I was one of those kids who was crazy jealous of classmates who got to bring Lunchables to school for their midday meal. My lunch was always super boring in comparison, although of course, now, I totally understand wanting your child's food to be... you know... actual food.
Everything changed for me lunch-wise when my mom went away once and my dad packed my lunch. He made a turkey sandwich (with lettuce) on a croissant, and it was game over. I was obsessed. I was in love. I was happy. And I didn't really care about Lunchables anymore because I had discovered my new favorite lunch.
It's not really that special or exciting (and I wouldn't really jump for joy at eating it now), but that's why lunches for kids can be confusing and complicated. Moms rack their brains to come up with great ideas, and then, the lunchboxes come back totally full. No one wants that, and it just causes tons of stress.
It's time to look at what kids will happily eat during the school day and what they would never touch. Here are 10 midday meals kids will actually eat, along with 10 that they'll definitely leave in the lunchbox.
20 They'll Eat: Homemade Lunchables
'90s kids will absolutely remember Lunchables. What a beauty they were. You either were allowed to bring them to school and therefore were the envy of your classmates or your mom packed you something else instead (groan).
Why not make your kids some Healthy Homemade Lunchables? This cool recipe from Don't Waste The Crumbs includes a starch (this could be corn chips or any of their homemade recipes for whole grain crackers or pretzels), a protein (ham, hot dogs, sliced cheese), and fruit and vegetables (oranges, cherry tomatoes, carrots, and so on). Kids will have so much fun eating this meal, and the lunchbox will come back totally clean and empty (yay).
19 They Won't: Kale Chips
Kale chips are trendy, and many of us have eaten them and loved them. Moms might think that sure, kale chips are a great thing to put in a kid's lunch box. They're crunchy and like chips, right? Won't children eat them?
No, they definitely won't. A kid will pick up a kale chip and think, "This is weird and green and gross and not a chip." They're going to be sad that they don't have regular old potato chips, and that's all that there is to it. When it comes to something that moms should never put in their kid's lunch box (unless they're cool with it still being in the box when they get home), it's kale chips.
18 They'll Eat: Turkey Sandwich With Goat Cheese And Jam
The Weary Chef has totally saved moms' butts with this recipe for a Turkey Sandwich with Goat Cheese and Jam. When you're just not sure how to spice up a typical sandwich, make this.
Kids enjoy eating turkey, and sandwiches are usually a pretty safe bet as far as kid lunches go. The reason why this recipe is so kid-friendly is definitely the goat cheese and jam. They'll add a sweet and creamy dimension to the sandwich, and kids will absolutely love that. Kids won't only clean their plates (and lunchboxes) but will also definitely ask for this lunch again tomorrow (which is music to a mom's ears for sure).
17 They Won't: Anything With Tofu
Tofu is a no-go when it comes to a kid's lunch. You could make tofu pasta, tofu sandwiches, tofu wraps, tofu anything and everything, and kids will be super grossed out.
The funny thing is that there aren't even a lot of grownups who want to eat tofu, so it's a good idea to steer clear of this when making midday meals for kids. Sure, you might think that tofu is a healthy protein choice, and you're trying to avoid meat because you read somewhere that's better, but this is really not the way to go here. Kids will eat any other protein—turkey, ham, chicken—but never tofu.
16 They'll Eat: Ham, Avocado And Cheese Wrap
It basically goes without saying at this point that we're all pretty nuts about avocados, so we love the idea of putting this delightful creamy fruit (yes, it's actually a fruit) into a wrap.
This recipe elevates the classic ham and cheese sandwich into a wrap that also includes avocado. It doesn't get much better than that. Not only would Moms be happy to chow down on this wrap themselves, but they can also rest assured that kids will eat it. This wrap is going to be sweet and savory and perfect.
15 They Won't: A Veggie Sandwich
We can probably guess the problem with this lunchbox item, but we'll say it anyway: this is a sandwich with vegetables in it.
