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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! | natashaskitchen.com

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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! | natashaskitchen.com

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! | natashaskitchen.com

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! | natashaskitchen.com

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! | natashaskitchen.com

[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! | natashaskitchen.com

[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! | natashaskitchen.com

[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! | natashaskitchen.com

[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! | natashaskitchen.com

[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 NatashasKitchen.com
Calories: 223 kcal
Servings: 1 pinwheel roll

Ingredients

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

Instructions

  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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natashaskitchen

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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  • Jessica
    August 7, 2019

    I know this is old but I just found this site. Been looking for different lunch ideas for my 4th grader. Thanks so much for the options! Reply

    • Natashas Kitchen
      August 8, 2019

      You’re welcome! I’m so glad that was helpful! Reply

  • Alicia
    December 4, 2018

    I know this is a very old post, but if someone happens by who has a picky child I have a pretty good solution (not for toddlers because of the choking hazard) that people usually say they never thought of.

    Cook up a couple hotdogs and put them in a pre-warmed thermos so they are at least warm by lunchtime. Wrap a hotdog roll or two in foil or whatever you normally wrap,your bread products in. Give packets with ketchup and/or mustard for the child to put on themselves. I PROMISE all of his/her classmates will be begging to trade lunches! It isn’t something many people think of but you can do turkey Frank’s if you are worried about the nutritional content. Or switch it up and put mini meatballs and marinara in the thermos with a side of shredded cheese and let your child enjoy meatball subs. They love the food choice, as well as the Attention they will get making the food up to eat while the other kids are drooling over their delicious (what kid doesn’t love a hotdog???) lunch. It keeps really well in a thermos, too. Reply

    • Natasha
      December 4, 2018

      I love those ideas. I know my son would love a hotdog at lunch! Thank you for sharing!! I’m a big fan of using a thermos especially since a microwave is not available. Reply

  • Porter
    September 28, 2018

    Thanks for sharing such a pleasant idea, post is nice, thats why i have read it entirely Reply

    • Natashas Kitchen
      September 28, 2018

      Thank you for reading! Reply

  • Nella
    September 14, 2018

    do you pack an ice pack with the cold lunches. Im always concerned about any dairy products, such as cheese, ranch, yogurt, etc. sitting in the bag for a few hours before lunchtime. Reply

    • Natashas Kitchen
      September 14, 2018

      Hi Nella. Yes we recommend using ice packs. His lunch box came with the ice pack so it keeps the milk cold for the entire time he is at school 😄. Reply

  • katie
    August 20, 2018

    Who is getting their 4 year old to eat a hoagie and a salad for school lunch?! Teach me your ways, sensei! My kid won’t even eat her peanut butter sandwich (which she has happily eaten for 3 years now), because it’s “weird”. 🤦🏼‍♀️ Reply

    • Natashas Kitchen
      August 20, 2018

      Hi Katie! Kiddos really tend to be picky don’t they? Haha oh man that’s a great excuse “weird” 🙂 Reply

    • Annie
      October 2, 2018

      my 4 year old would live on salad, veggies and hummus if I let him Reply

      • Natashas Kitchen
        October 2, 2018

        That’s amazing! Reply

  • Orshi
    August 7, 2018

    Today my 4th grader told me that I need to up my game (quite literally he said this) and stop with the sandwiches. Thanks for the great tips, I look forward to trying these. Reply

    • Natashas Kitchen
      August 7, 2018

      You’re so welcome! But oh man! Looks like you have a fancy eater on your hands! 🙂 Reply

  • Brittany Marcq
    July 31, 2018

    Is it safe to put shrimp fried rice in a thermos?? Reply

    • Natasha
      July 31, 2018

      Hi Brittany, I don’t see why not! 🙂 So long as you don’t go past the recommended times and start with hot food, it should be fine just like putting in a chicken-based meal. Reply

  • Ciara
    July 31, 2018

    My child is a very picky eater, he doesn’t eat the lunch I pack him. I try my harder at to give him healthy lunches but for some reason he doesn’t want the lunch. Reply

    • Natashas Kitchen
      July 31, 2018

      I have seen my fair share of picky eaters! Hopefully these gave you some good ideas! Reply

  • Mathur S
    May 29, 2018

    Lovely…i really struggle everyday with my school going toddler….hopefully these awesome ideas will help me a lot.Thanks for the pictures and great share. Reply

    • Natasha's Kitchen
      May 29, 2018

      My pleasure Mathur, I really hope your little one enjoys them! Reply

  • Izzy
    May 24, 2018

    I like all the ideas…but I don’t like fruits and veggies!!!! Reply

    • Natasha's Kitchen
      May 24, 2018

      Leave them out Lizzy 🙂 Reply

  • Melda
    January 25, 2018

    what about noodle recipes? Reply

    • Natasha
      natashaskitchen
      January 25, 2018

      Hi Melda, noodles or just about any pasta is a great idea for the thermos. Type pasta in our search bar above to explore all of the pasta recipes we have posted. Reply

