Reader to Reader: Your Great School Lunch Recipes!

Your generosity in sending me so many fun and creative ideas for school lunches was touching.

It is clear that many of us share both the feeling of stress in needing to come up with inviting lunches to send to school with our children, and the thoughtfulness and caring evidenced by the ideas we do have.

Here is a nice big long list of ideas and recipes:


Try this: Instead of sandwiches, use half-pita breads stuffed with whatever will keep and will nourish the consumer. Avoid things that are too watery, as they will soak into and make fragile the pita. Wrap tightly in cellophane wrap. This works well for both hot and cold foods, and the pita itself can be warmed/toasted for a different texture. Of course, falafel is the classic filling, but salad will work just fine, as will mixed veggies with cheese or without. Instead of alfalfa sprouts, which may be toxic, try exotic kinds of lettuce or other greens, such as spinach. Bon appetit!


My daughter’s favorite lunch is a “turkey roll.” Lay a 6-inch flour tortilla flat, place a slice of provolone cheese near one edge, lay a slice of turkey on top of the cheese, spread a little (half- to one teaspoon) of sour cream on the turkey, and sprinkle a little salsa (again, maybe a teaspoon) on it. Roll up the tortilla (too much sour cream & salsa makes it messy). (Related: Veggie Black Bean Pinwheels)


My daughter has a Japanese-style lunchbox, it measures about 3 x 5 x 1 inches. I cut her turkey roll in half, place the two halves in the box, and put some grapes or cheese crackers in the box also, and they keep the turkey rolls from having enough room to come unrolled. To drink, she either takes a Horizon single serve chocolate milk or a lemonade.

Half-frozen lemonade: I reuse 8 oz plastic drink bottles by filling them halfway with lemonade, capping the bottle, lay the bottles on their sides in the freezer overnight. In the morning, fill the bottle with more lemonade from the refrigerator. This keeps the lunch cool, and thaws enough by lunchtime to drink.


I have a preschooler and a first grader. This isn’t even a recipe — I make popcorn before school and put in zip lock bags for a healthy snack! They love it and don’t feel deprived at all — they think they’re getting a special treat! Since I work until 1 AM and have to get them up at 6:30, microwave popcorn has also been an emergency breakfast more than once.


Crunchy Fingers
2 cups toasted oat flakes
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 slices oatmeal or whole wheat bread, toasted and cut into 1-inch strips

1. Place toasted oat flakes in a sealable plastic bag, crush with a rolling pin, and pour onto wax paper.
2. In a medium saucepan, over low heat, combine peanut butter and vegetable oil until easy to stir, transfer to a shallow bowl.
3. Dip each toast strip into the melted peanut butter and coat completely. Roll each strip in crushed oat flakes until no peanut butter shows. Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 16…Preparation time: 10 minutes

I’ve noticed that you offer vegetarian type recipes. I’m not one, so you may have to adjust these a bit. Or you can offer them as they are and allow your readers to adjust as they like. Note: These recipes are from Watkins Cookbook for Kids. A treasured item in my home for 20 years now.

“Presto” Breakfast — This is really a whole breakfast in a glass. You can have toast or a muffin with it.

2 1/2 cups of orange juice (or other fruit juice)
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 banana (peeled and broken into pieces)
1 apple (peeled, cored and cut into pieces)
1 orange or peach (orange-peeled and divided, peach-pitted and cut into pieces)
1 tablespoon honey or 2 teaspoons of sugar

Measure the juice and milk into a blender.
Add eggs, banana, apple, orange or peach.
Add honey or sugar.
Cover blender and turn it on for about a minute.
Turn it off and stir — if it is not smooth, turn blender on a bit longer.
Serves 2 – 3 in mugs or tall glasses

Cookie Cutter Breakfast

1 slice of bread
1 egg
Salt and Pepper
Cookie cutter of your choice

Press cookie cutter into bread slice and take out the center carefully.
Butter both the leftover bread and cut out piece.
Melt a little butter in frying pan. Spread melted butter around and put unbuttered side of the bread into the pan.
Break egg into small bowl or cup and pour into the hole left in bread slice. (you may choose to scramble it first!)
Sprinkle with Salt and Pepper, and fry until egg white turns white.
Flip both pieces of bread and fry until browned.
Place on plate and serve with fruit juice (or eggnog!)
Serves one.

Winter Salad

4 – 5 medium carrots
1 cup raisins
1/4 cup slaw-type dressing or mayo

Scrape carrots with a vegetable peeler and grate them into a mixing bowl.
Add raisins and dressing and mix well.
Serves 4 – 5

Canned Banana Salad

1 pkg (3 oz) of flavored gelatin
1 cup water
1/2 cup cold water
2 medium bananas, cut in half and peeled
Leaves of lettuce (optional)
3 empty cans (6 oz each)

Heat 1 cup water until boiling.
Pour boiling water over gelatin in a mixing bowl. Stir well.
Add cold water; stir well. Refrigerate until gelatin starts to thicken.
Coat inside of cans with butter or margarine or oil.
Spoon a little gelatin into each of the cans. Stand banana half on end (one per can) and spoon remaining gelatin in around the banana until gelatin reaches top of can.
To unmold, lay the can on it’s side and use a can opener to punch a hole in the bottom. Turn can over and gently shake until the gelatin slides out.
Lay gelatin on side and cut into thick slices.
Arrange slices on lettuce leaf on small plates.