Kids would really rather not eat vegetables, especially not at lunchtime. The midday meal is the time when they get to kick back and relax and have a nice time with their friends. They don't want to have to open up their lunchbox and see a sandwich that's full of veggies. It would be a nightmare. This is even truer if there's pesto or some kind of spread on it. Moms can definitely save this idea for their own lunches because kids won't want to eat it.
14 They'll Eat: Pizza English Muffins
Did you ever make an English muffin into pizza as a kid? Of course, right? This was a really fun kitchen project, and the funny thing is that it's way more delicious than it seems like it would be.
Cheese, tomato sauce, an English muffin, and any toppings (olives, pepperoni, and any veggies that the kid who will be eating it can stand). It's a simple recipe, and this one's good since it involves the freezer and is handy. Moms can send these to school with their kid,s and the kids can eat them cold or the teacher can heat them up if there's a microwave in the classroom.
13 They Won't: Chicken Noodle Soup
Many parents might think that kids would be thrilled to chow down on some chicken noodle soup for lunch. It seems like a good idea since kids definitely love to eat this soup when they're sick, and as far as these hot liquid meals go, this is a safe bet in terms of a flavor combination.
Nope, kids are going to leave this in their lunchbox, too. The problem is that they won't want to eat soup when their friends are eating sandwiches (or perhaps something more fun like Lunchables... yup, those Lunchables always come back to haunt parents). They also might not want to eat something from a Thermos.
12 They'll Eat: Hot Dog Bento Lunch
We've said that kids love Lunchables, and we know that kids also love hot dogs. That's why they'll go crazy for this Hot Dog Bento Lunch recipe.
It has a pig in a blanket, cheese, fruit, and vegetables. As we can see, not only did this mom have the brilliant idea of putting these fun ingredients into a bento lunch box for her children, but she also made two different lunches for each of her children. If moms have more than one child, this is a great idea since they can ask their kid what they want in the box, and they can get involved. This is so fun we think that we want to take this for lunch.
11 They Won't: Chickpea Curry (Or Any Chickpea Dish)
Finally, we have another meal that kids will leave sitting in their lunchbox for their mom to find once they're home from a day of learning and playing: any dish that involves chickpeas.
Moms might think that chickpeas are a kid-friendly protein. They're soft, mushy, and easy to eat. But kids will hate chickpea curry thanks to the spice and will most likely complain about the texture of the chickpeas. And anything else that involves this bean will probably be off-putting to them. It's probably best to stick to sandwiches and mild-flavored pasta dishes if moms want their kids' lunchboxes to come back empty.
10 They'll Eat: Mac And Cheese
There's no reason not to send a kid to school with some leftover mac and cheese. Wouldn't this be a great idea? First of all, kids love mac and cheese and would probably eat it for any meal, and second of all, we've mentioned how children don't mind cold food.
Betty Crocker's recipe for Family-Favorite Macaroni and Cheese is a good one since it's got the classic combination of flavors that kids love. Brave moms can sneak in some vegetables or other add-ins, but other moms might just hope that their kid actually eats lunch, so they won't do that. Don't worry; kids will eat this up for sure.
9 They Won't: A Salad
It's easy to see why moms would pack a salad, especially a seemingly innocent salad such as lettuce and tomato and cucumber (with maybe some carrots thrown in) for their kids' lunch. Some kids do eat salad alongside dinner, and hey, it's always a good idea to get your children eating vegetables.
Salad isn't going to cut it as a lunch food, though. Kids are definitely going to leave this behind. So, if mom doesn't want to find soggy lettuce and tomato in the lunchbox when she picks her kid up from school, she should probably find another lunch idea.
8 They'll Eat: Baked Chicken Tenders
If we know one thing about the foods that kids enjoy eating, it's that they're super big on chicken fingers. Like it could be the only thing that they ever want to eat.
Rachel Ray's recipe for Baked Chicken Tenders would be an awesome thing to pack in a lunch box. Kids wouldn't mind eating them cold at all since many kids prefer colder food to hot (they can be super sensitive about textures and temperature, as moms know). This recipe is simple and delicious, with a coating made from flour, an egg, breadcrumbs, and milk. Pack some ketchup, and kids will be happy.
