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Practical School Lunch Ideas (Cold & Hot) + Tortilla Pinwheels

You'll want to pin these practical School Lunch Ideas. Cold and hot lunches your kids will actually eat! |

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When my son started school, I was determined to pack him healthy, nutritious and satisfying lunches. Without me hovering over him while he ate, he brought his fancy sandwiches right back home, sometimes untouched. I could see he wasn’t really into what I packed for him.

After he brought several lunches back, I resorted to ordering food at school, but that never sat well with me since they weren’t very balanced meals – very little fruit or veggies. And, I could never tell if he actually ate his lunch.

Then I got creative. Read on for great (easy) lunch ideas for cold and hot school lunches your kids will actually eat and you’ll feel good about. Thank you to Shamrock Farms for sponsoring this post!

One of our favorite easy lunches to pack (and make ahead) are tortilla pinwheels and I’ve included the print-friendly recipe for those below!).

P.S. Don’t miss our new lunch ideas post for 2017! 

Update on the Lunchbox:

For first grade, my son started using this Planet Box lunchbox (affiliate link).

PlanetBox Lunch Box-2

Start with the drink:

1. Milk: my son’s drink of choice so I always make sure he has milk for lunch.

2. Juice – select a juice box that has reduced sugar and real fruit juice

Practical School Lunch Ideas-6

School Lunch Main Course (Grains & Meats):

1. DIY “lunchables”: crackers, deli turkey or salami, sliced cheese

2. Sandwich or sandwich kabobs: disguise their sandwich by threading turkey, cubed string cheese, and squares of bread on skewers.

3. Mini bagels and cream cheese

4. Easy chicken sliders (canned chicken – drained well and mixed with mayo and black pepper to taste, place filling between lettuce and cheese to keep the bun from getting soggy)

5. Tortilla pinwheels (cream cheese, sliced cheese, deli turkey, thinly sliced tomatoes, shredded lettuce or spinach – roll tightly and slice into rounds). Get the print-friendly recipe for tortilla pinwheels below.

You'll want to pin these practical School Lunch Ideas. Cold and hot lunches your kids will actually eat! |

School Lunch Fruit:

1. Small banana

2. Grapes

3. Blueberries, strawberries or other berries

4. Fruit kabobs

5. Apricot, apple,.. whatever your kids love

6. Applesauce 7. Peeled clementines

School Lunch Veggies:

1. Baby carrots with ranch in mini cups

2. Cucumber slices

3. Snap peas

4. Salad (romaine, cheese, croutons, side of ranch)

5. Avocado slices (to prevent browning: slice flesh into bite-sized pieces inside the skin, scoop out flesh and replace into shell, drizzle with lemon juice, cover tightly with plastic wrap)

You'll want to pin these practical School Lunch Ideas. Cold and hot lunches your kids will actually eat! |

School Lunch Snacks and Treats:

1. Banana bread (Here is my husbands perfect banana bread)

2. Yogurt

3. Pudding

4. String cheese

5. Pretzels, or gold fish crackers

6. Fruit snacks or fruit leather

7. Dried fruit (raisins, craisins, banana or apple chips)

8. Z-Bar or fruit bars

9. Muffin

10. Chocolate chip cookie (click for soft homemade cookies)

12. DIY trail mix

You'll want to pin these practical School Lunch Ideas. Cold and hot lunches your kids will actually eat! |

Here are some winning lunch combinations:

You'll want to pin these practical School Lunch Ideas. Cold and hot lunches your kids will actually eat! |

[DIY “lunchables”, cucumber slices, grapes, yogurt]

You'll want to pin these practical School Lunch Ideas. Cold and hot lunches your kids will actually eat! |

[chicken slider, salad with ranch, trail mix, banana]

You'll want to pin these practical School Lunch Ideas. Cold and hot lunches your kids will actually eat! |

[turkey sandwich kabobs, carrots & ranch, apricot, pudding]

You'll want to pin these practical School Lunch Ideas. Cold and hot lunches your kids will actually eat! |

