In the summer months, my daughters run on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Sometimes, when we want to mix things up, we get wild and spread peanut butter on apples or bananas instead. We also make peanut butter crackers and peanut butter protein bites—and, well, the point is that we’re peanut butter dependent.
So you can imagine that once the school year begins, my husband and I are left wondering what exactly to put inside lunchboxes. With so many schools embracing peanut and tree nut-free policies to safeguard those with allergies, we’ve had to get creative with our meal ideas.
Need ideas for the school year ahead? I’ve pulled together 10 kid-approved lunches that take the spotlight from our beloved peanut butter.
1. Healthy Hummus Cucumber Boats
When an ordinary sandwich just won’t do, bring in the cucumber boats. Slathered with protein-rich hummus, cheese, and fresh tomatoes, this brilliant lunchbox entry is novel enough to entice kids—and offers a healthful boost to power them up until the bell rings.
2. Baked Pumpkin Oatmeal Cups
I love anything masquerading as a muffin, and these pumpkin oatmeal cups are healthy, filling little bites practically made for school lunches. Customize this recipe to your heart’s content, adding chocolate chips and raisins and omitting the nuts, of course.
3. Homemade Pizza Rolls
Want to make your little one feel like they’ve won the lottery? Tuck these homemade pizza rolls into their lunch this year. You’d be hard-pressed to find a school-aged kid who wouldn’t be delighted by the sight. Customize this recipe with your little one’s favorite veggies and include a tiny bowl of marinara sauce for dipping.
4. Turkey Apple Cheddar Pinwheels
Elevate an ordinary sandwich by getting playful with its structure. Layers of deli meat, cheddar cheese, spinach, and sliced apples make a delicious, filling, and adorable lunchtime treat when rolled into a pinwheel.
5. Bento Boxes
A staple in Japanese culture, bento boxes offer a convenient way to eat a well-rounded and balanced meal. With plenty of small compartments, these totally portable boxes practically call out for fruits, veggies, cheeses, and lots of dips and sauces.
6. Hummus Pita Pizza
Personal pizzas are the perfect solution to picky eaters: just let them choose what toppings to include! These mini pizzas use pitas as a base and whatever cheese, veggies, or meat you have on hand. A layer of hummus promises to keep little bellies full, too. Make a few in the evening to slice up for school lunches the next day.
7. Baked Chicken Taquitos
Slip a few of these crispy chicken taquitos into your little one’s lunchbox, for an easy, protein-packed meal. A side of guacamole or sour cream makes the perfect dipping sauce, and sliced bell peppers or cherry tomatoes help round out the dish.
8. Chickpea Salad Sandwich
A play on the classic egg salad sandwich, this recipe calls for ingredients you likely already have on hand. Who knew you could transform chickpeas and mayo with just a sprinkle of herbs and a few simple things from your fridge? Subtly flavored, this sandwich is 100% kid-approved.
9. Grilled Chicken Burritos
Nothing says kid-friendly portability like a burrito loaded with simple flavors from chicken and cheese. Add guacamole and cherry tomatoes for some color and extra deliciousness.
10. Veggie Nuggets
To appeal to little ones who love to dip, whip up a batch of these vegetable-rich nuggets. A side of ketchup brings them to the next level. Best of all? This recipe is completely customizable, so whether you find broccoli or peppers in your vegetable bin, you can make do.
This article was originally published in 2021 and has been updated for timeliness.