Favorite easy, healthy lunchbox ideas? Talk amongst yourselves.

Melissa Summers (Suburban Bliss) has a new gig at AlphaMom: Melissa's Buzz Off. Last week she talked about lunchboxes and, indirectly, about the difficult job of creatively filling them. I'm all perky and fresh-faced now, with my little yogurts all lined up in the refrigerator, and my tiny Ziplocs filled with carrot and celery sticks, and my late-summer selection of fruit. But come January, my lunch-making inspiration will have dwindled to the tired trio: sandwich/apple/string cheese with maybe a cookie or two if I'm feeling generous. My kid is so picky he probably won't even notice — he'll be too busy coveting his friends' glorified Gummi Bears "fruit snacks" and Gogurts.

I've read a million "10 quick, healthy and delicious lunches!" lists, but I never seem to come away with a meal I want to prepare, or that my kid would like. So how about it? Will you please, please share your favorite lunchbox fillers? Or favorite sites with good, quick lunch ideas and recipes?

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  1. maybeknott says

    I just read an idea from one of the parenting blogs that was recommended in the currect contest.

    Make a whole bunch of muffins and freeze them. Pop one in a lunch along with a yogurt, fruit, and some finger veggies.

    What kid wouldn’t eat that?

  2. andi says

    Squidoo has an excellent lens (reference page)on lunchbox ideas. http://www.squidoo.com/kidslunch/
    Like Guri, I also love The Vegan Lunch Box blog. Soon the author of the blog is publishing a cookbook. I’m so excited!

    Anything that can help me with the drudgery of making lunches is much appreciated. My favorite thing to do is cook extra dinner and pack the leftovers for lunch. But when I have no yummy leftovers, I am always in need of a little inspiration.

  3. Mrs. Moe says

    Read in an online magazine: cinnamon tortillas, spread with cream cheese, insert apple slices, roll up. As cinnamon tortillas are startlingly hard to find, replace with plain and sprinkle apples with cinnamon. My tween goes gaga for these!

  4. Jill says

    I’ve found that my kids are happy, and indeed prefer repetition. Since I’m always springing new ideas on them for dinner, the lack of variety at lunch goes over just fine. We send either yogurt, a cream cheese and lunchmeat rollup or a meat and cheese sandwich just about every day. (We have a peanut free home.) A piece of fruit goes in, and if it’s a yogurt day, some crackers. On a good day there’ll be a pickle slice or a few cherry tomatoes, but variety there is not.

  5. andrea from the fishbowl says

    Best lunch discovery ever:

    My picky eater LOVES flax-seed tortillas spread with cream cheese… I toss in a few red pepper slices and roll it.

  6. Sara in Austin says

    So we’re not close to lunchbox age yet, but here are my ideas:

    Hummos and Pita Bread or Pita Chips. Or varieties thereof (bean dips made out of black beans or white beans, etc.)

    Cheese and crackers.

    Make dip with plain yogurt (Fage has an incredibly good drained one that you can get at Whole Foods, tastes just like sour cream) and pack veggie sticks.

    Pieces of cold chicken left over from your dinner.

    Pasta salad. (Pasta and pesto tastes just as good cold….)

    Beans like canned garbanzo beans.

    Cold pizza.

    In our grocery stores they have turkey sticks about the size and shape of string cheese.

    Turkey Pepperoni slices.

    Little containers of cottage cheese.

  7. Mary Wells Pope says

    I keep my son’s lunch pretty simple since I don’t think he has much time to wolf it down and still have time for recess. And of course, being in kindergarten, he’s already Mr. Distractable. We usually do ham sandwich, nuts, dried fruits, or alternatively leftover soup or beans and rice. This second option thrills him because it comes in a little bowl-shaped thermos with a matching blue plastic spoon. But my latest issue is reducing his lunch packaging: waxed paper, plastic, ziplocs, foil- all the stuff that keeps things fresh and separate. I have yet to identify any good sets of tupperware-like lunch stuff. Ideally that would include a sandwich-shaped box and a couple of other flattish containers that would fit in his lunch bag. I feel like I’ve seen these for sale, and now they’re not available. Anybody have any ideas?

  8. Mommyprof says

    A quesadilla or bean and cheese burrito will please Offspring, who happily eats it cold (I zap the tortilla and filling in the morning and then put it in a container next to the cold pack). I will sometimes send a couple of hard boiled eggs. She also likes a little bottle filled with Soy Milk.

