Free Starter Guide

18+ Zero-Waste Healthy School Lunch Ideas

Bento-style lunchbox filled with meatballs, cantaloupe, crackers, and hummus

Share this post:

We covered the how of waste-free lunch packing (if you didn’t check out that post, make sure you do—we link up and explain all the tools and tricks to packing zero-waste school lunches), and now it’s time to talk about the what. In this post, we’re giving you tons of healthy, easy-to-pack school lunch ideas. And every single one of them is waste-free.

You’ll find vegetarian, gluten-free, paleo, and grain-free school lunch ideas below, and I hope it gives you tons of inspiration! We’ll keep adding to this post as the school year goes on and more lunch inspiration strikes.

Brunette woman in a striped shirt holding a bento-style lunch box and smiling.

A couple important notes about the lunches you’ll see here:

  • My daughter is a kindergartener, and we tend to overpack her lunches to give her lots of variety and a built-in snack. Adjust quantities as suited for your children.
  • Our school is not a nut-free school, so you’ll see products that contain nuts in these lunches. Feel free to sub nut-free products.
  • My kid doesn’t do carrots, tomatoes, or berries—all three are great options for school lunches, so make sure to swap in your kid’s favorite fruits and veggies. We’re on a constant rotation of cucumbers/celery/peppers and grapes/melon/clementines/apples, but you don’t have to be!
  • Our school allows kids to have a small dessert with lunches. We don’t do this every day, but we do give her something 1-2 times per week.

Alrighty, let’s dig into the lunches.

Ham and Cheese Skewer Lunch

Close-up of a bento-style stainless steel lunch box filled with apple slices, pretzels, ham and cheese on toothpicks, bell peppers and hummus, and stuffed celery, for a school lunch idea.

This lunch is one of our go-to favorites because it comes together in a flash and my kid eats every bite. I make sure to always have block cheese and ham cubes on the grocery list.

  • Ants on a log bites: celery with cream cheese and raisins
  • Ham and cheese cube skewers
  • Gluten-free pretzels
  • Apple slices treated with Ball Canning Fruit Fresh
  • Pepper chunks and hummus

Containers and tools used: Lunchbots Large Cinco // Lunchbots Leakproof Dips Container // Animal Bento Picks

Breakfast for Lunch School Lunch

Stainless steel lunchbox packed with brunch foods: watermelon cubes, muffins, egg cup, clementine, yogurt.

Turn lunch into brunch! I like to make a batch of muffins and egg cups each week during meal prep for easy breakfasts and snacks, and it helps for an easy packed school lunch here, too! Sometimes I’ll swap out the muffins for silver dollar pancakes or waffles if I have some stashed in the freezer.

Containers and tools used: Lunchbots Large Cinco // Animal Bento Picks // U-Konserve Round Container // Silicone Muffin Cups Large // Silicone Muffin Cups Small

Cheeseburger Skewers School Lunch

Stainless steel lunchbox filled with a school lunch idea: cheeseburger skewers with melon, pretzels, vegetables and hummus, and cookies

Repurposing leftovers is the #1 key to fast and easy school lunch packing! Last night’s hamburger patty becomes today’s cheeseburger skewers. Add tomato, pickles, and bun pieces if your kid likes those things.

Containers and tools used: Lunchbots Large Cinco // Lunchbots Silicone Bento Cups // Sparkly Bento Skewers

Mac and Cheese Lunch

School lunch idea: Bento-style lunch box with popcorn, grapes, cucumber, and cookies next to a Thermos of mac and cheese.

Ain’t no shame in my boxed mac and cheese game! I make sure to have a few boxes of mac and cheese in the pantry for quick lunches. I mixed this chickpea mac and cheese with peas for a little boost of nutrition and color.

Containers and tools used: Thermos Funtainer Food Jar // Lunchbots Small Protein Packer // Silicone Muffin Cups Small

Meatballs and Salad School Lunch

Stainless steel divided lunch box filled with meatballs, grapes, celery, pretzels, salad, and crackers.

Frozen meatballs are one of my favorite lunch-packing tricks. You can buy premade frozen meatballs, or I like to make my own. You can even make vegetarian ones! I plop them frozen into the lunch, and they are defrosted by lunchtime. My daughter doesn’t mind them at room temp, but you could also heat them up and put them in a Thermos.

