With my 3 year old soon to start pre-school, yours truly has started to research some lunchbox ideas that she can take to nursery, just in case she isn’t offered a meal there (we’re not sure about that yet).
So this is a collection of lunchbox recipes I’ve gathered over time and I thought it might be useful for some of you reading my blog or coming over from Pinterest.
These lunchbox ideas list might be for you if:
- your little one is just starting nursery or pre-school and the thought of sending her off with a packed lunch that isn’t a sandwich terrifies the heck out of you
- you’ve run out of lunchbox ideas long ago but you kept on postponing recipe research until your kid shows up home one day saying his best pal Tom gave him such a cool muffin for lunch
- your child is a messy eater and you’re wondering what to pack so that they don’t send him back on day two cause he’s made a total mess of the place
- you are told he’s not eating his food, even though at home he eats like a champ, and you have no idea what to pack to get him interested
- your chosen nursery or daycare doesn’t heat up the food and you don’t know what you can possibly cook that doesn’t require heating or refrigerating
No matter your situation, lunchboxes have come a long way since the 19th-20th centuries when people used to carry their food in woven baskets or tobacco tins.
They are now attributed mostly to young eaters and less to the adult population. An exception would probably be Japan, where bento boxes have turned into a form of art.
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Hold on, I don’t even know what lunchbox to buy yet!
If you do a simple search on Amazon, the sheer volume of options is overwhelming. It’s like the Japanese have given us a reason to shop for boxes again.
I find kids have it easier, however. Find their favourite cartoon character and there’s bound to be a lunch box that matches it perfectly.
And of course, there’s the material, the leak-proof-ness, the colour, the size and the divisions to take into account too.
You must know that there is something for everyone.
But regardless of your choice, a great lunchbox, in my opinion has to have certain characteristics.
What makes a good lunch box for kids?
Here are some things to bear in mind when packing a lunch box.
- It has to be filling and nutritious – your little one’s activity levels are increased and he will need more energy to fuel him
2. It has to be easy to eat – I will say ‘no’ to complicated burrito style rolls, heavy fillings or food that requires 10 seconds to be named.
3. Be mindful of chocking hazards – You are not able to watch your little one eat, so make sure all food is appropriately cut for his age.
4. It’s not very messy – Think finger food, think food that packs a lot of nutrients in one bite, think food that doesn’t smear too much or require sauces.
5. It has to have at least one food that you are sure he is going to eat – even if it’s a piece of bread. Their appetite and tastes vary from second to second, so you don’t know what will (or won’t) strike his fancy and you want to make sure he’s at least getting something in his tummy.
6. Requires no heating up, can be enjoyed cold or at room temperature (and must not go bad if not put in a fridge for a couple of hours)
With all these in mind, let’s see what we can put in a lunch box that ticks all the six points above.
The master list of 50 healthy lunchbox ideas for kids – no sandwiches included!
The thing with sandwiches is that they’re easy, quick and you can put anything in them. But to make this harder on myself, I took on a challenge to find non-sandwich foods to fill my daughter’s lunchbox, a kid already addicted to all things bread. *sigh*
You can also get some ideas from my 125 foods for babies with no teeth post, where I list some common foods. Just in case you need some fillers for those lunch boxes.
I have included some of my own blog posts in this list; for the rest, credits for the photos remain with the respective authors of the recipes.
This is one of my favourite recipes and something to include in a lunch box as a dessert maybe.
My husband would take this in his lunch box, he likes it that much.
You can cut it in squares, triangles or even random shapes to vary things a little. Either way, it’s going to be enjoyed, I promise!
These muffins are packed with nutritious veggies and cover all food groups in one piece, making them a great way to tick number 1 in my list above.
They are also freezable, so in case you want to save some for a rainy day, go ahead and do so.
This one is a classic British recipe that involves using stale bread.
If you’re looking for a dish that uses bread and it’s not a sandwich, then this might be it.
It’s great for the carb lovers out there (like my 3yo who would happily live off bread some days), but it also can pack some fruit and dairy.
This is one that could qualify as a dessert too, because of the banana that adds sweetness to it.
But since it also has oats, it can be quite nutritious and filling at the same time.
It’s honestly the easiest recipe out there when it comes to moving from purees to more solid foods and beyond. There is no excuse not to make this at least once per week.
