It’s already August! That means that summer will soon be coming to an end and it will be time for the little ones to shuffle off to school again.
Will you be packing lunches for a kid who doesn’t like sandwiches this school year?
Do you often find yourself standing in your kitchen late at night/early in the morning trying to come up with something, anything to put in their lunch box because you can’t just whip up a PB&J or a turkey and cheese and expect it to be eaten?
Yep. Me too! And that’s why I can’t believe it has taken me this long to put a list together of non-sandwich lunch ideas.
Keep in mind that some of the ideas I’ve listed aren’t complete lunches. Just ideas for sandwich replacements – the main part of lunch. You may need to add a little protein or some fresh fruits and veggies on the side to make lunch complete.
With over 125 ideas for sandwich replacements listed below, there’s sure to be something here for everyone.
Sandwich Bread Alternatives – These are fundamentally still sandwiches, in that you have a filing of some sort between two pieces of something else. However, my daughter will usually eat everything on this list when used as a stand-in for sliced bread so it may be worth giving one of these options a try.
Hot Dog Bun – Cam’s favorite way to eat a BLT
Croissant – These are great sliced and used like sandwich bread or rolled up around a filling and baked.
Naan or Pita Bread
Cinnamon Raisin Bread – Great with nut butter and thinly sliced apple or pear.
Crackers – Make your own Lunchables by adding meat and cheese.
Lavash – I love this stuff. Can be used as is or seasoned and baked until crisp like a cracker.
Sliced Apple – Core and fill with nut butter and raisins or lunch meat and cheese.
Skewer or Fun Food Pick – Don’t underestimate the appeal of food on a stick for kids. If you’re worried about your child poking their eye out or impaling the kid next to him/her, use a chopstick, popsicle stick, or pretzel stick.
Hot Lunch – If your kids prefer a hot lunch but you’re not crazy about the lunch options offered at school, a thermos is the way to go. We love using our thermos but it can be a challenge sometimes to think of different things to fill it with. A suggestion for making things a little easier on yourself is to make a large portion of any one of these items over the weekend or when you have time, store it in an air tight container in the fridge and then just add it to your warmed thermos in the morning. Just a few minutes of prep before school and you’re out the door! Here are a few ideas for kids who prefer a hot lunch.
Macaroni & Cheese
Soup / Stew / Chowder – You can find some of our favorite soups here and Cam’s favorite soup here.
Pot Pie – This is how we do pot pie.
Stuffed Peppers – This recipe for unstuffed peppers would be perfect here. We’ve tried it and it’s delicious.
Fish Sticks / Nuggets
Teriyaki / Honey Glazed Chicken & Rice
Swedish Meatballs – Egg noodles or mashed potatoes would go perfectly with these.
Meatballs in Marinara Sauce – Pack up a bun and some shredded cheese in a separate container for make-your-own meatball subs!
Stir Fry / Fried Rice
Sloppy Joes – Pack a bun separately or fill the bottom of the thermos with rice and put the Sloppy Joe filling on top. Much easier to eat than a regular Sloppy Joe.
Baked Potato – With your child’s favorite toppings.
Hand Pies / DIY Hot Pockets – Small pies made from puff pastry, pie, pizza, or biscuit dough and filled with pretty much anything.
Chicken & Yellow Rice
Fajitas – Add cooked ingredients (chicken or steak strips, sliced onions, and bell peppers) to a thermos, and pack tortillas separately. Your kids can build their own fajitas at lunch.
Mini Meatloaf – Bake the meatloaf in a muffin tin for easy to pack individual servings. Serve on top of mashed potatoes in the thermos.
Leftovers – Just toss in whatever you had for dinner the night before.
Salads – I know that not every kid gets excited over iceberg lettuce and sliced tomatoes so I’ve included lots of different kinds of salads here so that there’s something for everyone. Just pack up some of your child’s favorite dressing in a spill proof container so they can top their salad as they please at lunch time.
Fruit or Veggie Salad
Strawberry Spinach Salad – Top spinach leaves with fresh strawberries, blueberries, mandarin oranges, and almonds or walnuts.
Pasta Salad – Couscous is a great option here.
Tuna, Ham, Egg, Shrimp, or Chicken salad – These salads could be used to top a green salad, as part of a wrap, or served with a side of crackers.
Caprese Salad – One of my favorite summer lunches! I like to make this into a sandwich on a crusty baguette. I make a balsamic reduction by boiling 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar with 2 Tbsp brown sugar over medium heat for about 6-7 minutes until it thickens. Then I fill the baguette with sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, a little basil, and a drizzle of the balsamic reduction. So so good!
BLT Salad – Spinach, bacon, tomato, and croutons.
Sweet & Crunchy Arugula Salad – Arugula, green apple or pear, cranberries, blue cheese, and walnuts.
