Healthy (But Fun!) Lunches for Kids

squash quesadilla
Bryan Gardner

You might be surprised to learn that parents often miss the mark when it comes to creating wholesome, redeeming meals at lunchtime. According to NBC, scholarly researchers have published multiple studies that confirm that federal lunch programs are often healthier than what Mom and Dad choose to pack for school. While loading up on fresh vegetables and fruit is crucial for any kid's lunchbox, the best meals are creative enough to bring out tasty flavors and ensure that your little one actually has fun eating. Crafting balanced lunches at home allows you to encourage your little one to make better choices: After all, further research shows that establishing healthy eating habits in our youth impacts our dietary habits later on in life.

The best healthy meals think outside the box—our spin on a lightened quesadilla using fresh squash, seen here, is the perfect example. If you've overdone the nut butter and jelly wheat sandwiches, try repurposing some of last night's leftovers into a hearty lunch that's still fun to eat. This quesadilla is creamy and satisfying, marrying fresh mozzarella and goat cheese with hearty butternut squash, and is topped with fresh pico de gallo. The little ones will love eating with their hands and dipping their meal into fresh salsa. And it's a guaranteed winner, even for the pickiest of kids—who wouldn't enjoy the creamy profile of the squash alongside a good sprinkle of cheese?

These lunch ideas allow you to test drive fresh ingredients in your child's lunchbox in exciting ways; from revamped sandwiches to better-for-you pastas and supercharged salads, these thrilling lunches will keep everyone healthy and happy.

01 of 21

Chicken Soup with Rice

two bowls of chicken soup with rice
Bryan Gardner

While this rich, nourishing soup can be prepped in big batches for the entire family, little ones will especially enjoy slurping on broth chock full of hearty white rice, julienned veggies, and chicken. Make a pot the night before and add a sprinkle of sharp cheese for an extra kick of flavor.

02 of 21

Tropical Fruit Salad with Coconut Crunch

Tropical-Fruit Salad With Coconut Crunch
Petrina Tinslay

Who says all sweet treats have to be baked goods or made entirely of chocolate? A fruit salad is a great alternative. Chop ripe, fresh berries and flavorful tropical fruits to give your little one a taste of summer all year long. Be sure to make a big batch of the crunchy coconut-poppy seed dressing; it adds a fun, healthy punch to this dish.

03 of 21

Nori Guacamole

nori guacamole served with a rice cake
Kate Mathis

Spice up a quick sandwich or a salad lunch with a side of this super-green guacamole, which incorporates crunchy roasted seaweed flakes for umami notes.

04 of 21

Tahini Fruit Dip

Mike Krautter

A side of fruit becomes the main attraction at lunch when dressed with this sweet, creamy dip. Make a big batch and use it liberally at snack time, too.

05 of 21

Granola Cookies

Con Poulos

Here's why these cookies are the supercharged treat you should add to your kids lunchbox: The recipe swaps butter for coconut oil, which reduces saturated fats and adds nutty flavor. We also like that it uses gluten-free flours and oats, but you can make it a whole-grain cookie by choosing spelt flour.

06 of 21

Broccoli-Ham Calzone


Lean ham and loads of broccoli bulk up this healthier twist on pizza pockets, and we love how easily they can be packed into a lunch box. Don't forget to include a little container of tomato sauce for dipping.

07 of 21

Baked Sweet Potato Chips

Bryan Gardner

Transform vitamin-packed sweet potatoes into a low-fat "can't eat just one" snack simply by tossing thin slices with a drizzle of olive oil and baking until crisp-edged. These crunchy sweet potato chips are just one of our favorite options for creating better-for-you veggie and fruit chips at home.

08 of 21

Turkey Caesar Sandwich

Turkey Caesar Sandwich

Make a quick version of Caesar dressing by mixing lemon juice and Parmesan into light mayonnaise. Spread on multigrain bread then pile on smoked turkey and romaine lettuce for a sandwich that's sure to be a lunchroom success.

09 of 21

Whole-Grain Breakfast Cookies

whole grain breakfast cookies
Jonathan Lovekin

While these may be called breakfast cookies, we promise they taste just as good at lunch. Buckwheat flour, millet, and oats form the wholesome base, and the addition of cashew butter, coconut oil, and fresh raspberries will make sure your kids are well fueled for the rest of the school day.

10 of 21

Bean-and-Veggie Sliders

bean and veggie sliders

These mini bean-and-veggie burgers take inspiration from Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches. Blended beans and rice are the basis of these sliders, which are supercharged with grated carrots, broccoli, and ginger. Top them with cilantro and sliced mango for the brightest sandwiches ever.

11 of 21

Real-Fruit Rolls


As a parent, you object to food that comes in "Tropical Tie-Dye" flavor, but the grocery-aisle pleas are inevitable. Head them off by making real-fruit rolls that are like candy, only better.

12 of 21

Oven-Fried Chicken


Make it a brown-bag picnic with a delicious skinless baked chicken drumstick or two. They're crunchy thanks to whole-wheat breadcrumbs.

13 of 21

Whole-Wheat Brownies


These brownies get a healthy boost from whole-wheat flour and applesauce, while cocoa powder and plenty of semisweet chocolate make them nice and fudgy.

14 of 21

Soba Noodle Salad with Chicken and Scallions


Toss soba noodles, leftover chicken, and thinly sliced red cabbage in a kid-approved dressing of soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, and garlic to make this cool Asian-inspired salad that makes a colorful, fun, and filling lunch.

15 of 21

Zucchini Quesadillas


Fold garlicky sautéed zucchini, corn, cilantro, and grated pepper jack cheese into tortillas and bake until browned and melty for a fun, healthy sandwich alternative.

16 of 21


Lisa Hubbard

Introduce your kids to protein-packed edamame: They'll have fun sucking the tender beans out of their pods.

17 of 21

Chocolate-Zucchini Cakes


These mini chocolate cupcakes are a delicious twist on traditional zucchini bread. If your kids prefer, substitute pecans or sliced almonds for the walnuts, or skip the nuts altogether.

18 of 21

Edamame Spread


Instead of the usual hummus, try this brilliant-green, protein-packed spread with vegetables and whole-grain crackers or pita for dipping.

19 of 21

Vegetarian Black-Bean Chili


A thermos full of this mild-but-tasty vegetable-packed chili and some baked tortilla chips will keep little tummies happy all afternoon long.

20 of 21

Ants on a Log


Using assorted dried fruit adds a colorful twist to this classic snack.

21 of 21

Vegetable Sushi

Luca Trovato

Julienned carrot, red bell pepper, celery, and scallion are rolled in tangy sushi rice and crisp nori to make this colorful, fun-to-eat veggie sushi.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles