School Lunch Ideas Kids Will Actually Eat

With just a week to go before kids return back to school the time to start dreading the school lunch prep is already upon us.  Over the years I have frequently searched for new ideas to inspire me to provide my kids with delicious and nutritious food.  However, these searches left me wondering whether kids would actually eat the meals suggested.  My kids certainly wouldn’t!  I need suggestions for school lunch ideas kids will actually eat!

Sandwiches are a no!

Now, I don’t know about you but my kids refuse sandwiches for lunch (that is simply not a meal in their book) and like to have nice warm meals out of a thermos flask.  But, then there are limitations: No fish because it’s smelly. No soup because it’s fiddly. No fajitas because they are messy.  Sometimes I just feel out of ideas – that is unless I think ahead and meal plan.

Meal Planner

Those of you who have subscribed to our newsletter will have received our school lunch meal planner earlier this month and I hope that this will help your back-to-school meal preparation a whole load easier.  If you have not yet subscribed – what are you waiting for? 

Let’s Get Down To Business

Okay, that’s enough general chit-chat, let’s get down to what you came here looking for.  Help in getting school lunch meal ideas that your kids will actually eat.

Our recipes will make enough for four servings.

Spaghetti Meatballs

Whenever there are spaghetti meatballs on my kids’ school lunch menu there are never any leftovers. 

Instructions

  • In a large mixing bowl mix together the minced beef, grated cheese, garlic cloves, chopped onions, egg, dried bread crumbs, salt and pepper.
  • Form into 1” meatballs and roll (dredge) the meatballs in the flour.
  • Heat the oil in a large skillet pan. Add meatballs in 2 batches (so that you don’t crowd the pan.) Cook for about 5-6 minutes until all sides are browned.   Add the tomate frito and cook the meatballs in the sauce for about 30 minutes.
  • Cook the spaghetti according to the package instructions. Drain and return to the pot.
  • Pour meatballs and sauce over the spaghetti and toss to combine.  Serve with plenty of grated cheese.

Chicken Enchiladas

Enchiladas are just so easy to make and so delicious too.  Cheesy, tomatoey and cheesy – what’s not to like?  Pack this for your kids’ school lunch and there are sure to be no complaints! Check out our recipe here

Tuna Rice

Simple and tasty and always a favourite whether as a school lunch or at home.

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 50ml crushed tomatoes (tomate frito)
  • 1 green pepper
  • 200g rice ( I use SOS)
  • 2 large cans of tuna (in sunflower oil)
  • 600ml water
  • 2 bay leaves 
  • Pinch of saffron
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

Instructions

  • Heat the oil on a medium heat in a deep saucepan.
  • Add the chopped onion, crushed garlic and chopped green pepper.  (I cut the pepper in LARGE chunks so I can remove them from the final dish to avoid picky eater drama!) Cook for a few minutes until the veg starts to soften.
  • Add the tomatoes and saffron and stir well.
  • Add the water,  bay leaves, salt and pepper and bring to the boil.
  • Next, add the rice and cook for 15-20 minutes (until tender).
  • Finally, take the rice off the heat and add the drained tuna.

Spanish Omelette (Torta De Patata) and Chicken Tenders

A torta de patata is such an easy meal to give your kids for their school lunch.  It is also easy and cheap to make at home.  Check out our guide on making torta patata in our Gibraltar food section in this blog.

Making the chicken tenders could not be easier.  Cut chicken fillets into strips and season.  Add 2 eggs to a bowl and panko breadcrumbs to another bowl.  Dredge the chicken through the egg and then coat with breadcrumbs.

If you want to make healthy and crispy versions in the air fryer spray both sides with a little olive oil.  Place in the air fryer basket in a single layer and cook for 5-6 minutes on each side, turning halfway through.

If you do not have an air fryer you can cook the tenders in the oven at 220℃ for around 15 minutes. 

You can also fry them in olive oil although this will obviously add calories and will not be as healthy.

Honey Garlic Noodles

Sweet, slightly spicy and delicious noodles.