Pancakes for lunch? You bet.
These ones are neither sweet or savoury so you can pair them with whatever you have on hand.
They are really easy to roll too, like a burrito, in case you don’t have enough space left in your lunch box.
Speaking of pancakes, these ones are sweetened with 2 fruits, so they technically count as dessert.
However, they do pack an egg in the batter, so you’re getting some protein in their tummies too.
I wouldn’t serve these with yogurt though. Better yet, do not even think of yogurt when it comes to lunch boxes.
I’ve done apple and pear in this recipe, but you can totally go for other fruits like plums or berries.
Alternatively, you can beat the egg whites separately to achieve a better and fluffier result.
It’s one of the easiest recipes, except the 2 ingredient cookies, that you can make in no time.
I got this recipe from Jamie Oliver and I didn’t have a waffle maker at that time so it was spot on for me.
I have yet to try it in the machine, but if you have a griddle pan, it goes to prove you can adapt and use other types of pans to cook the batter in.
Pack it in the lunch box without any toppings and you’re good to go.
The power of oats to keep our children’s tummies full is something to admire so why not make full use of oats in every shape or form?
This is made with ground oatmeal because I had some to spare, but feel free to use normal rolled oats instead.
It covers all the food groups in one go, so the nutritious aspect is covered.
If you’ve got some ramekins, they are great because you don’t need to portion the omelette.
You just pop them out when they’re done and then simply put them in the lunch box.
They’re only two ingredients, but it’s highly customisable with add-ons like herbs, condiments or leftovers like meat or veg.
11. Sweet potato waffles from babyfoode.com
Who doesn’t love a good waffle? The sweetness of the potato I believe is enough to satisfy a hungry toddler so you can definitely leave out the maple syrup or sugar from the recipe.
You can try making these on a griddle, like the recipe I talked about further up.
The addition of oats makes these even more filling.
12. Veggie fritters from Charisseyu.com
This is just a rainbow on a plate.
You’ve got peas, peppers, corn, carrots, beans and spring onions to make even the fussiest of kids want to have a go at them.
I would suggest baking them instead of frying in oil.
13. Green monster muffins by Charisseyu.com
I can imagine the stories that kids can tell themselves when eating these muffins. They could be Shrek, Hulk or Popeye.
The green comes from the spinach in the batter.
Again, I would advise you to leave out the sugar, as I am pretty sure they are good enough without it.
14. Banana avocado apple muffins by myfussyeater.com
Despite the mixed reviews and comments, I decided to include this one because so much depends on your oven and temperature of ingredients, you wouldn’t believe.
So make sure to double check the recipe and oven conversions. As for the temperature of the ingredients, make sure they are at room temperature.
You can make apple sauce by grating a peeled apple on a small grater, like a zester.
15. Sweet potato banana bites by Charisseyu.com
These look like mini muffins, hence the ‘bites’ denomination.
They might be small, but they’re packed with nutritious ingredients like sweet potato, eggs and nut butter of choice. These will surely keep your child’s tummy happy.
16. Broccoli tater tots by feedingbytes.com
These finger shaped broccoli tots incorporate 3 food groups so I would add some meat, fish or a legume-based food next to them to make sure your little one is getting a complete meal.
Make sure to read the comments on the post, as some people are recommending some adaptations to be made to the original recipe.
If your child isn’t into broccoli, this might get them interested.
17. Chicken and carrot meatballs by babyfoode.com
Here’s a trick to keep these soft after they have cooked.
On the oven tray, place a small ramekin with water, next to the meatballs. It will create steam in the oven, preventing the meatballs from turning too hard.
You can do this with any type of meat, not only chicken.
18. Salmon croquettes by healthylittlefoodies.com
If you’re wondering whether to use canned or tinned, or whether to fry or bake these, the post covers all of those questions and more.
To be honest, baking for me sounds healthier, plus I don’t need to be next to the hob, when I’ve got a screaming toddler at my feet and a baby on my hip.
19. Cauliflower cheese egg muffins by mykidslickthebowl.com
Technically, these are just 3 ingredients: cauliflower, cheese and eggs (duh!). If you add optionals like spinach, herbs or seasonings, that’s a whole different recipe.