Roasted Corn Salad – Roasted corn, tomatoes, roasted red bell pepper, finely diced red onion, avocado, honey lime dressing: Mix the juice of one lime with 1/4 cup of honey, add salt and pepper to taste, and pour over the salad.
Chinese Chicken Salad
Barley, Bulgar Wheat, Farro, Quinoa, or Brown Rice Salad – Possible mix-ins include dried fruit, thinly sliced fennel or celery for crunch, toasted nuts, seeds, herbs, vegetables, really anything goes here.
Nicoise Salad – You could use salmon or chicken instead of tuna if your kiddo doesn’t like it.
Panzanella Salad – A salad that’s mostly bread! Yes please.
Cold Noodle Salad – Rice or soba noodles, cabbage, thinly sliced bell peppers, shredded carrot, and basil with a peanut dressing.
Cornbread Salad – Layers of cornbread, black-eyed peas, bell pepper, corn, sweet onion, and shredded cheddar usually topped with sour cream or ranch dressing, and salsa.
Pasta – Pasta is a given because it’s fast and easy to prepare, most kids love it, and the possibilities are endless. Just start with whatever pasta you have and then toss in whatever your kids like or use one of the combinations below. To keep things gluten-free, you could substitute zucchini noodles, shredded spaghetti squash, or even cauliflower rice.
Parmesan and butter – Perfect with angel hair pasta and pretty much universally adored by kids.
Roasted spring vegetables
Shrimp and lemon – Great with orzo.
Peas and carrots – Ditalini, star-shaped pasta, or any other small pasta would work nicely here.
Pesto, chicken, fresh mozzarella, and sun-dried tomatoes
White beans and roasted fall vegetables
Heirloom tomatoes and artichokes
Kalamata olives, cucumbers, tomato, feta, roasted chicken, parsley, and a little lemon juice
Roasted tomatoes, sausage, and basil
Chicken – We all seem to have leftover chicken in some form or fashion in our refrigerators from time to time. Here are some ideas to help you use up that chicken (or any other leftover meat you might have) to make delicious lunches. Just pair that leftover meat with any of the following combinations below.
A biscuit or a roll and fresh fruit or veggies
Couscous with veggies and cheese
Rice with mixed veggies
Mashed potatoes or pasta
White rice, diced avocado, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice
Barley, farro, or brown rice
Roasted asparagus and/or potatoes
Roasted bell peppers and pineapple
A big salad
In a wrap with sauce or dressing for dipping
Pizza – A favorite among most kids. They never seem to get tired of it but if you’re looking for some new ways to pack it up for their lunches, hopefully one of these ideas will do the trick!
Pizza Roll-Ups made with bread dough, puff pastry, or croissants
Pizza Pasta – Just add their favorite pizza toppings to some cooked pasta and mix in a little pizza sauce.
Pizza Grilled Cheese – While technically still a sandwich, this is one my daughter will happily eat.
Pizza on a stick – Just skewer bite-sized pieces of pizza and veggies on a food pick or skewer.
Calzones or Stromboli
Pizzadillas – Half pizza, half quesadilla, all good. Just fill a tortilla with your child’s favorite pizza toppings, cook as you would a regular quesadilla and serve with pizza sauce for dipping.
Macaroni & Cheese Pizza – Oh yes. A new favorite at our house. Annie’s makes a really good one if you’d rather not make this one yourself.
Homemade Pizza Lunchables – Just send pita or any other flat bread along with pizza sauce, shredded cheese, and any other pizza toppings. Your kids can assemble their own pizzas at lunch time. If your kids don’t have long for lunch, send them already assembled, like I do.
Breakfast for lunch – Always a hit with my kids and a great option for kids who have really early lunch times. Any of these options would be great with ham, bacon, sausage, or hard-boiled eggs, and a big side of fresh fruit.
Pancakes, Waffles, or French Toast Sticks with syrup
Cinnamon Rolls – Can be served whole with icing on top or bite-sized with icing on the side for dipping. Not the healthiest option, I know, but this would be a nice treat when a special lunch is in order. Maybe for a birthday or as a reward for a good report card.
Muffins – Sweet or savory. If your little ones like corn dogs you can make them much easier to eat by baking cut up hot dogs inside of mini corn muffins.
Banana or Zucchini Bread
Scones – Mix fruit and chocolate chips or diced ham, cheese, and green onion into your dough mixture before you bake it for really tasty and filling scones.
Muffin Pan Frittatas – Like little omelets. Just spray a muffin pan with non stick spray and mix together 4 eggs, 1/4 cup half and half or milk, and salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into the muffin pan, add a spoonful or so of whatever mix-ins your child likes (cheese, meat, veggies) and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes until puffed up and golden brown.
Parfaits – Yogurt, fruit, granola
Oatmeal or Cream of Wheat in the thermos with mix-ins in a separate container
Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies
Homemade Granola Bars – Load them up with dried fruit, seeds, and nuts for a healthier alternative to prepackaged granola bars. Like these or these.
