My daughter started preschool recently, and my first concern was: what the heck am I going to pack her for lunch?
She’s a bit of a picky eater (it started around age 2 – don’t get me started), and it’s hard enough to get her to eat a variety of foods at home. Preschool – and soon, Kindergarten and beyond – is a whole other story.
Packing her preschool lunches bento box-style (we love the Bentgo brand lunch boxes) has been a lifesaver. I’m excited to share 33 different bento box lunch ideas to help you pack quick, yummy lunches for picky eaters!
Also, at the very end, I have an FAQ section with more product links and bento box information. Don’t miss it!
1. Turkey Roll-Ups
I’m starting things off with one of our favorite – and easiest – bento box lunch ideas for kids.
Since we typically keep lunchmeat stocked in the fridge, lunchmeat roll-ups are a frequent lunch idea in our home. Layer turkey and sliced cheese onto a tortilla. Roll it up and slice into bite-sized circles.
If your toddler is more adventurous, you could try adding mashed avocado or some chopped spinach, but we keep things pretty plain around here.
We’ve made this several times, so I have a few different side ideas:
- Harvest Snaps baked pea snacks, grapes, cashews, and an Oreo
- Cherry tomatoes, mandarin oranges, roasted cinnamon almonds, and chocolate chips
- Avocado, strawberries, M&Ms, and Annie’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
2. Bagel Pizza
I’m a firm believer that you can turn anything into a pizza, and a bagel is no exception. If you’re worried your child won’t like this cold, just ask yourself: have you ever denied cold pizza?!
You can also make this simple recipe with an English muffin or even a tortilla.
I paired this with Annie’s Bunny Grahams (we love this brand), cashews, extra mini pepperonis, and berries.
3. Ham, Colby Jack, and Crackers (Lunchable)
Save yourself a ton of money by making your own Lunchable. This is definitely one of our most popular bento box ideas because we typically keep lunch meat and cheese stocked.
We’ve made this several times and have switched up the sides:
- Strawberries, mandarin oranges, cubed mozzarella cheese, and some chocolate chips
- Strawberry/canteloupe, mandarin oranges, cherry tomato/broccoli, and M&Ms
- Grapes, cherry tomatoes, chocolate-covered strawberry, and roasted cinnamon almonds
4. Noodles, Cubed Chicken, and Parmesan Cheese
It might seem odd to send your child to school with cold noodles, but pasta salad is a thing! I really simplified the concept of pasta salad to appeal to my picky eater.
Just cook and cool your noodles (any shape) and mix them with cubed chicken and a few sprinkles of parmesan cheese.
I paired this with cubed Colby jack cheese, mandarin oranges, raisins, and an Oreo.
5. Peanut Butter and Jelly
Another frequently made lunch in this house is a good, old-fashioned PB&J. It’s a kid favorite, and it’s actually what my daughter requested for her first day of school.
We make our own bread here (our bread maker makes it easy and hands-off), but sometimes, I switch up the bread. I had a leftover hoagie roll one time, so we did that and she loved it. One simple tweak can make an old favorite feel fresh and exciting.
This is another option I’ve made several times, so there are several different side variations:
- Sliced banana with candy eyes, pretzels, blueberries, and an Oreo
- Yogurt, kiwis/raspberries, and Annie’s chocolate chip cookies
- Mango, cherry tomatoes, Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies, and roasted cinnamon almonds
6. Quesadilla Triangles
All you need for quesadilla triangles is a tortilla and some shredded cheese. I added some diced-up turkey lunchmeat for added protein, but it could not be simpler. This is a lunch idea I like to make the night before (takes less than 10 minutes) so that it can cool in the fridge overnight.
I served this one with apples, Greek yogurt with candy eyes, cubed cheddar cheese, and chocolate chips.
While typically served hot, tortellini are yummy either hot or cold. Make tortellini for dinner and reserve a few for your toddler’s lunch the next day. Easy peasy!
My daughter likes to eat tortellini totally plain, so we packed it without sauce in the Bentgo lunchbox. But if your child likes it warm or with sauce (alfredo or marinara are perfect for this), I’d recommend packing it hot in the thermos compartment of the Omiebox bento box.
I paired the tortellini with veggie straws, berries, and a couple Oreos.
Here’s a super unique lunch and delicious idea: arancini!
We like to call arancini “rice balls,” but they’re really fried risotto balls. We bake them (instead of frying them), and we add a little square of mozzarella cheese in the middle. These are definitely the most time-consuming item to make on this entire list, but you can double or triple the batch and freeze them. Also, they’re seriously delicious.
We got the recipe for this in The Complete Baby and Toddler Cookbook, a must-have cookbook for baby purees through toddler foods by America’s Test Kitchen. The images in the ATK cookbooks for babies and toddlers are *chef’s kiss.*
I packed the arancini with more mozzarella cheese (because why not?!), carrot sticks, mandarin oranges, and some mini M&Ms.