[mini bagel with cream cheese, snap peas, strawberries, fruit leather, string cheese]

You'll want to pin these practical School Lunch Ideas. Cold and hot lunches your kids will actually eat! |

[tortilla pinwheels, sliced avocado, blueberries, banana chips]

Hot Lunch Ideas (with a Thermos):

Tips for using a thermos: *We recommend the Thermos Foogo 10 oz or Thermos Funtainer 10 oz: *Pack hot thermos in the morning (5 hours before it’s eaten) *Heat the thermos first: add boiling water, cover and let sit 5 min then drain. Heat food until it’s hot. Place into heated thermos and close tightly with lid. Food will be warm at lunchtime.

What to put in a hot lunch thermos:

1. Soup (try: chicken noodle soup or Mom’s meatball soup)

2. Pasta (try: chicken alfredo or spaghetti with shrimp)

3. Pilaf/rice, or stir fry (try: creamy chicken and rice, or shrimp fried rice)

4. Leftovers! You can really get creative with a thermos. Just avoid foods with overwhelming aromas (i.e. broccoli and cabbage).

Tortilla Pinwheels Recipe (School Lunch Idea)

4.91 from 52 votes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

Homemade Pinwheels are the easiest make-ahead school lunch idea. A kid-friendly easy lunch idea. 

Author: Natasha of
Calories: 223 kcal
Servings: 1 pinwheel roll


Tortilla Pinwheels

  • 1 flour tortilla
  • 2 Tbsp cream cheese
  • 1 slice mozarella cheese (or your favorite cheese)
  • 1 oz turkey deli meat (2 slices)
  • 1/4 cup shredded lettuce (or spinach leaves)
  • 1/4 tomato, thinly sliced


  1. Spread cream cheese over tortilla. 

  2. Add sliced mozzarella and deli meat over the top half of the tortilla followed by shredded lettuce and sliced tomato. 

  3. Tightly roll the tortilla from the top downward then slice the roll into rings. 

Nutrition Facts
Tortilla Pinwheels Recipe (School Lunch Idea)
Amount Per Serving
Calories 223 Calories from Fat 108
% Daily Value*
Fat 12g18%
Saturated Fat 6g38%
Cholesterol 41mg14%
Sodium 646mg28%
Potassium 216mg6%
Carbohydrates 19g6%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 3g3%
Protein 9g18%
Vitamin A 735IU15%
Vitamin C 4.2mg5%
Calcium 60mg6%
Iron 1.3mg7%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Practical School Lunch Ideas-11

Can you tell by the look in his eye that I promised him candy for this photo? 😉

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Welcome to my kitchen! I am Natasha, the blogger behind Natasha's Kitchen (since 2009). My husband and I run this blog together and share only our best, family approved recipes with YOU. Thanks for stopping by! We are so happy you're here.

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  • katklaw777
    August 16, 2015

    My fav sandwich for lunch is a PB, banana and honey sandwich on wholegrain wheat bread. Messy but sooooooooo satisfying.
    My grandson luvs them too! Reply

  • anastasiya khomichuk
    August 16, 2015

    I only pack my husbands lunchbox for now, my son is only 4.
    However my hubby has a fifteen minute break earlier in the day, for which i pack him cereal and milk 😉 per his request Reply

  • Oksana
    August 16, 2015

    Something homemade Reply

  • Carol G
    August 15, 2015

    I love veggie burgers for my lunch. Reply

  • Erin R.
    August 15, 2015

    I always pack myself something homemade, like soup or beans or something similar. Much easier and cheaper to just get it out of the fridge instead of going out for lunch. Reply

  • Katie
    August 15, 2015

    My kids love Laughing Cow cheese wedges and triscuit crackers. Reply

  • August 15, 2015

    Those recipes are so great I wish that my children were going to school – but they’re grown up. I used to pack them bologna sandwiches, juice boxes and some fruit, but your recipes look so much better and healthier!! Now we take leftovers to work. Whatever I made the day before gets packed up (I purposely make too much) and heated up for lunch. Reply