Cottage Cheese & Fruit
Fruit & Oatmeal Squares
Breakfast Hot Pocket – Fill pie dough or puff pastry with scrambled egg, cheese, and the breakfast meat of your choice. Seal the edges, brush with a little egg wash (beaten egg mixed with a tiny splash of water or milk) and bake until golden brown and crisp.
Smoothies – Three of our favorite smoothies can be found here. Dates make great natural sweeteners and oats are healthy tummy fillers!
Dips – Because dips are fun!
Regular or Avocado Hummus – With an assortment of veggie sticks and pita bread.
Tzatziki or Ranch Dressing – Carrots and celery are fine but ddon’t forget about green beans, asparagus, sugar snap peas, mushrooms, radishes, and zucchini too.
Fruit Salsa – Cinnamon pita chips are delicious with fruit salsa.
Nut Butter – With fruit and/or carrot sticks.
Greek Yogurt – Add a little flavor with PB, honey, and a sprinkle of cinnamon – Just add everything to taste and mix until well incorporated. Great with sliced apples.
Pea Pesto aka “Cheesy Peasy Bread Spread” – We love this stuff with veggie chips, bread sticks, or a sliced baguette.
Cocktail Sauce – A treat for kids who like shrimp.
Guacamole or Salsa – For dipping tortilla chips. Refried beans would be a good source of protein and also counts as a dip!
Spring Rolls – Just add thinly sliced raw veggies and chicken, shrimp, or pork to rice paper rolls and roll up. Pack up a favorite dipping sauce in a spill proof container and lunch is done. You could add mango, sprouts, greens, noodles, basil leaves, or anything else your heart desires. These are totally customizable.
Quesadillas – We all know how to make plain cheese quesadillas but I think we can do better than that. Here are some filling ideas that you may not have thought about.
Ham, cheese, and pineapple
Ham, bosc pear, muenster cheese – Try this on a croissant too, it’s delicious!
PB, banana, and honey
Biscoff spread and sliced apples – Biscoff spread on a warm tortilla is one of my favorite late night snacks.
Sliced strawberries, apples, or pears with hazelnut spread
Fruit or jam and cream cheese
Prosciutto, cheddar, and apple
Buffalo chicken, blue cheese dressing, monterey or pepper jack cheese
BBQ pork, shredded cheddar cheese, caramelized onions
Wraps & Roll-ups - Any of the following options below could be wrapped up in lettuce wraps, lavash, nori, rice paper, tortilla, pita, or any other flatbread. Just add a favorite dressing or dip in a separate container and maybe some chips or fresh fruit on the side and lunch is just about done!
Cream cheese and veggies
Nut butter, jelly or jam, and a banana
Shredded chicken and leafy greens
Turkey and Caesar Salad
Tomato, mozzarella, basil
Salami, cream cheese, spinach
Southwest Chicken Roll-Ups – Chicken, salsa, black beans, corn, cream cheese, and shredded cheddar cheese spread on a tortilla and rolled up.
Bacon Ranch Roll-Ups – Bacon, cream cheese, ranch seasoning mix, cheddar cheese, and a little green onion spread on a tortilla and rolled up.
Lunch meat, Laughing Cow cheese, thinly sliced cucumber or any other raw veg
Mashed white beans, avocado, grated carrot, sprouts, lettuce, and any other veggies your child likes
Thinly sliced cucumber spread with hummus and filled with thinly sliced turkey – This one is a roll in itself.
Thinly sliced ham or turkey spread with cream cheese wrapped around a pickle – A party favorite from my childhood.
Avocado & Veggie Sushi – Avocado, thinly sliced raw veggies, and sushi rice, all wrapped up tight in nori and sliced into bite-sized pieces. You could always make a deconstructed version of this by just layering the ingredients rather than rolling them up.
Lunch meat wrapped around string cheese
Prosciutto wrapped around sliced melon and/or apple slices – Brie or mozzarella would go really well with these.
Prosciutto wrapped dates – Fill the dates with a spreadable cheese you like and wrap away!
Pigs in a Blanket – Just pack their favorite dipping sauce in a little container so they can dip until their heart’s content at lunch time.
Choose Your Own Adventure Lunch - A box full of this and that. I usually just let the little one raid the kitchen and pack up random odds and ends of whatever she likes.
This style of lunch packing is my go to method when I can’t think of anything else. It’s a great way for me to clean out the fridge and pantry before my weekly trip to the grocery store or to use up some produce before it goes bad. It’s also Cam’s favorite way to eat lunch.
I made a lot of this kind of lunch over the last couple of years. You can see more examples of this style of lunch packing here, here, here and here. The options here are endless.
I hope this has given you guys some ideas for sandwich substitutions. This is an ongoing list so I’ll add things as I think of them and please feel free to comment with your favorite non-sandwich lunch ideas too and I’ll add those as well.