We know it’s on your mind, right next to school supplies, carpools and new sneakers— lunch for the little ones. Get a kick start on the school year with 12 nutritious, and (dare we say?) adventurous meals that are anything but boring. From sandwich alternatives to looking at leftovers in a new way, the only thing these recipes need are little lunchtime love notes.

pizzapastasalad_schoollunch_backtoschool_national_redtriycle Photo: Momables

Pizza Pasta Salad
‘Za best school lunch ever! From Laura Fuentes, tossing our go-to pizza toppings with last night’s extra pasta is a quick and colorful way to spice up those brown bags. Let older kids mix in their own favorites and this one will quickly work it’s way into the weekly rotation. We’re not hiding the fact that we take this with us to the office too. Watch this video for step-by-step instructions.

superfoodmeatloafsliders_awesomelunch_backtoschool_national_redtricyclePhoto: Fit Foodie Finds

Superfood Meatloaf Sliders
With this recipe from Fit Foodie Finds, you won’t be hiding vegetables in the meatloaf, anymore. Kale, carrots, sweet potato and more come together with the mustard and, get this, almond butter sauce. Be sure to pack the sauce and buns separately so they last until noon. Warning: sending the kids packing with two or three for lunch may bring on urgent texts from neighborhood moms requesting the recipe.tacosaladbites_schoollunches_backtoschool_national_redtricycle

Photo: Must Have Mom

Taco Salad Bites
This isn’t the mystery meat-serving corporate lunch line of your youth.  This is a fresh take on tacos, and we know every last ingredient that goes into Must Have Mom’s recipe. Prep tip: Silicone cupcake liners keep the cheeses and meats separated for a true build-your-own feel!

almondbuttermango_schoollunches_backtoschool_national_redtricyclePhoto: Connoisseurus Veg

Almond Butter and Mango Sandwich
Can’t quite convince your picky eater to give up her PB & J? For a play on the traditional, we love this sophisticated and nutritious grilled sandwich from Connoisseurus Veg. While it’s crazy simple to make, it’s amazing to munch on, whether wrapped in foil or fresh off the griddle.

bbqranchchix_schoollunch__backtoschool_national_redtricyclePhoto: Taste and Tell 

BBQ Ranch Chicken Salad Sandwich
Grilling weather and picnic days may be close to over, but fortunately for us, Taste and Tell shares a way to pack up a few summer flavors for lunch. It’s super easy to make and can be prepped the night before. All that’s missing is the red and white checked tablecloth.

pizzabuns_schoolunch_backtoschool_national_redtricyclePhoto: Simple as That 

Pizza Buns
If you have a little eater who thinks pizza is magical (doesn’t everyone?), instead of sending foil triangles, surprise them with these cheesy buns. Simple As That breaks down the steps, and we’ll be taste testing very soon!

monochromelunch_schoollunch_backtoschool_national_redtriyclePhoto: The Mom 100

Monochrome Lunch
We promise, he isn’t the first kid to go through a stage where yellow foods just tasted … better. Corn, bell pepper, banana, talk about working around the quirks! Check kid-friendly lunch ideas, courtesy of The Mom 100, who currently has orange, yellow, and green lunches on her blog!

miniBLTwraps_schoollunch_backtoschool_national_redtricyclePhoto: The Girl Who Ate Everything

Mini BLT Wraps
These adorable bite-sized tubes are school-sized perfection. We love how easy they are to put together, and easier still to pack in a container for a filling and shareable lunch. Bonus: The Girl Who Ate Everything can accommodate whole wheat tortillas, hummus, sprout, sliced chicken, and whatever else you might have in the crisper drawer.

Photo: Weelicious

Cucumber and Cream Cheese Sammy
Blogger Catherine McCord always has simple yet delightful ideas to change up meals for our smallest and pickiest eaters. These sandwiches from Weelicious are a total hit, especially for warm August lunchtimes. Just make sure to stash a cold pack in those lunch bags so the cream cheese can stay cool all morning!

chickenandapplepanini_schoollunches_backtoschool_national_redtricyclePhoto: Pham Fatale


Chicken and Apple Panini
We put this recipe from Pham Fatale at the top of our grocery list (we’re that excited!). Even though there are a lot of ingredients, send them to school with one of these flavor-packed paninis and they’ll be drooling long before the lunch bell rings.

Crispy Nut-Free Chicken StripsPhoto: Lexi’s Clean Kitchen

Teacher, foodie, blogger, and supermom Lexi of Lexi’s Clean Kitchen is our hero. She created this paleo-friendly recipe with flaxseed, tapioca flour and a whole lot of flavor for lunchtime. Pack a little dipping sauce and handi-wipes for the best finger food lunch in the cafeteria.

How will you spice up their lunch box this year? Share with us in a Comment below.

— Stacy Liu