  • Anna
    August 15, 2015

    In my lunch I pack a couple water bottles, some fruit, string cheese, and if we had left over dinner I’ll get that if not, I pack some sandwiches. Reply

  • libby rouse
    August 15, 2015

    I like to pack a sandwich with a meat, grapes or some other fruit and pretzels or low sodium chips Reply

  • Jennie
    August 15, 2015

    For my husband, i pack leftovers from the night before, fruit, and dried dates. Reply

  • Suzanna
    August 15, 2015

    I try to pack my lunch lean and healthy. I like to take yogurt, fruit, and homemade granola to make a parfait as well as carrots and some nuts. Reply

  • Debra C.
    August 15, 2015

    My granddaughter loves tomatoes so I always put grape tomatoes in her lunch. Reply

  • Kent Camp
    August 15, 2015

    A good one, that doesn’t require re-heating is:
    12 ounces walnuts
    ¼ cup soaked sundried tomatoes, soaking water discarded
    1-2 teaspoons Taco or Chili powder, to taste
    1-2 teaspoons cumin, to taste
    ½ teaspoon garlic powder
    ½ teaspoon sea salt
    pinch of cayenne, to taste

    Grind this together in a food processor until the consistency of ground beef. Wrap this in flour tortillas with any toppings you would put on tacos. Reply

  • Heather Webster
    August 12, 2015

    I like to pack a lunch sampler, because my picky eaters love variety. I typically have a variety of cheese and meats on toothpicks, along with small amounts of a variety of fruits and veggies – ex. a veggie and fruit kabob. Reply

  • August 11, 2015

    My son is going into first grade! I have never, ever packed a lunch before. These ideas are great. I’m headed over to purchase one of the thermals right now because my son loves spaghetti and they sound like they will be perfect for left over spaghetti! Reply

  • yana
    August 11, 2015

    Hi! Quick question…where did you buy the plastic box for your sons lunch? Which would you recommend? Thanks so much! Love all your posts! God bless!

    Hi Yana! It was from Costco. It’s called the “Arctic Zone Ultra Lunch Pack” but the best price is at Costco – Natasha Reply

  • Rebecca C
    August 10, 2015

    Hubby is easy for lunches. He likes peanut butter crackers, a piece of fruit (like an apple or plum) and some veggies (carrots or broccoli) Reply

  • Vickie
    August 9, 2015

    Always a sandwich with soup or pasta, depending on the weather. A variety of raw vegetables and fruits. Sometimes cheese cubes and a small desser like pudding or a cookie. And, the beverage is always milk…we don’t do the sugary drinks. Reply

  • Madeline
    August 8, 2015

    I like to pack homemade muffins, carrot sticks, and apples. Reply

  • Dee
    August 8, 2015

    I like to pack a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, some mixed berries, and assorted veggie snacks as well as a water bottle 🙂 Reply

  • Marina
    August 7, 2015

    My 6 year old daughter loves taking string cheese, yogurt, fruit, pbj sandwiches, and sushi if we have some:) Reply

  • Bridgett Heldenbrand
    August 7, 2015

    She likes yogurt, meat with no bread, applesauce. Reply

  • Irina Kovalenko
    August 7, 2015

    These are some great ideas! My 3 1/2 year old loves when I put mini Babybel chese in his lunch box because he is so excited about opening the red wax wrapper to get to the yummy cheese. You can even carve out words or little (happy face) designs in the wax to make it extra special. Reply

  • Mindy
    August 6, 2015

    My children love either a simple sandwich or a wrap along with fresh fruit, go-gurt & cheese sticks! Reply

  • Inna
    August 6, 2015

    Not only is this good for kids, it looks simple enough to make lunch for work Reply

  • Katelyn
    August 6, 2015

    I love the blue lunch box you use in the photos! What is the brand and where did you get it? Thanks! Reply

  • Shaneika Seibold
    August 5, 2015

    Granola bites, Barilla pastas, watermelon, leftover breakfast muffins, and cheese sticks are a few of our favorites Reply