Ingredients

  • 600g chicken breast, diced
  • 90ml soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp chilli oil (optional – omit if your child does not like spicy food)
  • Ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp crushed garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 tsp hoisin sauce

Instructions

  • Dice the chicken into half-inch cubes and marinade for a few hours with 20ml of the soy sauce, 1 tbsp of honey, 1 tsp of chilli oil (optional) and some black pepper.
  • Cook the chicken and set aside.
  • In a bowl, mix together the remaining soy sauce, 2 tsp of crushed garlic, 1 tsp grated ginger, 1 tsp chilli oil (optional), 2 tbsp honey and 1 tsp hoisin sauce.
  • Add the sauce to a pan on a medium heat.  Add 1 tsp cornflour mixed with cold water to the sauce to thicken the sauce.  Cook until the sauce has thickened.  
  • Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions. Drain and then add to the sauce together with the cooked chicken.  Mix to fully coat the chicken and noodles with the delicious sauce.
  • If your children will eat them, garnish them with some sesame seeds and chopped spring onions.

“Peppered Steak” Chicken Meatballs

Who here loves peppered steak?  We absolutely love it but it’s not something which is practical for a school lunch is it?  So, we’ve come up with “peppered steak” meatballs.

Ingredients

  • 450g chicken mince
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp worcestershire sauce
  • 25g hard edam cheese (you can also use parmesan if preferred)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • ½ cup dried breadcrumbs
  • 2 large tins of Nestles cream
  • 1 shot glass of Brandy
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions

  • Mix together the minced chicken, egg, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, cheese, garlic, spices and breadcrumbs in a large bowl.  Season with salt and pepper.
  • Make the meatballs into 1” balls.
  • Place in a casserole dish and bake in the oven at 200℃ for 20 minutes.  When done, the internal temperature of the meatballs should be 74℃ .
  • Make the sauce on the hob by heating a shot glass of brandy.  Remove the alcohol by setting it alight.  Then add the Nestles cream and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.  You can also add whole peppercorns if desired.
  • Cover the meatballs with the sauce and serve as they come or with some rice.

Mac and Cheese

This mac and cheese is yummy just as it is or add some bacon bits for extra flavour. A quick and fuss free school lunch idea.

Instructions

  • Heat the oven to 180℃.
  • Cook pasta according to the packet instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water.
  • In a large bowl, mix together the milk, eggs, and half the Cheddar cheese and all the butter—season to your liking.
  • Add half of the pasta to a baking dish and top with 1.5 cups of Monterey Jack cheese. Add the remaining pasta on the top, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Add the remaining cheese to the top of the pasta and grill slightly for around 3 minutes.  Be careful as the cheese can burn quickly.
  • Allow to set for around 15 minutes before serving.

Chinese Egg Fried Rice

This recipe has some veggies in it but feel free to omit them if you have picky eaters.  

Instructions

  • Peel and devein the prawns and season with some salt and pepper.  Check out Jamie Oliver’s tips for deveining prawns.  
  • Start cooking the rice according to the package instructions.
  • Crack the eggs into a bowl, season with salt and pepper and whisk.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a wok or pan on a medium to high heat.  Cook the prawns for a few seconds before adding the garlic and cooking for a further 2 minutes. Set aside.
  • Add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil and the whisked eggs to the wok.  Once the egg sets and starts to cook, scramble them by stirring with a wooden spoon.  Add the scrambled egg to the prawns and mix.
  • Next, add the chopped onions to the wok with the remaining vegetable oil.  Cook for around a minute before adding the chopped carrots and frozen peas.  Cook for a further 2 minutes or until cooked through.
  • Make the sauce by mixing the oyster sauce, soy sauce and sesame oil.  Add salt and black pepper to taste.  It may be salty enough as soy sauce is very salty.
  • Drain the cooked rice and add to the wok together with the sauce.  Cook on a high heat for 2-3 minutes until the sauce dries out.  Add the prawn egg and veg back to the wok and cook together with the rice for a further minute, tossing well to ensure everything is well combined.
  • Serve with finely sliced spring onions if desired.