9. Corn Dog Muffins
So, the largest compartment in this particular bento box was cubed cheese and crackers, but the unique part was really the little corn dog muffins!
These are so easy, and your kids can help make them. My favorite recipe is from the eMeals app.
10. Pigs in a Blanket
Grab some crescent roll dough and little smokies to make these simple pigs in a blanket.
I paired these with Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies, mango, cantaloupe, and chocolate chips.
11. Summer Couscous Salad
So, I will admit my daughter kind of picked at this one, but you can modify it to appeal to your picky eater. Next time, I may try to simplify it to just mozzarella, avocado, and cherry tomatoes.
Nevertheless, this summer couscous salad has couscous, cherry tomato, avocado, mozzarella pearls, basil, charred corn, olive oil, and balsamic glaze. It is SO delicious (thank you Cheyenne for the recipe!!), and it’s served cold, making it perfect for preschool lunch.
If your child isn’t so sure about the couscous, try to make it fun by calling them baby noodle balls. You never know.
We paired this with string cheese wrapped in ham, mango, cashews, and Annie’s Bunny Grahams.
12. Hard-Boiled Eggs
My 4-year-old won’t eat scrambled eggs, but hard-boiled eggs? Those are fine.
If your toddler is also a hard-boiled egg fan, it makes for a quick and easy bento box idea that’s rich in protein. I love making hard-boiled eggs in the Instant Pot using the 5-5-5 method, but a small egg cooker is also amazing as it doesn’t take up as much room in the dishwasher.
The sides I added were bell peppers, strawberries, and crackers with Nutella.
As a side note, there is zero chance my picky eater will eat bell pepper. However, I try to add one thing she doesn’t like on occasion to keep her exposed. Hopefully, over time, she’ll consider giving it a try as they aren’t completely foreign to her.
13. Firecracker Hot Dogs
Firecracker hot dogs are a cute 4th of July kid’s meal, but they also work well in a cold, packed lunch. You can prep these the night before if you don’t want to get up early. Plus, the ingredients are inexpensive and simple – hot dogs and refrigerated biscuit dough brushed with a beaten egg.
We got the recipe for this in My First Cookbook, which is an incredible cookbook for toddlers by America’s Test Kitchen.
We served this one with popcorn, strawberries, and green grapes.
14. Taco Bowl
The beauty of a taco bowl is most ingredients are cold anyway, and you can customize it to fit your toddler’s preferences. Rice, beans, avocado, tomato, corn, sour cream, shredded meat, tortillas, tortilla chips – pick and choose the taco ingredients your little one enjoys.
I always try to add a wildcard to help expand my daughter’s palette and at least offer some exposure to foods I know she doesn’t like right now.
15. Pizza Puff Pastry Pinwheels
These pizza-themed puff pastry pinwheels are fast to prep and taste delicious for the whole family.
You can buy puff pastry frozen, and it only takes 30 seconds to thaw in the microwave. You can whip up pinwheels pretty quickly, though it’s best to prep the “log” in advance so it has time to chill in the fridge before cutting and baking.
I followed the outline of this pinwheel recipe but swapped the filling for pizza sauce, pepperoni, and shredded cheese.
I paired the pizza pinwheels with veggie straws, Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies, and strawberries.
16. Hawaiian Roll Sandwiches
I have yet to meet someone who isn’t a diehard fan of Hawaiian rolls. These small, sweet rolls are the perfect size for a bento box, and you can add meat and cheese the night before for little to no prep in the morning.
Also, you can prep these for your spouse! Open the Hawaiian roll and layer cheese, meat, cheese. This keeps the bread from getting soggy. You can then freeze these and send your spouse to work with a few, straight from the freezer. By lunch, they will be thawed.
I’ve also experimented with adding mustard and mayo in the middle (not touching the bread), and it works as well! You cannot tell these were previously frozen. Highly recommend.
17. Pancakes with Peanut Butter
Breakfast for lunch, anyone? We love pancakes in our house because we cook up a double batch and freeze them. One morning of pancake flipping typically yields almost two weeks’ worth of pancakes. Add some peanut butter in a small container for dipping and extra protein.
18. Ham & Cheese Crescent Roll Pinwheels
Ham & cheese pinwheels are SO easy to make, it’s crazy. All you need is ham (or another type of lunchmeat), cheese, and crescent roll dough.
Take out the crescent roll dough from the can and lay it flat. Layer meat and cheese on top and roll the entire thing into a log. Cut the log into half-inch pinwheels. Lay flat on a sheet pan and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 14 minutes.
The kids (and my husband) absolutely love this one, and I love it because it only takes 2 minutes to prep.
I packed pretzels, green grapes, and M&Ms with this one.