    In the Gladware section of the grocery, you can find the reusable sandwich containers and small storage containers that are perfect for applesauce or pudding.

    But I agree, packing lunch is really drudgery!

  9. Johnny's Mom says

    Mary – Bed, Bath & Beyond has sandwhich containers from Wonder Bread, and other lunch size containers as well.

    I must ask everyone – how on earth do you keep these lunches cold enough to send yogurt? I have little frozen things that go in the insulated lunch-bag, but I worry about it not staying cold enough until noon.

  10. none says

    Johnny’s Mom – In high school I lived on yogurt. The easiest thing to do was throw the yogurt in the freezer after shopping. Pop the frozen yogurt into the lunch bag (or straight in the backpack in my case) in the morning. By lunch it is mostly but not entirely defrosted. Soft enough to eat but still plenty cold.

  11. Kara says

    Asha — I think you should keep in mind that kids have different goals for lunch than grown-ups. I would be depressed if I had nothing to look forward to at mid-day except a thin, flat PB&J that I could devour in 30 seconds. But kids look at lunch from a different perspective: they’re just looking to fill their bellies. They also have a limited time in which to eat — 20 minutes or so, from what I’ve seen. That’s why they are happy to eat the same things every day.

    I admit that’s why I clicked on to this link — to see what other people feed their kids (my son, especially, is very picky). I was actually hoping to see that someone had discovered a magic vegetable that tastes like mac and cheese and could be snuck past the pickiest of eaters. So far, no luck with that, though.

  12. Shannon Bonnes says

    My absolute favorite is mini quiche’s.
    Take a muffin tin (deeper the better) and line each cup with pre-fab crust and fill with bits of ham, asaragus, cooked onion & bacon, sundried tamatoe, whatever you like.
    Top with beat egg & cheese, then cook in oven till brown. Let trays cool & pop out your quiche’s.

    Get the kids on the weekend to help you fill them, making multiple trays & they then freeze brilliently in icecream containers.

    The store forever in a freezer (but are so popular they go fast) and are defrosted by the time little ones lunch rolls around.

    For picky eaters you can put in plain ingredients but for the adventurous child the sky is the limit. Also giving the child the choice as to what goes in gives them a positive feeling of control.

    These are also popular for adults packed lunch.

    Shannon – South Australia

  13. Melanie says

    I love the mini-quiche idea – I’m definitely investing in a big muffin tin or something so we can do those (even though we’re not packing lunches yet, that would be a nice easy supper for Daddy to defrost when I’m not home!). I always think sandwiches are the easiest thing for most kids – kids don’t mind boring. I was always content with a sandwich and some carrots and fruit slices and milk. There are so many easy to pack things now – unsweetened applesauces, yogurts in the tube (even Stonyfield makes one now, I think, and they’re fine out of the fridge til lunchtime, but they’re also really yummy frozen), granola bars (Odwalla has yummy all-natural ones)… My son and I both can make a meal of pre-packaged healthy snack foods like that. Trail mix is a good addition to any lunch, too, esp. if you put in chocolate chips or M&Ms to make it special. Even if they don’t eat much else for lunch, nuts and raisins are full of nutrition and give great energy.

  14. Elizabeth says

    This isn’t a practical suggestion, and it also may go against the idea that children like a predictable lunch. But whenever I find myself in a lunch doldrums I like to reread the Hobans’ book Bread and Jam for Frances. Though I don’t have the energy to put a doily and a cup custard in my child’s lunch, I like the idea of it and find it inspires me to make lunch fun again.

  15. momma2mingbu says

    My extremely picky kid doesn’t seem to mind the same-old-same-old. He eats a lot of cheese and crackers or bagels with cream cheese for lunch.

  16. MelissaS says

    Some kids really do get bored though. My daughter is very picky, but by the end of the year she’s leaving a whole sandwich or bagel with cream cheese in her lunchbox because ‘It’s just so boring mom.’

    This year my goal is to stick some new foods in my daughter’s lunchbox because she is *very* picky and at least part of her picky-ness is a power play.

    I’m thinking if I can remove the parental pressure (as much as we try to avoid it, it’s inevitably there as we hope and pray she’ll LIKE SOMETHING) she’ll be able to try things alone without any expectation from my husband or I.

