son will ask for a smoothie in his water bottle and drink that in the morning. If you use their standard water bottle for this, make sure to wash it thoroughly after, removing all parts, to prevent mold growth and to get rid of the milky smell.


Ahh, the gold ol’ sandwich. As mentioned in the beginning, kids get bored quickly of the same old ham and cheese. But you can switch it up. Consider using different types of bread, like making a panini one day and a submarine the next. Have them try different deli meats to discover new ones they might like. Use a cold chicken breast instead of sliced deli chicken. And play around with the toppings. After a recent family vacation to Italy, my son who has long frowned upon cold sandwiches in his lunch is ready to try a panini with fresh mozzarella and porchetta or salami for lunch. You don’t have to always use meat either. It might be a simple bagel with butter and cheese, or a nut butter alternative with jam.

lunch with a pasta salad

Pasta salad

Made too much pasta noodles the night before and have loads of leftovers? You can toss the cold noodles with some dressing, add some vegetables and cheese cubes and you have an instant pasta salad that makes for a hearty and filling cold lunch. This works best with noodles like macaroni and rotini. If your child is like mine and is averse to all types of dressing, consider just tossing the noodles with a smidge of salt and pepper along with the other toppings. Involve your child in adding the ingredients they want and they’ll be more inclined to eat it.


Fruit salad

No matter what I pack for my son for his main lunch, fruits are always part of the equation. great for a side dish, make ahead a fruit salad that you can scoop from throughout the week. Every Sunday, cut strawberries, blueberries, grapes, peaches, pears, or whatever other fruits are your child’s favourites (and are in season) and store in the fridge. The fruit will come in handy for an after-school snack as well, added to ice cream or topping with whipped cream for dessert after dinner, using for smoothies, and more. I find that mixing it up each week provides a nice variety so your child isn’t staring at yet another container of strawberries or green grapes every day, but a bountiful, colourful mix of fruit flavours.


lunch with fruits and vegetables

If my son’s main meal doesn’t include vegetables (I’ll usually include green peas or green beans with many of the hot dishes), I like to include some vegetables as well on the side. My son has three go-to favourites: sliced cucumbers, sugar snap peas, and edamame. With edamame, you can cook it the night prior then either reheat or pack cold with some sea salt. All three vegetables offer a nice crunch that kids will enjoy. Other parent favourites include carrot and celery sticks and sweet pepper slices. Throw in a side of ranch or other dressing if your kids like to dip.

Sweet treats

Kids deserve treats, too! I usually pack some type of dessert items in my son’s lunch, like a few cookies, a pre-packaged (or homemade) granola bar, mini muffin (you can make these at home with leftover fruit or even vegetables like zucchini or squash for healthier alternatives), popcorn, potato chips, or even chocolate. Chances are your child will eat this as their first snack. But at least once they get it out of the way, as long as you pack an abundance of healthy items along with it, they’ll get the nutrition they need afterwards.

Things to keep in mind when making school lunches

Be sensitive to food allergies

Consider not only your own child but others at school as well. Many schools do not permit peanuts or any nut products, so look into alternatives like soy butter for the lazy PB&J days. These sometimes come with “school-safe” labels you can peel and stick on the lunch to provide the teacher, and other students, with assurances.

Include all major food groups

It’s simple to include all the major food groups: have a section for fruit, one for vegetables, one for dairy (cheese cubes), one for a main dish with grains, and one for meat or poultry. Prep ahead of time so making lunch only requires a quick cook with the right appliance.

Alternate between hot and cold

Keep things interesting by switching it up. Maybe it’s a pita pizza on Monday, for example, burrito on Tuesday, and soy butter and jam sandwich on Wednesday.

Set a schedule and have your child participate

Try setting a schedule or empower your child by allowing them to choose what they want each day among the lunch “usuals.” With everything prepped and groceries purchased, anything on this list should require minimal effort. They’ll be more inclined to eat something knowing they picked it. I usually ask my son each morning what he wants for lunch if I don’t already have something planned (based on the previous night’s leftovers, for example). He might say pierogies, chicken nuggets, mini pizza, or hot dog. Each of these takes the same amount of time and effort.

Don’t forget snacks and treats

Kids work hard at school and deserve a treat every now and then. Snacks are also essential since most schools have snack periods before and after lunch. Granola bars are an easy option, and you can consider making your own at home in big batches that will last a week or two. A favourite in my household are mini muffins made with leftover fruits or vegetables, like banana, zucchini, and squash. Pop one right from frozen into the lunch and by the time second snack rolls around, it’s fully defrosted. Every Friday, my son also gets a special “junk food” treat like a mini chocolate bar, cookies, or a bag of potato chips. Sometimes, I let him choose, other times, he asks me to surprise him. Whenever I add something I wouldn’t typically include, he beams with delight when he opens the lunch bag.

School lunches can be easy and fun to make

It sounds overwhelming to have to come up with a clever and exciting new lunch for your kids five days a week. But with a dozen or so ideas in rotation, your kids won’t get bored. And you can always change things up with a different side dish, new toppings or fillings, or other adjustments.

Preparing the lunches doesn’t have to be difficult either. Find one day a week when you can set aside an hour or two for the prep, make use of storage containers and space in the fridge, and get everything ready for quick assembling and cooking.

Having the right small appliances plays a major role in the process. Check out a wide selection of small appliances at Best Buy Online

Christine Persaud
With 20+ years of experience in trade and consumer tech journalism, I have covered the tech space since before social media was a "thing" and the smartphone as we know it was even invented. Writing for various technology, lifestyle, and entertainment sites, I have covered and reviewed hundreds of tech products, from home appliances to wearables, fitness tech to headphones, TV entertainment products and services, and more. I'm also a passionate foodie who loves to cook and bake, a TV show fanatic (happy to give what to watch recommendations!), and proud mother to a 12-year-old son.


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