19. Shredded Chicken
Sometimes, simple is best. If we have any leftover shredded chicken, I make that the main dish in my daughter’s bento box. I can always count on her eating shredded chicken, even when she’s feeling super picky!
A hard-boiled egg, cubed colby jack cheese, strawberries, grapes, and Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies rounded out this bento box.
20. Strawberry & Cream Cheese Roll-Ups
Roll-ups and pinwheels don’t always have to be savory! Try something new by slicing up strawberries and spreading cream cheese on the tortilla. You can also add walnuts or pecans if your toddler won’t pick them off like mine. I got this idea from an eMeals recipe.
I paired these tortilla roll-ups with cherry tomatoes, green grapes, cinnamon roasted almonds, and an Oreo.
21. Caprese Skewers
One of my all-time favorite foods is Caprese salad, and when you consider it, it’s pretty kid-friendly. Make it perfect for small hands by getting mozzarella pearls. You can also cut the cherry tomatoes in half if you’re concerned about potential choking hazards.
You can skip the basil and balsamic glaze if it’ll turn your toddler off to the whole thing. And the little skewers make it fun and add a bit of a novelty.
I paired the Caprese with strawberries, a star-shaped biscuit, and sweet potato chips.
22. Pizza Cupcakes
My preschooler is a pizza fanatic, so any variation on pizza is a home run here. These pizza cupcakes are really easy to put together, and the small size is great for the largest compartment in the kid’s Bentgo box.
I packed these pizza cupcakes with cinnamon roasted almonds, apple slices, carrot sticks, and some peanut butter in a sealable dip container. I was actually shocked when my daughter ate the carrot sticks by dipping them in peanut butter! Whatever works, right?
23. Baked Mac & Cheese Bites
My fun twist on arancini (see #8) is baked mac & cheese bites. Cook up your mac and cheese and let it fully cool in the fridge. Shape into balls and roll in a panko/parmesan cheese mixture. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 15-20 minutes, and you have a fun way to serve mac & cheese that’s just as delicious cold.
Note: my mac & cheese bites didn’t stay together that well, and after some research, it looks like you should coat the mac and cheese ball in egg wash, then roll in the breading. I’ll be doing that next time!
I also packed cherry tomatoes, pineapple, and Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies to round out this lunch.
24. Shredded Beef & Cheese
If you have some shredded beef leftovers – Italian beef is a favorite here – that can make a great bento box lunch. Add some cheese cubes and you can’t go wrong!
On this particular day, we had leftover smoked brisket. You could also add some BBQ sauce on the side for dipping!
25. Pizza Bierocks
You can make bierocks dough from scratch, but you can also use a can of refrigerated biscuit dough in a pinch. We honestly thought it was just as delicious using buttermilk biscuits from the can!
Take each biscuit and roll it out so it’s thin and big enough to be filled. Put shredded mozzarella, two pepperoni pieces, and a dollop of pizza sauce in the middle. Then, bring up each side of pizza dough over the filled center and pinch. You now have a pizza-filled biscuit! Even the pickiest of eaters love this recipe.
I used this bierocks recipe as a base but swapped out the filling.
We served this with cinnamon roasted almonds, blueberries, and Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies.
26. Nutella Strawberry Crepes
Another fun breakfast for lunch idea is Nutella strawberry crepes. You can put whatever filling your child likes inside – peanut butter and banana, jam, cream cheese, strawberries… the options are endless.
I like to make the crepe batter before bed, which only takes about 5 minutes. Then, in the morning, I can heat up my pan while I get my daughter ready for school. Crepes cook up in about 1 minute, and then you just need to spread on the Nutella and slice up some strawberries. I also like to dust powdered sugar on top.
I folded my crepe in half, in half again, and in half again. This fits well into my bento box compartment. Another option is rolling it and slicing it to fit.
I packed this with banana, goldfish, craisins, and fig newton bars.
27. Mac & Cheese
If you use the Omiebox bento box, it comes with a thermos bowl. Add hot or boiling water to the bowl while you prep the mac & cheese. When the food is done, pour out the hot water and add your mac & cheese.
It’ll stay warm until lunch! I also packed mixed berries and veggie straws, and this lunch was a slam dunk hit!
28. Hummus with Veggies and Crackers
Hummus with veggies and crackers might be one of the most classic bento box ideas out there. It’s also super simple and easy to prep in the morning.
I served the hummus in a little sealable dip container with carrots, celery, crackers, pretzels, and blueberries.
29. Popcorn Chicken with Ketchup
The Omiebox makes it easy to send your kiddo to school with a traditionally warm or hot lunch. Although, popcorn chicken is pretty good eaten hot, room temp, or a little cold!
I served the popcorn chicken with a dip container of ketchup, cherry tomatoes, blueberries, and baked lentil snacks.