  • Becky
    October 5, 2017

    Thank you! Reply

    • Natasha's Kitchen
      October 5, 2017

      You’re welcome Becky! Reply

  • Cory
    September 18, 2017

    Love the ideas and recipes, my only suggestion would be a Tupperware type dip container instead of the daily plastic throw-aways. 🌲 🙂 Reply

    • Natasha's Kitchen
      September 18, 2017

      Great suggestion Cory! 🙂 Reply

    • Tiffany
      September 29, 2017

      Why can’t you wash the throwaways? 🙂 Reply

  • Oksana
    August 22, 2017

    👌👌 need this post! Also where is the plastic lunch box container from? Reply

    • Natasha
      natashaskitchen
      August 22, 2017

      The old one was from Costco and I’m not sure if they sell it this year or not but it’s worth checking! The new one we use is a Planet Box.  Reply

  • Nicky Washida
    August 21, 2017

    Another year another lunch planning spreadsheet….! But this year I have high hopes that I will actually STICK to it! The key difference: simplicity. Thank you so much for this! Reply

    • Natasha
      natashaskitchen
      August 21, 2017

      I think that’s the most challenging part of back to school! I hope you get some good ideas here. Make sure you check out our new school lunch post also. Reply

  • Sabrinaleigh
    August 21, 2017

    It is so hard to think of recipes on you’re own but Natasha you make life easy and a little bit confusing . Some of you’re recipes where off the hook but on others a little bit more .

    Thank You So Much ! Reply

  • Mindy Melnychuk
    August 4, 2017

    Natasha, I also want to say thank you and “molodets”! I first came to your site for your medovik recipe and have found so many other great recipes and hints. Your site is so well organized and colorful. My husband is Ukrainian, but making Ukrainian food in America can sometimes be tricky. You help decipher it a bit. Keep up the good work! Reply

    • Natasha's Kitchen
      August 5, 2017

      You’re welcome Mindy! Thanks you for following and sharing your thoughtful comments! 😀 Reply

  • ANNA ZADEREJ
    May 8, 2017

    Natalka, I’ll call you by your Ukrainian name. Mолодець! I have to tell you how proud I am of a Ukrainian woman that is so awesome at “doing it right”! I just posted this on Facebook. Got your recipe for a salmon from my niece, a dentist in Chicago, Bohdanna. I started to check out your recipes and was very impressed with them. Most of all your presentation of your recipes. The pictures and videos are really, really good. You should be on FoodTV. Your so much better than some of those worthless food shows. If you could do more kids lunch box meals that would be great. I would totally appreciate this. Be Well. Z Bohom. BTW – My husband, Mykola, made your Creamy Broccoli Salad and it was great. I made the cheesy mashed potato pancakes. Very nice. 🙂 Reply

    • Natasha's Kitchen
      May 8, 2017

      Thank you so much Anna! It’s so nice to hear from my fans. I will keep your request in mind! Thanks for sharing 😀 Reply

  • Michelle
    January 27, 2017

    Thank you! This is great! Helps to move away from the standard sammy and chips lunch. Reply

    • Natasha's Kitchen
      January 27, 2017

      You’re welcome Michelle! I am glad you found it helpful! Reply

      • amina
        July 4, 2017

        plz plz plz post more lunch ideas.. specially Asian type.. for pakistani kids Reply

  • January 23, 2017

    Love these ideas! I really struggle to find easy, practical lunch ideas for my three kids. I especially like the tortilla pinwheels – they are going on my list! Thank you, Natasha! Reply

    • Natasha's Kitchen
      January 23, 2017

      You’re welcome Carolyn! I am so glad you found it helpful! Reply

  • Olivia
    January 16, 2017

    I have scoured the internet trying to find kid lunch ideas that are actually reasonable. There are so many websites listing ridiculous recipes that I do not have the time to make…nor would my children eat them!

    Then I found this post! Thanks for helping me get my kids out of their lunch rut! These ideas were all very useful and work with my time sensitive schedule! Reply

    • Natasha's Kitchen
      January 16, 2017

      I am so glad you find them helpful Olivia! 🙂 Reply

  • Janell
    January 8, 2017

    Thanks for these- I like them all but I would warn not to pack “kabobs” for little ones. I work in a kindergarten class and I am in the lunchroom with them. Hazardous to kids at that age and probably at least the next several grades up. Kids get so wild and silly at lunch :). Reply

    • Natasha
      natashaskitchen
      January 8, 2017

      Thanks for the tip! 🙂 Reply

  • Anna
    January 7, 2017

    I am surprised by the amount of sugar in the milk products (yogurt & milk) that you would recommend. There is more sugar in these products than a candy bar. Kids really need to drink water in their lunchbox. Reply

    • Natasha
      natashaskitchen
      January 7, 2017

      Hi Anna, I agree and my son always takes a bottle of water to school. He still loves plain whole milk when he comes home though and yes even that has naturally occurring sugar in it but not so much that it’s concerning to me. I do wish the yo-kids yogurts had less sugar though. I haven’t found a better alternative with less sugar though – their baby yogurt line has has the sugar that the toddler/big kids line does. Do you have any yogurt suggestions? Reply

      • Rachel
        July 9, 2017

        I am getting ready to start packing lunches (thanks for the great list!).

