Cool school lunch ideas for kids who turn up their noses at sandwiches

by Jill Robbins
Jul 20, 2016 at 2:00 p.m. ET

Because the classics like PB&J and baloney and cheese can get oh-so-boring after a while, and because we all know the struggle of kiddos who are a touch too picky, we've been racking our brains and scouring Pinterest to find ideas outside of the traditional lunch box. On top of that, reinventing the drab brown bag lunch may be one of the best ways to "trick" your kids into eating better by making their healthy lunches both creative and delicious.

If you’re the parent of a kid who brings home a lunch box with an uneaten or disassembled, picked-apart sandwich, check out these easy and (mostly) nutritious options for school lunch when your kid doesn't like sandwiches. Some of our favorite lunch picks may be allergy-friendly too.

1 /14: Cottage cheese and fruit with almonds

1/14 :Cottage cheese and fruit with almonds

Cottage cheese topped with blueberries and cinnamon with almonds and fresh pineapple chunks on the side offers a good balance of protein and carbs. If cottage cheese isn’t your thing, you can substitute yogurt or low-sugar rice pudding.

2 /14: Tuna salad boat

2/14 :Tuna salad boat

You can also use egg salad or meat and cheese filling… anything you would put on a sandwich pairs well with romaine or gem lettuce leaves.

3 /14: Hummus

3/14 :Hummus

It’s easy to find prepared hummus in a variety of flavors. It’s also ridiculously easy to whip up in a food processor using different types of beans and seasonings (paired here with carrot sticks and ABC pretzels). Pro tip: Pretzels, crackers and pastas in “fun” shapes are a lot more appealing to kids. No, they don’t taste different, but we do what we can to get them to eat sometimes, right?

4 /14: Combo it up

4/14 :Combo it up

Prepackaged meat and cheese combos, i.e., Lunchables are full of sodium and preservatives. It’s easy to throw together your own healthier version. Pictured here is a gluten-free, dairy-free lunch combo that hits all the bases: grilled chicken strips, rice crackers and watermelon chunks. The possibilities are endless and you can mix it up to keep your kids from getting bored.

5 /14: Apple cinnamon rice cake with cream cheese

5/14 :Apple cinnamon rice cake with cream cheese

An apple cinnamon rice cake topped with whipped cream cheese and apple slices tastes more like a sweet treat than a balanced lunch. Try referring to this is “crispy apple crunch” and see if that makes this more appealing to your kid's palate. This also makes a yummy breakfast or snack for grown-ups and kids alike.

6 /14: Pizza!

6/14 :Pizza!

 If you find yourself with leftover pizza, it makes a great lunch option. Most kids like pizza, right? And they'll love the treat of getting to eat it cold.

7 /14: Juicy Juice apple quinoa salad

7/14 :Juicy Juice apple quinoa salad

Juicy Juice is doing parents a solid on this one, because getting your kid to actually eat quinoa might make you Parent of the Year. But trust us: This salad is so darn tasty (and easy to pack for lunch) that your child probably won't notice that they are eating healthy fare.

8 /14: Juicy Juice apple-butternut squash soup

8/14 :Juicy Juice apple-butternut squash soup

Finally, you're going to be able to put that adorable thermos that comes inside the lunchbox to use. Made with Apple Juicy Juice, this filling squash soup is just the right amount of savory and sweet.

9 /14: Coconut oil granola

9/14 :Coconut oil granola

This healthy granola is easy to pre-make, and it's a little too delicious. Kids will be happy to munch on it as a dry trail mix, or try "mixing it up" by mixing the granola in with Greek yogurt.

10 /14: Banana-coconut muffins

10/14 :Banana-coconut muffins

Made with natural sugars and almond milk, these flourless coconut-banana muffins are an easy and healthy way to fill up a school lunch. For kids who are averse to sandwiches as the main event, a nutritious muffin may work just as well to keep them satisfied until the afternoon.

11 /14: Gluten-free breakfast cookies

11/14 :Gluten-free breakfast cookies

These glorious gluten-free breakfast cookies can work for any meal of the day to fill kiddos up and prevent that dreaded energy crash. Besides being allergy-friendly for children with gluten intolerance, these healthy snacks will tempt any kid whose eyes glaze over at the word "cookie."

12 /14: Lunch pancakes

12/14 :Lunch pancakes

You may be sensing a trend here, but we've noticed that plenty of kids are breakfast-obsessed and can't be bothered with lunch. If that sounds like your little guy or gal, not to worry. These healthier cottage cheese pancakes are easy to make in advance and send in a lunch with fresh fruit.

13 /14: Homemade taco wraps

13/14 :Homemade taco wraps

Wraps don't count as sandwiches, right? Saving the best for last, we predict your kid is going to lose it when they find this yummy taco wrap instead of a typical sandwich in their lunch.

14 /14: School lunch ideas with a twist

14/14 :School lunch ideas with a twist

Add this to your school lunch Pinterest board to keep your lunch game fresh! 

Originally published August 2015. Updated July 2016.