By the way, for more 3 ingredient recipes, check out my cookbook for little ones here, or click on the image below.
20. Chicken quesadillas by babyledfeeding.com
For me, the chicken and cheese combo works anytime, anywhere. And if you put a tortilla wrap in there, you’ve won my heart.
This is a chance to spice things up with the chicken if you’re using the seasonings. Feel free to leave out the sour cream to serve, as I am doubtful of your little one keeping his hands and face very clean.
21. Strawberry breakfast bites by mykidslickthebowl.com
I know these say breakfast, but who says you can’t give them for lunch too?
They’re called energy balls, so they offer energy (from the oats) throughout the day. The pinkish colour comes from the strawberries and it’s an interesting way to serve them to a kid.
Plus, these can be made a day ahead and I bet they keep well in the fridge, so you can put these in the lunchbox for consecutive days if you wish.
22. Salmon burgers by mummytodex.com
If you’re anything like me, I always cook too much salmon.
If so, then this recipe will save the day (and lunch!) for one hungry kid, keeping him full for longer.
You can definitely put the broccoli and kale in the lunchbox as sides, but maybe leave out the oil to minimize a greasy-little-hands situation.
23. Spinach and banana pancakes by mummytodex.com
I can already see the stories the kids can tell themselves when eating these pancakes over their school lunch break.
Whether you’re Team Hulk, Team Shrek or Team Popeye, these ones are sure to satisfy any fan.
Just make sure to choose your lunchbox design appropriately too (scroll back up to find some useful links).
24. Butternut squash waffles by mortonsgrove.com
We are great fans of waffles in our house however I never made ones with butternut squash.
To be honest, I don’t remember many recipes that involve squash, except an adapted mac and cheese that turned out even more delicious after I added the squash.
So I’ll definitely have a go at these ones, even if I might end up omitting the honey altogether.
25. Vegetable quinoa biscuits by ahealthysliceoflife.com
I never seemed to fully appreciate quinoa so I gave up on it.
However, I see it everywhere lately and I’m willing to give it one more chance.
These biscuits look tempting, but I am also thinking combining it with oats. It’s written on the oats package too.
This recipe is rich and nutritious, so I find the veggie-quinoa combo one to make more of in the future.
26. Zucchini bites by healthylittlefoodies.com
I love this recipe because it has all the four main food groups in one bite, so it’s likely to keep your little one fuller for longer.
Zucchinis are famous for their water content, so make sure to squeeze them well before you attempt any recipe.
27. Mexican lentil bake by healthylittlefoodies.com
Not only does this recipe have lentils, but also beans, which make it even more nutritious.
I find lentils and beans to be great substitutes for meat or fish. I might bake these soon, as my eldest seems to refuse meat in every shape or form nowadays.
The spices and herbs really make you think of Mexico, but if you’re not comfortable using them or don’t have them in the house, then feel free to leave them out altogether.
28. Blueberry oat pancakes by babyledfeeding.com
Here’s another dessert idea that I like the looks of. I might leave the maple syrup out of it, as 1 tablespoon won’t be making any difference to the taste to be honest.
I’ve always been reluctant about blueberries in batters, as the dough doesn’t seem to cook evenly around them.
But these ones look promising. Oats in the batter are a plus, so maybe this time I won’t have any issues.
29. Spinach, mozzarella and pesto pinwheels by hodgepodgedays.co.uk
I’m surprised it took me 28 recipes to get to a pinwheel recipe, as these are probably the most famous use of puff pastry after croissants. At least in the kid food space, that is.
I’m not making pesto too often at home, so I need to read the labels of the store bought ones to make sure the salt content is acceptable, especially for babies.
Spinach and mozzarella is already a winning combo, so using pesto to bind them together seems like a good idea.
30. Sweet veggie loaded muffins by babyledfeeding.com
I love the idea of adding grated apple to sweeten foods, so for me, adding maple syrup to an already sweet dough is not a great idea.
(Yes, I have something against maple syrup in case you haven’t noticed. Read more about why in this post.)
It would be interesting to see the apples-zucchini-carrot combo in action, as I have never made anything similar yet.
31. Banana cake by kidgredients.com
Who doesn’t love banana bread? And finally a recipe that doesn’t have sugar in it, or other sugar replacements.