  • Lena
    August 4, 2015

    I usually pack left overs for my two. Since my kids go to a private school they don’t have a cheap lunch program like the public school system. If I don’t have any left overs I pack them sandwiches. I think their favorite is vareniki with potatoes, usually with sliced fruit or veggies. Reply

    • Natasha
      August 4, 2015

      Do you pack the vareniki warm? That sounds like an amazing lunch! 🙂 Reply

  • Olga
    August 4, 2015

    I pack lunch for my husband, usually two sandwiches and then some soup or borsch with bread. Fruits, what is in season, or veggies. Big fan of home grown tomatoes. Yum!!! Reply

  • Brooke
    August 4, 2015

    My boys love Nutella sandwiches, strawberries, and pretzels. I just wish we could get them to vary it up a little. Thanks for the list, I can’t wait to try of the few ideas before school starts, so we’ll be ready to go for lunch time. Reply

  • Olga Vorobey
    August 3, 2015

    Last 2 years my son ate at school lunch but this year i really want to start packing him lunches..these ideas are really great and now im not scared of trying this year..I would pack milk, of course, fruit, cheese and sandwich. Love the idea of chicken sandwiches, usually i would be worried about soggy bread but putting lettuce and cheese by the bun is such a great idea. Thanks Reply

  • Yuliya
    August 3, 2015

    We are blessed with 3 boys, and our firstborn is heading to kindergarden this year, so I promised my amazing hubby that ill be packing him healthiest lunch with lots of nutricious foods. Your creative lunches gave me ideas! Im deffinetly gonna buy him that milk, Thanks. Reply

  • Marina
    August 3, 2015

    Awesome ideas here! Have you seen the planet box lunch boxes? They’re a bit pricey, but so cute! I’m looking to get one for my kindergartener, she’s been asking me to pack her own lunches instead of eating the school provided ones. Reply

  • August 3, 2015

    I pack my husband’s and my lunch almost every day. He always wants the same thing! Baked chicken (I season with seasoning salt & cayenne for a kick), lettuce, pickled jalapenos & mustard on a wrap, fruit, a Nature’s valley granola bar, pop-chips & a Bai 5 Lemonade Iced Tea. I also pack him a small handful of nuts to snack on in the afternoon so he doesn’t get hangry on the ride home! I will definitely be keeping these lunch ideas in mind for myself or when I have kids. I actually pack homemade lunchables all the time for myself! Reply

  • Alinkaa
    August 3, 2015

    I usually take grapefruit or apple for fruit with my lunch which is usually some rice with tuna or leftovers from the night before 😉 Reply

  • kat
    August 2, 2015

    Bananas, home made applesauce, cheese sticks, grape tomatoes, grape, cheese and crackers, water bottle Reply

  • elena
    August 2, 2015

    Fruits, veggies are always a must! Reply

  • Shirley
    August 2, 2015

    I love packing leftovers for lunch! My favorites are pasta-based dishes because it comes out steaming and like new every time Reply

  • Barbara M
    August 2, 2015

    The kids like turkey with lettuce sandwiches, hummus with pretzels and fresh fruit.
    thank you Reply

  • Vanessa Madrigal
    August 2, 2015

    I eat on the go a lot. I like to have a bottle of water, a HB egg, a string cheese, and maybe some carrots or other veggies. Reply

  • Jaclyn Reynolds
    August 2, 2015

    I pack turkey sandwiches and cheese crackers! And a juice! Reply

  • sherri crawford
    August 2, 2015

    i like to pack yogurt and granola bars and a fruit Reply

  • jenny
    August 1, 2015

    First of all I want to say that these ideas look so Good! Can you pack my lunches? Lol
    My oldest is only 3 so I don’t pack any lunches yet. What I remember my mom packing was katleti sandwiches and I loved them. I guess its the “Russian burger” lol Reply

  • Diana Cote
    August 1, 2015
  • Diana Cote
    August 1, 2015

    I pack cut fruit, veggies, string cheese, almond butter, cooked chicken or some other finger sized cooked meat & homemade larabars. Reply