Serves: Make as many plates as you need for that meal. The rest will keep for a later treat.

Note: leftover banana section can be mashed with a fork and mix with 1/4 cup (or more) of peanut butter and spread on graham crackers. (Or as I used to do, slice and make peanut butter and banana sandwiches)

Ants on a Log

Celery ribs (as many as needed)
Peanut Butter (chunky or smooth)

Wash celery and pat dry. Fill with peanut butter. Place raisins (“ants”) on top. Arrange on plate and serve.

Serves as many as desired.


My son (5 1/2) enjoys a variety of lunches daily, so I have learned to become creative. At night we put together our own “lunchable” kit. We wrap up a whole wheat pita, some homemade tomato sauce (in a mini container) and shredded cheese. At school, he puts together his own pizza. For sides, I pack veggie “fries” and fresh fruit, and we ransack the pantry to create our own “gorp” or trail mix. Another great sandwich, is to make a peanut butter and banana on a bagel. We send along chocolate milk, fresh fruit, carrots with dressing or chummus to dip, and a mini jello…

Me, I use tried and true or stuff I find at Whole Foods market. Easy to be creative from there. A Food for Life sprouted grain roll, topped with a veggie burger or some Lightlife deli veggie meats are also great. Send along some lettuce or baby spinach leaves and tomato for toppers. Pair this with sliced yellow squash, slice zucchini and tamari mustard dressing to dip. Add a milk box (Horizon) and some fresh applesauce. We like to send along a small tupperware with vanilla yogurt to top the applesauce. Yummy!

Homemade granola bars finish up in the lunchbox, and my son is a very happy kindergartener.


Here is a recipe for a veggie-packed tuna salad sandwich (or dip, or spread — I like to toast pita bread and use it as a dip).

1 9-oz. envelope tuna (starkist, already drained)
2 tbsp. fat free mayo
5-6 baby carrots, finely chopped
1/3 to 1/2 of a cucumber, finely chopped (or substitute zucchini)
1 roma tomato, finely chopped
1 round whole-wheat pita (or 2 pockets)

Combine chopped veggies and tuna — spoon in mayo and stir to combine. Can be spread on pita, stuffed in pockets, or toast bread and use as dip (delicious, healthy, and filling!).

Here in Miami we send a lot of edamame‘s for snacks and lunch… the kids love to pop them out, dunk them in a favorite dressing (my daughter likes carrot/ginger) and they are easy. Also, a great side for the lunch bag is jicama with a squeeze of lime and a teeny pinch of celtic salt if desired…we also use veggie booty for a side, dip with veggies, and the healthy version of the traditional lunch items to prevent the “trading” issue. Best thing is to get a list from the child of agreed upon items, so you know that the lunch ends up in their tummy, not the trash or their friend’s tummy!


When I was in grade school I can remember my favorite lunch. I used to split half of my sandwich with my best friend as she loved it too. Hope you enjoy!

Avocado Sandwich

Whole wheat bread/multigrain
1 small avocado peeled
1 small tomato
mayonnaise as desired
Add sprouts and/lettuce or any other vegetable or mushrooms

Cucumber Sandwich

Whole wheat/multigrain bread
or French roll
Italian dressing
1 small cucumber
red onion
lettuce if desired
sprouts if desired


This isn’t exactly a recipe, but for three generations my family has loved this sandwich, and it is very healthy. On whole grain bread spread some nut butter, add raisins and top with honey. Then cover with the other piece of bread. Another plus — if the whole grain is wheat, add a glass of milk to this sandwich and you have a complete protein. I’m not sure if other whole grain breads create the complete or not.

This sandwich travels well, too, needs no cooling. It’s simple and filling and yummy.


I’d like to say that the first step in making a lunch is to stop wasting brown bags and buy a good insulated lunchbox, mini-icepack, and sealable plastic containers to go with it. Most of the containers are #4, one of the safer types of plastic. A good lunchbox will last several years. It’ll mean washing the containers every night, but what you save (the environment!) by avoiding disposable paper bags and plastic baggies makes it worth it. Also, if you come home with something you weren’t hungry for, you can just stick the container in the fridge (or wherever) until tomorrow — it’s already packed! The insulation feature is a key concept as well. That way you can safely carry foods that need to stay cool or warm. I suggest using a lunchbox with 2 compartments so you have the ability to transport both hot and cold foods at the same time. I carried a “litter-free” lunch all through middle school and high school (class of ’01 so my experience is pretty recent).

In high school, I took extra juice and a snack so I would have something to eat when staying after school for an activity, and
the juice was still nice and cold thanks to my insulated lunchbox and icepack. No nasty warm bottle of water, and it sure beat using the soda machines!