  • Caesar salad (romaine, Parmesan, Caesar dressing)
  • Frozen meatballs with marinara for dipping
  • Cucumber spears
  • Chocolate covered gluten-free pretzels
  • Almond flour crackers
  • Grapes

Containers and tools used: Lunchbots Large Cinco // Lunchbots Leakproof Dips Container // Animal Bento Picks

Pretzel Skewers Lunch

Another school lunch idea packed into a lunch box: ham and cheese roll-ups on pretzel stick skewers, fruit, and cucumbers.

No fun bento picks or skewers? No problem! I like to use pretzel rods as edible skewers in lunches sometime.

Containers and tools used: Lunchbots Medium Trio II // Silicone Muffin Cups Large // Silicone Muffin Cups Small // Lunchbots Leakproof Dips Container // Mini Vegetable Cutters

Taco Macaroni Skillet School Lunch

Stainless steel lunchbox with fruit and cheese and avocado skewers, next to a Thermos of taco macaroni skillet.

I always make good use of leftovers! When my kid loves a dinner, I happily pack it for lunch the next day—and she happily eats it. Kids just don’t get the same kind of food boredom we do. This Taco Macaroni Skillet was dinner the night before, and then lunch the next day.

Containers and tools used: Thermos Funtainer Food Jar // Lunchbots Medium Duo // Lunchbots Leakproof Dips Container

Greek Pasta Salad Lunch

School Lunch Ideas: Stainless steel lunch box with Greek pasta salad, pita chips and hummus, and clementine slices.

Pasta salads and grain salads are great make-ahead school lunch ideas because the flavor just gets better and better the longer it sits in the fridge. This Greek Pasta Salad is a favorite for everyone in our house. Use store-bought Greek dressing or the dressing from this quinoa salad. My kid doesn’t like tomatoes or olives, but I add them separately to the grown-up servings.

  • Easy Greek pasta salad (chickpea pasta, cucumbers, chickpeas, red peppers, feta, and Greek dressing)
  • Pita chips and hummus
  • Clementine
  • Mini dark chocolate peanut butter cup

Containers and tools used: Lunchbots Large Trio // Lunchbots Silicone Bento Cups

Lunchable School Lunch

Divided lunch container filled with cheese, crackers, salami, fruit slices, and ants on a log. There is a container of yogurt next to it.

Everyone loves a lunch of crackers and cheese! This “Lunchables” style lunch has all the stackable fun of the classic lunch shortcut but with more natural (and affordable!) ingredients.

Containers and tools used: Lunchbots Small Food Jar // Lunchbots Medium Duo

Penne and Meat Sauce Lunch

Stainless steel lunch box with cantaloupe, ants on a log, and crackers next to a Thermos of penne in meat sauce.

Whenever I make pasta for dinner, I always make extra because noodles are SO versatile for lunch packing! A handful of leftover penne mixed with some meat sauce from the freezer makes this a 5-minute lunch.

  • Chickpea penne with meat sauce
  • Cauliflower crackers
  • Ants on a log bites: celery with cream cheese and raisins
  • Cantaloupe
  • Parmesan (for topping the penne)

Containers and tools used: Thermos Funtainer Food Jar // Lunchbots Silicone Bento Cups // Lunchbots Medium Quad

Quesadilla School Lunch

Stainless steel divided lunchbox with quesadilla, watermelon, plantain chips, and guacamole

When all else fails: make a quesadilla. My daughter would eat quesadillas every single lunch and be totally happy. My daughter prefers her quesadillas at room temperature or even slightly chilled, but you could also pack it in a Thermos to keep it warm.

Containers and tools used: Lunchbots Large Trio // Lunchbots Silicone Bento Cups // Lunchbots Leakproof Dips Container

Rice and Beans Lunch

Stainless steel lunch box with grapes, cheese, ants on a log, and veggie chips, next to a Thermos of rice and beans

I always have a stash of cooked rice and cooked seasoned black beans in the freezer. I pull them out the night before, warm them in the morning and then mix them together for an easy, affordable, and healthy school lunch.

  • Brown rice and seasoned black beans
  • Grapes
  • Celery with cream cheese
  • Vegetable chips
  • Cheese cubes
  • Sour cream (for topping the rice and beans)

Containers and tools used: Thermos Funtainer Food Jar // Lunchbots Leakproof Dips Container // Lunchbots Medium Quad

Meat and Cheese Rollups School Lunch

Packed school lunch of apple slices, bell pepper stars, guacamole, turkey and cheese roll-ups, and a bag of tortilla chips.