Of course, bananas should be extra ripe, that’s not even debatable. But the thing is, they never seem to reach that stage, in our house, so the only thing left for me is to hide them until they’re ripe enough, risking a tantrum or two in the process.
I love how light and airy this one looks and I assume it’s the eggs and yogurt that do the trick here.
32. Sweet potato and carrot waffles by healthylittlefoodies.com
Another recipe that incorporates veggies and all the 4 food groups in one go.
She recommends using a food processor instead of a grater for the vegetables, as it might prevent them releasing all that water out.
The point with waffles is not to have a very runny dough. If you think about it, it’s like a frittata, but instead of baking it on the hob, you’re using your waffle maker.
So why not go nuts with the ingredients?
33. Potato and butternut squash tots by myfussyeater.com
I don’t use potatoes much as an ingredient for other foods, simply because we don’t have any leftovers in our house that much.
But this combo sounds delicious. I will definitely bake these, not fry them. There’s a comment in the blog post that suggests timings and temperature, so I might go for those.
If you want to serve them with ketchup, my choice is Milly’s Kidchup. The only ketchup allowed near my kids. No nasties, no sugars, no salt.
34. Spinach waffles from babyfoode.com
These green waffles are a great variation of colour and a great source of stories at mealtimes, if your little one is into Hulk, Popeye or Shrek.
Regardless of your chosen powerful character, these are full with protein, fibre and iron, to keep them strong, full and energised for the whole day.
Don’t be intimidated by the spinach. I’ll serve these with something sweet on the side, like fruit, so you can too.
35. Chickpea and oat crackers by mykidslickthebowl.com
The idea of including crackers is two sided: one, because it gives your little one an alternative to bread and two, it gives them a different texture.
The oats give them crunch, while the chickpeas give them protein and iron.
So even if they don’t eat much else, let’s say, these ones will cover at least some nutritional needs.
36. Green smoothie pancakes by healthylittlefoodie.com
You may call these Hulk or Popeye pancakes depending on your little one’s cartoon preferences.
Either way, the addition of spinach in the batter makes them even more nutritious and they cover all the four main food groups, so it’s a win-win for everybody.
These also freeze well, so you can definitely save some for rainy days or when your toddler wakes up too late to prep anything on a short notice.
37. Broccoli egg cups by babyfoode.com
Similar to my baked omelette, this recipe adds broccoli to the mix while giving it a punch in flavour using grated cheddar.
For younger babies, you might want to leave the cheddars out, if they are high in salt content. You can definitely add flour or more veggies of choice to make up for the cheddar.
They also go well in the freezer if you make a bigger batch.
38. Sweet potato turkey burgers by dashingdish.com
What do you get when you combine turkey, sweet potato and spinach for an ultimate nutritional boost?
You get these burgers, which you can totally make with beef as well, and serve with your bread of choice on the side. Or you can tuck them in if you wish.
I love the fact that you can bake these in the oven too, even in a muffin tin!
39. Homemade chicken nuggets by superhealthykids.com
Nuggets always seem like a job that requires time in the kitchen, because you need to prep the meat first, then get dirty while shaping the nuggets themselves.
But why these work so well and are worth the effort, is because you can definitely add veggies to them and coat everything in breadcrumbs that will turn crunchy once baked. And that texture is what most kids love about a nugget.
If you give them fries next to them, you’re definitely the best parent in the whole world. But since this is a lunchbox and fries aren’t particularly great served cold, you can serve these with bread or cold pasta if you wish.
40. Spinach nuggets by happyhealthymama.com
Talking about nuggets, apparently you don’t need meat to make these work.
Spinach is great for coating and baking, while getting some plant based nutrition in there too.
These are egg free so if you have an allergic little one, you can definitely try these.
I’ve never used almonds and spinach together in baking, so I might give these a go.
41. Baked oatmeal cups by yummytoddlerfood.com
Whose kid doesn’t love porridge (aka oatmeal for my American readers)?
Mine sure does and her going to preschool isn’t going to stop me from including it in her lunchbox.
By baking it, I make sure it holds its shape, while still being packed with nutritious oats, chia seeds and dried fruit.
I just need to be careful about the dried fruit as it can be quite sweet, so it’s best to soak it a bit in water beforehand.