    I’ve copied and pasted a few of these ideas.

    *My daughter’s third grade teacher this year let’s them have a healthy morning snack and, in the afternoon, they can grab anything from their lunchbox they didn’t have time to eat at lunch. I thought this was brilliant and it’s the first time it’s been an option.

  17. CassandraT says

    Here’s an idea for you, my 5th grader doesn’t eat fruit and he LOVES veggies, well some of them anyway. There are no hot lunches at his school,everyone brown bags it.

    Almost everyday since kindergarten, he has a container of frozen peas. They defrost by lunchtime, or he eats them frozen. We call it his Pea Shooter. Thank you Trader Joes for your tasty frozen peas! (Even the dogs eat them.)

  18. maurinsky says

    My younger one is not even a little picky, so I could get really adventurous with her lunches, so I appreciate some of the suggestions above (apple-cinnamon quesadillas, muffins and mini-quiches especially – she’ll love those).

    She likes green pepper rings with grape or cherry tomatoes, tuna salad (made with feta & lemon juice instead of mayo), cheese & crackers…she can’t bring nuts because of allergy issues (not hers, but one of her classmates.) Roast beef or turkey rolled up in a tortilla with some kind of cheese and spinach is another favorite.

    Don’t ask me how she ended up so not-picky, though – I was incredibly picky as a child.

  19. Tessa says

    - Thin pancakes can be frozen and used in lunches in place of sandwiches. Spread two with jam/jelly or cream cheese (or peanut butter if your school allows it). Fruits like blueberries can be added to the mix for extra nutrition. Add chocolate chips for lunchtime fun or a dipping sauce instead of a spread. These also work great as a snack at home – pop in the toaster straight out of the freezer like a homemade eggo.
    – My snack/lunch list can include any of the following items: granola bars (they now can be bought peanut free), fruit bars, fruit cups, applesauce cups, yougurt in individual cups or tubes, cheese strings, cheese and crackers, cut up fruit or vegetables, rolled sandwich meat, buns (some young kids dont like sandwiches not because of the taste but because they find them hard to eat – thick for their little mouths and fresh bread will stick to the roof of your mouth. A buttered bun with sand.meat rolled on the side often works better for preschoolers), bagels, cheese bread, cold mac and cheese, cold pizza, cold chicken/turkey, cinnamon raisin bread, crackers in a variety of types and flavors, jello and puddings, raisins, pretzels, hotdog (wrap the wiener in a cheese slice and put in a bun – it will need to be warmed at school. Include condiment packs if the child is old enough).
    -Prepare fruits and veggies when you bring them home (cut up melons and veggies, wash fruits like apples). Easier to add to a lunch when they are already set to go, more often used as a snack if there’s no wait time.

  20. Charlotte says

    My daughter is incredibly picky, finally found a lunch that she will eat and is healthy.

    Ritz crackers with peanut butter
    cheese cubes
    carrots with ranch dressing
    apple slices
    small bottle of water

    She’s also will eat rolled salami or sandwich pepperoni in place of the crackers.

  21. jeanjean says

    try letting your child shop for and make their own lunches. i have eight children ages 17 to 5 i have a list of lunch ideas hanging in the pantry and the kids look at it and help fill out the shopping list based on what they feel like eating for lunch when we shop we get cheap store brand and sale items,the kids pick out what they want but they have to find the cheapest item and if it’s more then i’m willing to spend they have to pick an other item, or if i shop by myself then i choose it then the kids make their own lunch the night before even the five year old does her own with some help we do left overs, make up their own lunchables of mini hot dogs, mini hanburgers, mini pizzas, their own toppings, sandwiches, pin wheels, tortilla wraps, pancakes, tocos crackers and cheese and meats. when we cook hamburger for a meal we save some out some roll it into a snake cut slices and bake them in the oven and freeze, pizza dough is biscuit dough squished flat baked and frozen, again made when using it for dinner. they pack containers of veggies with dipping sauces, their fruit,yogart what ever, i only allow a couple of cookies a piece if we have them at all and chips and crackers are bought in small quantities to discouage over eating of these items, i do very little in the way of making their lunches, if the kids are doing the work, they pack what they’ll eat and they aren’t willing to waste their efforts by throwing it away usually what’s left over is brought home to have again they really are fugal when their own work goes into their lunches