Even though I’m not in grade school anymore, I do still need to pack lunches now and then, like to avoid eating at a restaurant or so I’ll have something to eat at a picnic. I like to take sandwiches in my lunchbox. My favorite is home-baked ham on homemade rye with some raw (unpasturized milk) Swiss cheese. Delicious! When not in the mood for a sandwich, I take some kidney or
baked beans (the little containers don’t leak) and a homemade muffin. And perhaps some fruit, like putting pineapple chunks in one of the little containers. A little container of a snack-type food comes in handy, too, something like nuts, dried fruit, or a homemade cookie, so you can just whip it out anytime for a quick snack.

The secret is in being able to carry around the containers, the insulated lunchbox. The containers liberate you so you can carry just about any food you want! Forget carrying a purse, I’m carrying a lunchbox, lol! Actually, they have so many pockets these days,
you can fit the essential purse things in there, too. And a pocket-pack of tissues comes in handy if you find you need an extra napkin!


Used to send spaghetti (squash) in a hot thermos with salad in a small Tupperware. Hot dogs (turkey) in chili also in the hot thermos. Freeze ice cream in a thermos overnight — seal & off it goes to lunch. My youngest loved the frozen yogurt. Potato salad in the cold thermos with cheese cubes, dill pickles & sliced whole wheat bread. Hard boiled eggs were ALWAYS a hit, with anything. Sandwiches, soups, salads. I don’t send lunches off any more — the kids are grown & he’s retired but I used to have F U N coming up with new ideas. There was always a Hershey’s kiss in every bag.


Don’t know if this will help with children’s lunches, but I once worked in an office with 4 other women and we all brown-bagged it. It got pretty boring, so what we did was each day we packed a lunch — and it went to someone else. That way we didn’t just do the baloney sandwich thing, we tried new things because it was for someone else. It’s easy to make great sandwiches if you take the time to put sprouts and tomatoes and fresh herbs in separate little containers and make the sandwich or salad when you have lunch. None of us would do that kind of thing for ourselves, but we got pretty creative when it was sort of competitive. You know, who can come up with the best lunch of the day.

And let’s not forget that planned leftovers from the night before can become soups or stews to be enjoyed hot the next day. For example, scalloped potatoes can become a yummy potato soup with a few additions. Leftover mac & cheese can become either a hot or cold dish when combined with fresh garden produce or leftover meat and some herbs. Likewise, beef stew can become a great soup if you add fresh produce and herbs. Take some croutons in a separate little container and add just before eating.

Just get into the habit of “no waste” and you’ll figure out ways to use that last crust of bread (croutons) or half a tomato, etc. Go back to your roots and remember the food of the depression era.

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Duane B.
.2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Sonia Minwer-Barakat Requ

Some great ideas and yummy recipes.Thanks for sharing

Magdalen B.
Magdalen B.3 years ago

Some great ideas here. Thank you everbody. The swapped lunch sounds like fun.

Julie F.
Julie F.5 years ago

great tips everyone, thank you! i'm also a huge fan of putting any leftovers in wraps - makes last nights dinner a yummy and easy sandwich!

Dana Mae
Dana Mae5 years ago

A god one:
French babybaguette sliced in the lenght,
Put some garlic-yoghurt Mayonaise in it, fill it with sliced Gouda cheese, red Paprika, roastet Sunflowerseeds, and salat of season...(best: Ruccola salad with a few drops of Lemon) if you like ad some thin sliced red onions and herbessalt ...yummieee! :-)

Amalthea Lalaith
Amalthea Lalaith6 years ago

Sandwhich idea:
lettuce, tomato,red onion, olive tapanade on wheat bread. Good as is or with a little vegan cream cheese to make it even more decadent.

Amalthea Lalaith
Amalthea Lalaith6 years ago

Oh and thinly sliced cucumber!

Regine B.6 years ago

Just a word of caution: it is not recommended to freeze plastic bottles, as the plastic, at this temperature, leaches into the drink.

Nora Gharaibeh
Nora Gharaibeh8 years ago

I think when your a kid, there is something very appealing about eating a warm lunch from your thermos! Chili, soup, stew, pasta or your favorite leftovers from the night before are particularly comforting on a cold winter day. My kids love a surprise lunch in their thermos and I find many of these meals more nourishing than a typical sandwich! Buen Provecho!

M L Harding
ME J.8 years ago

Here's another idea, my kids love wraps, and the favorite is: mix 2/3 mayo to 1/3 sour cream or yogurt, and add a little finely chopped chipotle pepper (I buy a can then jar it up in fridge). Spread a couple teaspoons on tortilla, add turkey and a little veg that you have handy, (red bell peppers sliced thin with green onions sliced lengthwise are good) and maybe a little grated cheese. Yumilicious!

Also, they like quesadillas, even cold. Buy the canned refried beans ranchero flavor, add a little cheese and salsa onto a tortilla, top with another tortilla and fry in dry pan. Cut up with scissors, much easier!