There may be a lot of balls to juggle when it's time for the kids to return to school, but don't make lunch one of them.
Having a few go-to ideas for lunch recipes will make school days easier, whether they're at spent at home or in the classroom.
Healthy lunchbox recipes may feel challenging, but there are so many unique tricks and swaps to ensure kids have fun with their food and, more importantly, eat all of it. From classic lunch time staples like PB&J or deli sandwiches to nutritious sides and make-ahead mains, here are some TODAY Food's favorite kid-friendly lunches.
Fun spins on sandwiches
Serve the kids a lunchtime staple with an inventive twist. By rolling the bread flat, this PB&J sandwich transforms into sushi rolls that are fun to eat with a fork and knife or chopsticks.
Halloween will be here before you know it so why not give a ham and cheese sandwich a spooky makeover with olive eyes? It only takes a few minutes to cut out shapes in the cheese and bread for a totally silly creation kids will enjoy gobbling up.
The contents of this grilled panini can be swapped with whatever kind of cheese or deli meat you have on hand. The sweetest part? This dish is shaped like a heart.
Grab some cookie cutter letters and carve out love notes to little (or big) kids. Whether you write, "Good luck on the exam," or "I love you to the moon and back," it's easy to feel appreciated when mom or dad sends a personal note. When looking for ways to avoid allergens like peanuts, swap the nut butter for cafeteria-friendly sunflower seed butter.
So many kids love PB&Js, but sometimes the sugar content of the jam and the need for an alternative to peanut butter (many districts don't allow peanut products these days) call for a different kind of sandwich. Nutritionist Frances Largeman-Roth swaps high-fructose jelly for freshly sliced grapes and uses sunflower butter.
These Minion characters look like a pastry chef's work of art, but all parents really need to master this sandwich design are orange and yellow cheese, some nori wrappers and kitchen shears. Decorating the Minions with different facial expressions is also a fun activity for kids to do if they're at home and can help make lunch themselves.
Easy entrées for kids
Rather than heating up frozen nuggets or deep frying fingers, simulate the crunch of classic chicken fingers with this oven-baked recipe. Make it ahead of time and serve cold or give them a quick reheat in the oven or microwave.
We gave this kid classic a makeover that still hits all the flavor marks and is super easy for parents (or older kids) to make. Instead of using pepperoni made with beef and pork, use turkey pepperoni, which has fewer calories and less fat. Feel free to top the mini pizzas with whatever colorful veggies your kids will enjoy.
Boost the nutrition value of pasta salad by using one made with chickpeas and then speckle it with colorful veggies. For an extra boost of protein, try adding canned tuna or diced leftover chicken.
Frittatas are an all-in-one, fuss-free meal to enjoy anytime of day. This recipe is packed with veggies and gets plenty of protein from the eggs and ham. You can make it ahead of time and freeze a big batch to defrost later in the week.
Empanadas typically contain a mixture of meats and potatoes, but this version has a sweeter side. Bake the PB&J empanadas in advance to pack in lunch bags throughout the week, or serve them warm out of the oven as an after school snack. You may want to double the recipe because this one is a hit with both kids and grown-ups.
Simple sides for a healthy lunchbox
Pita chips are a great vessel for numerous nutritious dips. This is a great recipe because little kids will love using cookie cutters to make fun shapes — and they'll enjoy eating them, too!
This veggie-loaded hummus dip is an amazing recipe that grows with your child. You can serve it as a puree for a young baby or use it as a dip for a toddler and older kids. Made with carrots, sweet potatoes and chickpeas, this recipe is so good that you'll want to eat it as well.
Holy broccomole! This is one delicious dip that's packed with vitamins and minerals. If your little ones like avocado, then they will flip for this joyful rendition from Joy Bauer that's made with one sneaky ingredient: broccoli. There are simple tricks to keeping guacamole fresh and green until lunch time, so try them out with this recipe.
Accompany sandwiches or any main proteins for school lunch with some colorful veggies. Kids may be more inclined to devour some carrots, snap peas or radishes if there's a tasty dip. This take on Green Goddess dressing seasons protein-packed Greek yogurt and cottage cheeses to get a pop of flavor tots of all ages will enjoy.
Pop some dessert into the lunchbox that will provide an energy boost rather than a sugar high. These quick, no-bake bites are sweetened with dates, maple syrup and cocoa for a rich flavor that will make it easy devour to satiating protein and healthy seeds.
Say goodbye to bags of freezer-burned tater tots. This homemade version is easy and delicious. By replacing the potato with broccoli, Joy Bauer cuts back on carbs and calories without sacrificing texture and flavor. Five large tots contain only 100 calories and make for a crispy, flavorful side dish.