Think Outside the Box: Healthy, Creative School Lunch Hacks

By: Vanessa Slots, MD, Renown Medical Group Pediatrics

August 09, 2018

A child smiling and holding a sandwich

Gone are the days of soggy PB&Js on white bread: Today’s school lunch is your chance to create a healthy, colorful midday meal! Here are a few simple tips, a week of lunch ideas and a shopping list to help you pack a lunch that won’t be offered up for trade during tomorrow’s lunch hour.

While school lunches are getting healthier, packing and taking a lunch to school will ensure that your child is getting a healthy, well-balanced meal.

Making lunches should be a team effort. Your kids can help pack their lunches by spreading on condiments or putting food in containers. To save time in the morning, pack lunches the night before.

The following are a few suggested items you can use to ensure your child is eating a tasty but nutritious lunch:

Main dishes

  • Lunch meat and lowfat cheese roll ups
  • English muffin pizzas
  • Sandwich wraps – meat, cheese and veggies in a whole grain tortilla
  • Pita pockets stuffed with grilled chicken and vegetables
  • Soup
  • Chef salad with spinach, veggies, cheese, lunch meat and dressing
  • Tuna or chicken salad on a mini bagel

Snacks and sides

  • Fresh or dried fruit
  • Natural apple sauce
  • Baked tortilla chips and salsa
  • Veggie sticks and hummus
  • Cheese slices or string cheese with whole grain crackers
  • Homemade trail mix with nuts, seeds and raisins
  • Pudding
  • Homemade fruit roll ups
  • Popcorn (add different toppings such as salt, garlic, cinnamon, sugar or cayenne pepper)


  • Water
  • If you child doesn’t like plain water, try adding a few slices of fresh fruit (strawberries, lime, lemon) for more flavor.

School Lunch Menu: Day-By-Day

We’ve put together a week’s worth of colorful, fun and healthy school lunch ideas your kids will love. And we’ve also created a shopping list to help you easily locate all the ingredients on your weekend shopping trip.

Monday: Turkey BLTA Roll-ups

Vegetables in a box

Roll-up Ingredients

  • Turkey, cold cuts
  • Bacon
  • Avocado
  • Tomatoes

Side Dish Choices

  • Blueberries
  • Cucumbers
  • Carrot sticks

Tuesday: Bacon & Cucumber Sandwich

Sandwich Ingredients

  • Whole wheat English muffin
  • Cucumber
  • Bacon

Side Dish Choices

  • Apples slices
  • Strawberries
  • Vanilla yogurt mixed with sprinkled cinnamon

Wednesday: DIY Lunchables

A small girl eating a green apple

Lunchables Ingredients

  • Crackers
  • Turkey, cold cuts
  • Cheese

Side Dish Choices

  • Blueberries
  • Carrots
  • Cucumber

Thursday: Veggie Grilled Cheese

Veggie Grilled Cheese Ingredients

  • English muffin
  • Cheese
  • Tomato
  • Spinach leaves
  • Avocado

Side Dish Choices

  • Apples slices
  • Strawberries
  • Vanilla yogurt mixed with sprinkled cinnamon
  • Tomatoes

Friday: DIY Pizzas

DIY Pizza Ingredients

  • 2 toasted English muffins
  • Pizza sauce
  • Cheese
  • Turkey pepperoni

Side Dish Choices

  • Celery
  • Black olives

Shopping List (under 20 items)

Cold section: Dairy

1 large container of vanilla yogurt
1 package of your favorite cheese 

Cold section: Deli meats

1 package of turkey pepperoni
1 package bacon
1 package turkey cold cuts

Inside aisles

Whole wheat English muffins
1 can of whole black olives
1 jar of pizza sauce
1 box of whole wheat or multigrain crackers 

Produce department

1 cucumber
1 stalk of celery
2 apples
1 container of strawberries
1 avocado
2 tomatoes
1 bunch of spinach leaves
1 container of blueberries
2 carrots 

For more healthy school lunch box options, visit our Kids Health & Nutrition board on Pinterest.

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