42. Sweet potato snacks by littlehouseliving.com
I’m not much of a biscuit fan, but I might make these because they can fit in a lunchbox and they keep for days.
Also on the plus side, I can get the eldest involved in making them, which might help with exposure. If they make it, they might eat it; that’s what they say, at least.
You can make these with various cookie cutters, so variations of shape and sizes are possible.
43. Salmon and veggie balls by Kidgredients.com.au
One confusing thing about this recipe is the salmon. It says fresh, but is it cooked before shaping the balls or is it left raw?
The sweet potato is cooked, so I would assume you need to cook the salmon too.
I love the idea of skewers, I believe it’s something that the Japanese have perfected for their bento boxes.
44. Cheesy broccoli bites by superhealthykids.com
This is a great way to use the broccoli and cheese combo.
The only thing I do not agree with is the frying in oil part. I would go for a non-stick pan coated in a thin layer of oil and cooking these on a low heat.
Or even baking them in the oven after spraying or brushing some oil on top.
45. Veggie frittata by healthylittlekids.com
I love frittatas. They’re my favourite way to use leftover veggies and boost the kids with some protein from the eggs.
You can use whatever you have on hand. Just make sure the batter is thick and you use a cast-iron skillet that can fit your oven in order to finish the cooking process.
They are a bit on the heavy side and more expensive, but the amount of things you can do in them… incredible.
46. Zucchini and apple muffins by healthylittlefoodies.com
I have never tried the zucchini and apple combination before, so these ones will be a first for us.
Also, I’m kind of reluctant when it comes to fillings in baked foods, as the consistency is so easily changed and the whole thing can turn out too wet.
Squeezing both the zucchini and the apple is meant to help with that so we shall see how it goes. The rest of the ingredients are already something we usually have in the pantry, so even better.
47. Healthy toddler mini muffins by thebusybaker.ca
Another zucchini muffin recipe, this time in a combo with carrot and bananas. So you’ve got veggies in there, along with some fruit to give it a bit of sweetness.
Despite their name, these can be offered to babies too if you omit the salt. Salt in baking is to intensify flavour, so you can leave it out if you wish.
As to the canola oil, you can replace it with coconut oil or sunflower oil which are more common.
48. Bean and veggie nuggets by healthylittlefoodies.com
What I like about this one is that you could do these with only veggies, however the addition of beans in there means that the little ones get some extra protein too.
This is a great one to do with the little ones helping, even if it might turn out a complete mess in the end.
They freeze well too. You can definitely make your own breadcrumbs by blitzing some old bread in a food processor.
49. Banana and raspberry fritters by makingdanish.com
Raspberries, together with blueberries, are a baker’s nightmare. Or my nightmare, as it seems my toddler is an expert in picking them from the batter to eat separately.
So these 3 ingredient fritters might be a great idea to use up those berries and make it hard even for my own kid to individually pick through them from the end result.
The buckwheat flour adds a little bit of iron in there, but if you don’t have it, feel free to replace with ground oats or normal flour.
My advice is to use a nonstick pan coated in a thin layer of oil, rather than frying these in oil. Make sure the heat is on low to ensure proper cooking without burning.
50. Vegan banana oatmeal pancakes by savorynothings.com
This is a vegan dairy and egg free version of banana and oats pancakes that uses chia seeds as an egg replacement and binder.
Cause it’s only 4 ingredients, it’s quick and easy to do.
My advice would be to let the mixture sit for a little while in order for the chia seeds to absorb some liquid and be easier to digest by little tummies.
In this quick and easy scones recipe I walk you through the basics and a bit of theory on how to make sure you get a great result every time.
In a similar way to the scones recipe above, I’m giving you tips and ideas on how to make this waffles recipe work for you no matter what. Just like the scones recipe, it can be made both sweet or savoury.
Thank you so much for reading so far down the page. I know it was a lot of scrolling, but I hope you have found some ideas for your kid’s lunchbox.
Initially I was determined to get to 150 lunchbox ideas, but time got the best of me. This post had been sitting in my drafts for far too long.
If you found it useful, I would appreciate you giving it a pin on one of your Pinterest boards or share it on a social media channel of your choice. It would mean a lot to me.