Creative Healthy Lunch Ideas for Back to School

It seems like kids have always had mixed opinions about school lunch.  When I was a kid back in the 70s and 80s, I thought it was just gross.  I mean, really.  Not even pizza day was enough to pique my interest, and I’ve always loved pizza.  Without a doubt, I was a super-picky child (and, if you ask Vickie, a super-picky adult right up until the time we became vegetarians).


1941 image of school children being served hot lunch

(Image courtesy of USDA on Flickr)

Taking my lunch was no big thrill, either, though.  Loads of PB & J, sandwich bag after sandwich bag of chips, the little metal cans (yes, metal…I’m old) of pudding, and the occasional Snoopy thermos full of Spaghetti-Os.


Of course, I never stopped to give a single thought as to whether my lunch was healthy or not, and I’ll bet that my parents didn’t, either.  Not that we didn’t care, but rather that we generally just didn’t consider those types of issues as we do today.   We were restricted from eating most of the really bad stuff on a regular basis, and we easily burned off any less-healthy food we ate by running around, biking, climbing trees, and doing other active kid-stuff.


So, while school lunch programs may or may not be undergoing reform as I write (see the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010), what about kids like me?  Those super-picky eaters who avoid the lunch line like the plague and want the same thing day in and day out.  There must be ways to get these kids to eat healthy food…there MUST be!  Hmmmm…time to put on the creativity thinking cap…






There’s just something about taking a flat, blank surface and making it into a cool little shape.  It works with sugar cookies and play dough, so why not sandwiches, fruit and other snacks?


  • Cookie cutters – they’re not just for cookies anymore
    • Use them to cut bread for sandwiches (double-duty here…the crust goes bye-bye when you cut out your shapes).
    • Let your child pick out her own cutters.  Personalization is key!  Think seasons, holidays, favorite characters, or whatever she wants.  Check out this 101-Piece Cookie Cutter Setir?t=vegezen 20&l=as2&o=1&a=B001D1FJ2E by Wilton.  The larger cutters would work well for sandwiches; use the smaller ones for cutting, cheese, melon or other softer fruit into cute shapes.


  • Look for pasta in fun shapes for making pasta salad.  Also, if you can keep it warm, Annie’s Homegrown makes Mac & Cheeseir?t=vegezen 20&l=as2&o=1&a=B00A7LTQRA with cute bunny-shaped pasta.
image of lunch bento box with car and truck shaped sandwich, cheese, and cucumbers
Cars and trucks…yum!
(Image courtesy of on Flickr)


Bring out the designer in your child by giving him the “building blocks” of a healthy lunch and letting him create his own little masterpieces of munchiness.

  • Pack whole grain bagel or English muffin halves (or your cookie-cutter bread slices!); crackers; cheese, vegetable and fruit slices; and condiments, dressings or sauces.  The pre-packaged lunch kits kids want from the store are laden with sodium, fat and preservatives, and can be pricey.  Give your kids healthy alternatives instead, and save a little money in the process! 



With so many wonderful resources on the web, you have a practically endless supply of ideas literally at your fingertips.  Check out some of these great sites to help your creative lunch ideas flowing:


  • Peanut Butter & Jelly Muffins – our recipe for scrumptious PB &  J muffins.  Better make a double batch, or they won’t last until it’s time to pack lunches!


Want to learn more? Listen to the Vegetarian Zen Podcast Episode 010 – Back to School the Healthy Way.   If you’d like to receive our new episodes as they are released on Sundays, please click the button below to subscribe on iTunes:

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