7 They Won't: Pesto Pasta
Pesto is delicious. It's savory and salty and will make any pasta dish amazing. Many of us go out of our way to eat it when we see it on a restaurant menu, and many of us even make it at home.
But kids won't eat it. Why? Because it's green and, therefore, makes pasta (or anything else that it's added to) look super slimy and gross. Moms might be thinking that pesto is an awesome flavor enhancer and will help kids eat pasta, but the opposite will actually happen, so it's best to keep this out of kids' lunchboxes.
6 They'll Eat: Quesadillas With Sweet Potato Instead Of Cheese
This recipe from Serious Eats is definitely something that kids will happily eat if their mom packs it for them in their lunch box.
First of all, these are cute-looking and bright orange, which is a fun color (and not offensive the way that green is). And second of all, this recipe just sounds plain delicious, and it's going to appeal to a child's palate. In fact, sweet potatoes can be considered a kid food since they're so sweet. This recipe will appeal to a kid who doesn't like cheese or has a dairy allergy (because we're sure there must be some kids who aren't big on cheese).
5 They Won't: Coleslaw
Coleslaw seems like a fairly inoffensive and innocent food. It's typically served as a barbecue side dish, and most of the time, it's got a sweet flavor (along with tons of mayo, which we may or may not like, depending on how we feel about this condiment).
Kids won't eat it, though. They just won't. They'll totally turn their noses up, think that it smells funny, say that it looks weird, and basically proclaim their general hatred for anything that has to do with mayo. Parents will want to give this side-dish staple a miss (but that's okay, as there will be more for any mayo-loving parent).
4 They'll Eat: Caprese Shells With Mini Meatballs
Even though kids aren't going to jump for joy when they spot pesto-covered pasta in their lunchbox, they're not against eating pasta for their midday meal. Actually, they would love it because, as we all can agree, pasta is pretty magical.
This great recipe from How Sweet Eats has got meatballs made from ground beef, cheese, panko breadcrumbs, herbs, and some other things, plus whole wheat pasta shells, diced tomatoes, cheese, and a few other delicious ingredients. Kids will be so thrilled to see this in their lunchbox, and their friends will probably be super jealous (and their moms will be happy to have a great lunch idea that their kids will actually eat).
3 They Won't: Curried Chicken Salad
Here's where a grownup and a kid's palate will be totally opposite. We love curried chicken salad. It's delicious and spicy and flavorful and sometimes has grapes or raisins or apples, which is always fun. We would be happy to eat this for lunch anytime, and we can put this in a sandwich or wrap or eat it over some greens (or kale if we're that kind of person).
Kids, however, won't even look at curried chicken salad, let alone eat it, and it'll absolutely be left in the lunchbox. The problem is that it's super spicy and has too many different things in it.
2 They'll Eat: Flourless Banana Oat Protein Muffins
Muffins are often packed in a lunch box or a bag along with a sandwich and some fruit or carrot sticks. But instead of thinking of muffins as dessert, they could totally be the main event, at least if you make these Flourless Banana Oat Protein Muffins from Ambitious Kitchen.
Moms know that some kids can be super picky eaters, and it can be challenging to get them to eat different foods. If you're having an especially tough time finding lunch ideas for your kid, this recipe could help you out because it has healthy ingredients plus some protein. The recipe includes a scoop of vanilla-flavored protein powder, which sounds delicious. Children love both muffins and bananas, so these will be a great pick.
1 They Won't: Nicoise Salad
A Nicoise Salad is super sophisticated fare. Tuna, hard-boiled eggs, lettuce, tomato, and perhaps some other ingredients make up this popular lunch idea, but that doesn't mean that your kids are going to eat it.
Kids aren't interested in most, if not all salads, but they're especially going to shake their heads when offered a salad that involves both tuna and eggs. Those are really strong flavors for them. While some children won't mind eating eggs for breakfast, they probably would prefer a sandwich at lunch and don't want to see this popular protein at their midday meal and especially not in their cute little lunchbox.