We make these roll-ups using long strips cut off of big blocks of cheese to reduce waste, but you could also use string cheese or cheese sticks if that’s what you have kicking around.

Containers and tools used: Lunchbots Medium Trio II // Rectangle Silicone Muffin Cup // Art of Lunch Reusable Snack Bag // Animal Bento Picks // Mini Vegetable Cutters

Sandwich Lunch

Stainless steel lunch box with a sandwich, apple slices, peppers, and pretzels with hummus.

We don’t do a lot of sandwiches for packed lunches in our house, because my daughter tends to just dismantle the sandwich and only eat the bread (she’s so my daughter). But when we do, we make sure to use frozen bread slices to assemble the sandwich. It defrosts by lunchtime and helps keep the sandwich from going soggy.

Containers and tools used: Lunchbots Large Trio // Lunchbots Silicone Bento Cups // Dog and Cat Bento Picks

Snacky School Lunch

Stainless steel bento-style lunchbox filled with a snack lunch: pretzels and dip, grapes, watermelon, popcorn, cucumber spears, and deli meat roll-ups

This is one of my daughter’s favorite school lunches, and one of the easiest to pack! The Lunchbots Large Snack Tray has six small sections to fill up with just little tastes of whatever I have kicking around.

  • Grapes
  • Popcorn
  • Cheese and turkey roll-ups
  • Watermelon
  • Pretzels and hummus
  • Cucumber spears

Containers and tools used: Lunchbots Large Snack Tray // Lunchbots Silicone Bento Cups // Lunchbots Leakproof Dips Container // Animal Bento Picks

Two-Bite Tacos Lunch

Bento-style lunch box filled with the makings for two-bite tacos

A mini make-your-own-taco bar! I make my own tortillas, so I just make some mini ones when I’m making a batch for this lunch, but you can also take a biscuit cutter to a regular tortilla to make mini taco shells. Then fill the rest of the spaces with your kid’s favorite taco toppings. You could use taco meat, chopped tomatoes, salsa, olives—whatever your kid likes!

  • Seasoned black beans
  • Guacamole (mixed with sour cream to prevent browning)
  • Plantain chips
  • Lettuce
  • Watermelon
  • Mini almond flour tortillas
  • Cheddar cheese

Containers and tools used: Lunchbots Large Cinco // Lunchbots Silicone Bento Cups

Chicken Nuggets School Lunch

Chicken nuggets in a Thermos, next to a lunch box filled with salad, pretzels, and apple slices

Frozen chicken nuggets can be a busy parent’s life-saver. I make my own gluten-free chicken nuggets in bulk and stash them in the freezer for busy days, but store-bought chicken nuggets work just as well in a Thermos. My kid doesn’t like any sauce for dipping her nuggets, but honey mustard, ranch, and ketchup would all be good additions!

Containers and tools used: Lunchbots Large Trio // Lunchbots Leakproof Dips Container // Thermos Funtainer Food Jar

Pancake Roll-up/Sushi School Lunch

Stainless steel lunch box with pancake roll-ups, apple slices, celery, and animal crackers.

Raise your hand if you have pancakes for dinner at least once a month! We do. And I always make sure to make a few extra thin pancakes (just water the batter down a bit) for pancake rollups or pancake sushi the next day. Fill the pancakes with whatever you what—peanut butter and strawberry jam are my kid’s favorite—and then roll them up. You can leave them that way, or slice them into discs for sushi.

Containers and tools used: Lunchbots Large Cinco // Lunchbots Leakproof Dips Container // Animal Bento Picks

Stainless steel lunchbox with pasta salad, orange slices, and pita chips for a school lunch.

I hope this post has given you lots of zero-waste school lunch ideas. Remember: we’ll be updating this post with new ideas as the school year goes on, so make sure to save this post and check back frequently. Happy packing!

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.

Leave a Reply

2 Responses
Starter Guide

The free Living Wholefully Starter Guide is packed full of tips, tricks, recipes, and a 14-day meal plan to get you started on the road to vibrant health.

New here?

Welcome to Wholefully! Our goal is to empower you to take control of your own health. Let us show you the holistic wellness tools you need to nourish your body and uplift your mind.

Let's Get Started →

Meet Cassie
Meet Your Host

Hello. I’m Cassie, and I’m excited you are here!

I'm a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. Come along as I explore good food, holistic wellness, natural homekeeping, gardening, and all the other things that bring me joy!

Learn More →

Learn the Basics