30. Mini Egg Muffins
My daughter won’t touch eggs unless they’re hard-boiled, but my son is egg-obsessed. If your child will eat mini egg muffins, they are so easy to make and can be stored in the fridge for several days. We use this recipe (just eggs and cheese), but you can also sneak in veggies if your child will tolerate it.
I served the mini egg muffins with watermelon balls, baked red lentil snacks, goldfish, and chocolate chips.
31. Mini Meatballs
I love making grape jelly meatballs in the Instant Pot, especially for parties. They also make the perfect little lunch for kids. I added some ketchup on the side in a dip container to make it extra fun.
I put the meatballs, warm, into the Omiebox thermos bowl. I included cinnamon roasted almonds, avocado, and veggie straws with this one.
32. Mini Sliders
On the weekends, we often like to grill out with friends. If we have burgers leftover at the start of the week, I like to cut them into fun shapes for preschool lunch.
Just take a cookie cutter and make a fun mini slider! You can also make mini sliders using mini buns and tiny patties.
A little ketchup on the side in a dip container makes the lunch extra enticing, especially for toddlers.
We made this lunch during a break, so we served it with mac and cheese, which I would normally put in the Omiebox insulated bowl to keep it warm. We also added some mango and cherry tomatoes!
33. Waffles with Maple Syrup
Most waffle recipes call for separating egg whites from the yolks and whipping them… it’s a whole process. I was stoked to find this waffles recipe from Allrecipes that can be made in advance and stored (as batter) in the fridge for up to a week.
Make your batter whenever you have time and whip up waffles on demand! These also make a great breakfast for lunch. Just add some maple syrup in a sealable dip container on the side.
Bento Lunch Box FAQs
I know I had lots of questions as my daughter was getting ready for preschool. Here are some popular ones related to packing a bento-style lunch for your child.
If you’re new to the bento box, it’s a container designed to hold several components for your meal. Its roots are Japanese, and traditional bento boxes held a single serving of rice and several sides (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan). This concept is so genius that it has spun off into a whole culture of bento lunch box fanatics! One could even speculate that Lunchables are bento boxes… right?!
A bento box is awesome for picky eaters because you can include a variety of foods. We use the Bentgo kids lunch box, which has 5 compartments. I try to include things I know my daughter loves, things she sometimes will eat, and at least one food she typically rejects. This allows me to continue exposing her to different foods without worrying that she’ll go hungry. The ability to include a variety of foods is what makes bento boxes ideal for picky toddlers!
I highly recommend the brands Bentgo and Omiebox. I use the Bentgo Kids lunch boxes, which have 5 compartments portioned perfectly for ages 3-7. We also have the Bentgo Chill Kids lunch box, which has 4 compartments and comes with a freezer pack that nests under the food compartments. Finally, the Omiebox bento box is really nice as it has a thermos bowl, which allows you to send warm food with your child, like mac & cheese! If stainless steel is important to you, Bentgo has it as well. And if you want a personalized bento box, check out this option from Amazing Faith Designs. You don’t have to label this particular one, because it has your child’s name on it!
I keep my child’s Bentgo kid’s lunch box cold by using two small freezer packs in the bottom of her lunchbox. Bentgo sells them, but you could really use any regular freezer/ice packs you have on hand.
I wouldn’t recommend putting hot and cold food a Bentgo brand lunch box. You can cook components of the lunch, but try to cool it down before you add it to the Bentgo box. This will avoid condensation and potential fogginess. If you use the Omiebox, you can definitely put warm food in the thermos bowl!
Since the Bentgo box we use for our daughter has 5 compartments, we usually do a “main dish” like quesadilla triangles, meat and cheese rollups, or a sandwich in the largest compartment. You can reference dozens of different ideas earlier in this article. Then, we have fun filling the other smaller compartments with fruits, veggies, cheese, and whatever snacks we have in the fridge or pantry.
Good sides for a bento box include fruit, dried fruit, veggies, nuts, seeds, dairy, lunch meat, popcorn, Annie’s brand snacks, crackers, pretzels, granola bars, and a dessert.
Check with your preschool, but in our case, we need to pack a lunch and two snacks, and there isn’t access to a microwave, so everything needs to be cold. If we have a hot component, we use the Omiebox bento box. For all cold lunches, we use a Bentgo lunchbox as well as small Bentgo ice packs. I layer two of the thin ice packs in the bottom of the lunchbox. Then, I add the Bentgo box and our two snacks on top. Don’t forget to pack a fork and spoon!
You can pack any cold foods in a lunchbox as long as you add an ice pack or two. That will keep things cool until lunch! Check out all the options earlier in this article for cold lunch ideas.
Packing preschool lunches for picky eaters doesn’t have to be time-consuming or stressful. Let’s be real: you can probably make several items from this list using items you have in your fridge and pantry right now!
Let me know in the comments: what’s your go-to bento box lunch idea?