  • August 1, 2015

    My son loves having pretzels or pitas and hummus in his lunch Reply

  • Melissa Mercil
    August 1, 2015

    I make home made lunchables! I use a plastic bento box and pack wheat thins, pita chips or triscuits, cut up turkey lunch meat and cheese, and also pack turkey pepperoni. Then I chop up cucumber and fill a little Tupperware with ranch, and finish off with a little fruit salad. My daughter loves it! Reply

  • Leslie
    August 1, 2015

    When my kids were little, they helped pack the lunch, so I knew it was something they liked. Before peanut butter was banned for allergies, we relied pretty heavily on that. Now we would sub sunflower butter. Fresh fruit was always included. Reply

  • Amy M.
    August 1, 2015

    I like to pack either a sandwich or a salad with a piece of fruit or a veggie like cucumber or carrot! Reply

  • Yana Yakhnitskiy
    August 1, 2015

    I don’t have kiddos yet but I have tortilla wraps just about every day! I change it up with different hummus as the “glue” instead of ranch or mayo and use deli meats or shredded chicken, even chipotle style of stuffed rice. Always new and never feels like I’m eating the same thing every day. Reply

  • Danielle
    July 31, 2015

    My son will be in 1st grade in a few weeks. Last year we tested school linch, which was disgusting. Then, we tried packing lunch. Most days PB&J came back home b/c he is now so picky and would rather spend his lunch socializing. So I’d have to say Lunchables were the most successful lunches. Reply

  • Sarah Hall
    July 31, 2015

    I like to pack a ham and cheese sandwich, baby carrots, a fruit cup and she buys milk at school. Reply

  • shelly peterson
    July 30, 2015

    cshell090869 at aol dot com Reply

  • shelly peterson
    July 30, 2015

    I like to pack a sandwich or meat, cheese and crackers with a veggie and a gogurt. I usually freeze the gogurt and they stay well until lunch.
    cshell090869 at aol dot com Reply

  • Jessie C.
    July 30, 2015

    tweet- Reply

  • Jessie C.
    July 30, 2015

    I like to pack milk, grapes, carrots, mixed nuts and avocado tuna sandwich in my child’s lunchbox.
    tcarolinep at gmail dot com Reply

  • amanda whitley
    July 30, 2015

    i like to pack fruit cups and granola bars in my kids lunches. Reply

  • Sharon
    July 30, 2015

    I pack a tuna sandwich or roasted chicken breast, a small salad, fresh fruit and nuts for snacking. Reply

  • Olga
    July 30, 2015

    I pack my husband’s lunch every morning. A lot of the time it’s soup in a thermos. With it being tomato season, I’ve been making lots of creamy tomato and basil soup paired with a grilled cheddar cheese and bacon sandwich. My husband loves it! Reply

  • Mariya
    July 30, 2015

    My kids are not in school yet but for myself I always just grab whatever I have cooked that day or the day before, whether it’s soup, rice, pasta, salad, sandwich or whatever else I have. And I always try to get some fruit or yogurt with it. Reply

  • Sherry G
    July 30, 2015

    My daughter loves BabyBell cheese with crackers, yogurt and grapes. Reply

  • Irina
    July 29, 2015

    I like to pack apples, yogurt, sandwiches, cookies for my husband’s lunches Reply

  • July 29, 2015

    Classic almost, Cashew Butter and Jelly sandwich with Sun Chips of course!!!!
    And, a chocolate chip granola bar. Reply

  • rachel cartucci
    July 29, 2015

    I like to pack healthy snacks like carrot sticks,apple slices and bananas….and a good ole Peanut butter and jelly. Reply

  • anna
    July 29, 2015

    I like my son to have a hot lunch at school. His favorites are meatball soup and hot oatmeal. I get fruits, nuts, crackers, cheese for snacks also. Reply

  • Michelle J.
    July 29, 2015

    Personal pizza items! Reply

  • Jeffrey
    July 29, 2015

    I usually pack them a bagel, cheese stick, yogurt, homemade cookie and a few chips. Reply

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