        Not sure if this would help you, but I am buying reusable food pouches to cut down on cost and fill with whatever I want. I can make a batch of pudding and fill, or buy a big jar of applesauce for a few dollars. My son wastes a lot of yogurt, so I stopped buying it for him – but I’m sure you could buy low/no sugar yogurt in a bigger container and put them in a reusable squeeze pouch. Reply

        • Natasha's Kitchen
          July 10, 2017

          That’s a great suggestion Rachel! Thanks for sharing your tip with other readers! Reply

      • Ashley Simien
        August 2, 2017

        You could buy Greek Yogurt and add fresh fruit to cut down on the sugar products! Or the already prepackaged Greek yogurt with fruit on the bottom. We only eat that type of yogurt in our home and my daughter (5 years) loves it and it is the only type of yogurt she knows! Hope this helps! Reply

        • Natasha's Kitchen
          August 2, 2017

          Great suggestions Ashley, thanks for sharing! Reply

      • Rose
        September 9, 2019

        A thought ..perhaps plain yogurt with fresh fruit or even a wee bit of jam or preserves mixed in..works for us Reply

  • olga
    November 18, 2016

    Heyyy

    Can you do a post for ADULT lunches?
    Im out of ideas of what to put in my husbands lunch box 🙁 Please include both hot and cold and recommendations for thermoses and such. Thanks a bunch! Reply

    • Natasha
      natashaskitchen
      November 18, 2016

      That’s a great suggestion! It may not be until after the holidays but I will definitely keep it in mind! 🙂 Has you check out the sandwiches I have posted? Reply

  • Katrina
    September 14, 2016

    Hello Natasha! Thank you for the lunch ideas! My daughter strated school and I was anxious what should I pack for lunch for her and now I have a good source to rely on 🙂 Reply

    • Natasha
      natashaskitchen
      September 14, 2016

      You’re welcome Katrina! I’m so happy you find the post beneficial 😀. Reply

  • Simona
    September 3, 2016

    Hello there. I love it your ideas with kids lunch. It’s fantastic.
    I just try to find some plastic box for lunch, with 2 or 3 section (like yours)
    Maybe you can give me link where did you buying them?
    Big thanks. . Reply

    • Natasha
      natashaskitchen
      September 3, 2016

      Hi Simona, It came in a lunch box that I purchased at Costco. They usually have them before school starts. It’s called the “Arctic Zone Ultra Lunch Pack” They also sell it on Amazon but I’m not sure why it’s so expensive on Amazon. The one we use currently is really nice and I think a good investment. Check it out here. Reply

  • Val Kiselev
    August 21, 2016

    Natasha you have the cutest kids. Your boy is so handsome and baby girl is just a doll. What a beautiful family you have. How do u find the time to run a family, cook, post, etc? Blessings to you on this motherhood journey. “Hello!” from souther California. Reply

    • Natasha
      natashaskitchen
      August 21, 2016

      Hi Val, thank you so much for your sweet words 🙂 It’s not easy and without an amazing husband and God’s blessings, I don’t think I would be able to do it 🙂 Reply

  • Trina
    August 20, 2016

    When using the thermos for hot food, will the contents stay warm on the inside if using an ice pack for juice/milk/fruit? Reply

    • Natasha
      natashaskitchen
      August 20, 2016

      Hi Trina, it is recommended not to place it in a cool lunch box. I always pack it outside of his lunchbox (there is a strap or pocket that I loop it through), but I don’t put it next to an ice pack. Reply

      • Trina
        August 21, 2016

        Thanks for the tip. Reply

  • August 16, 2016

    Thank you so much for this post finally a realistic approach to lunch and snack time. God Bless! Reply

    • Natasha
      natashaskitchen
      August 16, 2016

      Thank you Yuri, blessings to you as well 😀. Reply

  • Evelyn Chamberlain
    August 13, 2016

    I had squarely put a thermos in the liquid/soup box and never considered it for leftovers. Thanks, this opens up a lot of options. Reply

    • Natasha
      natashaskitchen
      August 14, 2016

      You are welcome Evelyn 😀. Reply

  • Stefanie
    August 9, 2016

    How do you pack the milk to make sure it stays cold until lunch time? Reply

    • Natasha
      natashaskitchen
      August 9, 2016

      His lunch box came with the ice pack so it keeps the milk cold for the entire time he is at school 😄. Reply

    • Fiona
      August 22, 2016

      I make milk ice cubes and put several in the drink container before I fill it with milk. The frozen milk cubes melt during morning classes and the milk is cold at lunch. Reply

      • Natasha
        natashaskitchen
        August 22, 2016

        That is so smart!! Thank you for sharing that great tip! 🙂 Reply

  • Erin Heins
    August 4, 2016

    Thankfully my kids aren’t picky eaters! They love whatever they get typically but a favorite is a wrap vs a sandwich Reply

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