healthy diy lunch ideas for kids

Whether your kids are attending school this fall in person, online, at home, or in a learning pod, as parents we still must make sure our kids get fed. During this pandemic, most parents are being stretched to their limits, and kids are often bored.

Why not get the kids involved in the kitchen? As parents, we can shop for and plan the meals then hand some of the prep over to the kids. Many kids enjoy the autonomy of putting a simple meal together.

When building balanced meals, I like to keep the acronym PF3® in mind, which stands for protein, fiber, fat, and fun!  Below are some simple meals school aged kids can put together themselves quickly, easily, and without having to use a knife.

If you have older kids or the option for hot food, then the possibilities grow far beyond this list.

Five PF3® Balanced Lunches Kids Can Pack Themselves

Rock ‘N Roll It Up Instead of sticking to a boring ol’ sandwich, your kids will have fun learning how to wrap and roll. They can start with a whole grain tortilla wrap, a spread of cream cheese or guacamole, sliced turkey and/or cheese, then sprinkle over some pre-shredded carrots and/or lettuce, then simply roll it up. The meal can then be completed with a piece of fruit or yogurt. Let them get creative and add in some of their own ideas.

Grab ‘N Go This is a no assembly needed meal option. Kids just pick 3-4 items from different food groups to build a balanced lunch.  Here are some grab ‘n go ideas:  

  • boiled eggs
  • string cheese
  • sliced turkey
  • cottage cheese
  • garbanzo beans
  • yogurt
  • granola bars
  • whole grain crackers
  • packs of granola or trail mix
  • fruit (like: banana, easy-peel mandarins, grapes, pre-cut fruit)
  • no cutting needed veggies (like: baby cucumbers, baby carrots, mini peppers)
  • hummus, veggie dip or guacamole pack
  • single serving pack of olives
  • nuts/nut butter

Don’t be afraid to let them have some fun items sometimes too!

Breakfast For Lunch This is certainly a favorite of my kids. There is just something fun and silly about eating breakfast foods when it’s not breakfast time. A healthy and easy breakfast for lunch that kids can pack includes hard cooked eggs, mini whole wheat bagels with cream cheese and/or peanut butter or sun butter and cutie oranges.  

DIY Lunchables They can include sliced cheese, turkey slices, and whole grain crackers. This can be complemented with a fruit and/or veggie w/ dip plus a juice box or some cookies for fun.

Bento Box It Up Bento boxes are a great way to make lunch look stylish and fun. Challenge your child to fill each compartment of a Bento box with a different food group and to make each food a different color. Some examples of items that go great in a bento box include:

  • garbanzo beans
  • cubed cheese
  • boiled eggs
  • grape tomatoes
  • baby carrots
  • nuts
  • berries or pre-cut fruit
  • pre-sliced celery or jicama
  • whole grain crackers
  • olives

If your kids are off to school, they can pack these lunches up themselves (with some supervision and encouragement). If they are e-learning at home, they can help with prep, but I encourage parents to take a break from work and eat with their kids.  Mealtime with your kids is invaluable for them and you.

Dina Garcia is a registered dietitian-nutritionist. In addition to helping people ditch dieting, she also helps parents raise diverse eaters that have a healthy relationship with food and body image.