Hot Dogs

It seems like an insult to your intelligence to even tell you how to make hot dogs but here we go.  Heat a frying pan over a medium heat.  Add a little water (just enough to cover the bottom of the frying pan.  Add the sausages and cook until the water has evaporated. Cook a little longer if you prefer your hot dogs slightly browned.

Once ready just add to their thermos flask.  I cut the hot dog bun, wrap it in foil and the boys make up the dog themselves at school.  Add sauces in a small tub if they like ketchup or mustard with their hot dogs.

Shepherd’s Pie

  The ultimate comfort food.

Instructions

  • Finely chop the onions and carrots.
  • Heat up the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat.  Soften the onions for a minute and then add the carrots and cook with the onions for around 5 minutes.  If your kids don’t like vegetables, set them to one side to blend with the stock later.  If they do then carry on as follows.
  • Turn up the heat and cook the minced lamb.  Draining any excess fat released whilst cooking.
  • Add the tomato puree and Worcestershire sauce and cook for a few minutes.
  • If your kids are like my Jamie and don’t like veg, hide them by blending into the beef stock.
  • Cover the lamb with the beef stock and bring to the boil.  Cover and cook for 20 minutes.  Uncover and cook for a further 20 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven 180℃ whilst you boil the potatoes (previously cut into chunks) in slightly salted water.
  • Mash the potatoes with the butter and milk.
  • Place the mince in an oven proof casserole dish and top with the mashed potatoes.  Cook for around 20-25 minutes.

If your children like their pie cheesy, add some grated cheese over the top of the mashed potatoes during the final 5 minutes of cooking time.

Greek Meatballs

A sticky honey and white wine sauce together with the feta cheese in the meatballs make these the ultimate lunch for any occasion, let alone school.  Check out our recipe here.

Lasagne

This is the most basic lasagne recipe we could come up with.  When we make a lasagne for an Italian-themed party it will be way richer than this.  But, this recipe is perfect for fussy eaters.

Instructions

  • Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan.  Fry the onions until starting to soften, add the garlic cloves and cook for a further 1-2 minutes.
  • Add the meat and cook until browned through completely.
  • Add the tomatoes, dry red wine, tomato paste and salt and pepper.  Taste the sauce and, if the tomatoes taste too sharp, add a little sugar.  Cook for half an hour, stirring occasionally.
  • To make the cheese sauce add the butter to a large saucepan and then gradually mix in the flour.  
  • Add a cup of the milk into the butter and flour mix.  Whisk to remove any lumps before adding the remaining milk and bay leaves.
  • Turn up the heat to medium and allow the sauce to thicken over 5-8 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and remove the bay leaves.  Add the Parmesan, nutmeg, salt and pepper and mix until the cheese melts.  If the sauce is too thick add a little splash of milk.
  • Preheat the oven to 180℃.
  • Add a thick layer of meat sauce to an ovenproof dish. Cover with lasagne sheets. Top with a fourth of the ragu sauce and then a fourth of the cheese sauce.  Repeat the process another three times, finishing off with the grated mozzarella.
  • Bake for 25 minutes.  Leave to stand for at least 15 minutes before serving (although it will taste even better the next day!)

Chicken and Chorizo Paella

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 50ml crushed tomatoes (tomate frito)
  • 1 green pepper
  • 200g rice ( I use SOS)
  • 12 chicken thighs
  • 6  chorizo rings
  • 600ml water
  • 2 bay leaves 
  • Pinch of saffron
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

Instructions

  • Heat the oil on a medium heat in a deep saucepan.
  • Add the chopped onion, crushed garlic and chopped green pepper.  (Remember to cut the peppers in large chunks if you have picky eaters).  Cook for a few minutes until the veg starts to soften.
  • Chop the chorizo rings into bite-sized pieces and cook for a few minutes.
  • Transfer everything to a bowl whilst you brown the chicken pieces in the same saucepan.  Once browned, return all the other ingredients to the saucepan.
  • Add the tomatoes and saffron and stir well.
  • Add the water,  bay leaves, salt and pepper and bring to the boil.
  • Once the water is boiling, add the chicken and reduce the heat to a simmer.  Cook for 30 minutes.8. Next, add the rice and cook for 15-20 minutes (until tender).

Sausage Pasta Bake

Sausage pasta bake is one of my boys’ favourite school lunches.  We love this recipe by Jamie Oliver.

Cheesy Chicken and Bacon Potato Melt

Add cheese and bacon to a dish and it’s likely to be a success with the kids, right?  Try this dish by Everyday Made Fresh.  We are sure it will become a favourite.

Chicken Curry Meatballs

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 200℃.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper to prevent the meatballs sticking to the pan and to ease cleaning up.
  • In a large bowl mix together the minced chicken, dried breadcrumbs, egg, curry powder, 2 crushed garlic cloves and 2 tablespoons of coriander.  Season with salt and pepper.
  • Form the meatballs into 1” balls and place on the baking sheet.   Drizzle with a little olive oil.
  • Bake for 10 minutes, turn and bake for a further 5-10 minutes.  During the second 10 minutes of baking it’s time to make the sauce.  Add the curry paste, soy sauce and crushed garlic clove to a pan.  Cook for a minute until fragrant.  Add the coconut milk and cook on a low to medium heat for around 10 minutes until the sauce starts to thicken.
  • When  the meatballs have browned and have an internal temperature of around 77℃ remove from the heat and add to the curry sauce. Serve with boiled rice.

Spaghetti Bolognese

The ultimate classic!  We love this version by BBC Good Food but we omit the celery (we just don’t like the flavour) and I also need to blend the carrots and tomatoes into the sauce (fussy kid remember ?)

Orange Chicken and Rice

Orange chicken became a family favourite during a holiday to Disney some years back.  This recipe reminds us of the Panda Express version we had on holiday.

Instructions

  • Cut the chicken breast into ½ inch cubes.
  • Mix the egg white, salt and sugar in a bowl.  Add the diced chicken to the mix and stir to coat the chicken well with the mix.
  • To make the sauce, mix the water, ketchup, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, 1tbp + 1tsp cornflour and the sesame oil in a bowl.
  • Place a saucepan on a high heat.  Once it is hot, add 2 tbsp of vegetable oil and add the orange zest and spring onions.  Cook for 20-30 seconds taking care that the orange zest and onions do not burn.
  • Add the sauce ingredients to the saucepan and cook for 12-15 minutes on a medium heat until the sauce has thickened.  
  • Heat the 4 cups of vegetable oil in a deep fryer.  Whilst the oil is heating up, coat the chicken with 1 cup of cornflour.  The easiest way to do this is either in a freezer (zip lock) bag or in a Tupperware.  Make sure that the chicken is thoroughly coated with the cornflour.
  • Deep fry the chicken until golden brown.  Drain on top of a kitchen towel and then add to the pan with the sauce.  Heat through for 30-40 seconds to fully cover the chicken with the tangy orange sauce.
  • Serve with boiled rice.

Cheesy Chicken and Bacon Fettuccine

Instructions

  • Cut the bacon into small bite-sized pieces and cook over low heat until crispy.  Drain on a paper towel.
  • In the same pan, cook the garlic for a few seconds before adding a few splashes of the chicken stock (enough to cover the garlic) whilst the garlic continues to cook for 1-2 minutes..
  • Add the remaining chicken stock to the pan together with the tomato paste, seasonings, cream and pureed tomato. Bring to the boil whilst mixing well then add the cream cheese.  Partially cover the pan and let the sauce simmer whilst cooking the pasta in a separate pan.
  • Once the pasta is cooked, drain.

Chicken Korma

This healthy chicken korma by BBC Good Food makes a great lunch which the kids are sure to love

With 20 recipes you have a different and delicious warm meal for every school day for a whole month.  We hope that you find these recipes helpful in your back-to-school lunch planning.

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