Back-to-school lunch box ideas that your kids will love

Tasty, cheap and simple-to-make alternatives to the Marmite sandwich.

It’s back to school for Kiwi kids and for parents that means a return to agonising over what to put in their school lunch boxes.

While some kids are happy to eat Marmite sandwiches every day, others like a bit of variety and the difficulty for parents is in coming up with new ideas for healthy lunch options that their kids will actually eat.

If your kids are already saying they can’t face another sandwich, and you’re wondering what you’re going to put in their lunch boxes instead, try these ideas:

Corn, spinach and bacon muffins

Corn, spinach and bacon muffins

Makes 6

  • 2 tsp vegetable oil

  • 3 bacon rashers, rind removed, finely chopped

  • 150g baby spinach leaves

  • 2 cups self-raising flour

  • 1 tsp baking powder

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 1 cup grated tasty cheese, plus 1/4 cup extra

  • 2 eggs, at room temperature

  • 3/4 cup milk

  • 125g butter, melted

  • 2x 125g cans corn kernels, rinsed

To make:

  • Preheat oven to 200°C/180°C fan-forced. Line a 6-hole (3/4-cup) texas muffin tray with paper cases.

  • Heat oil in a medium frying pan over moderate heat. Add bacon: cook stirring for 2 minutes or until browned. Drain on paper towels. Add spinach to pan; cook stirring and for 1-2 minutes or until spinach wilts. Remove from heat; cool slightly. Using hands, squeeze excess liquid from spinach; chop coarsely. Combine spinach and bacon in a medium bowl.

  • Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add cheese and bacon mixture. Make a well in the centre of mixture. Whisk eggs, milk and butter in a medium jug; pour into flour mixture. Using a large spoon, gently fold together until just combined.

  • Spoon mixture into prepared holes; sprinkle with extra tasty cheese and corn kernels. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted at centre comes out clean. Stand muffins in tray for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve.

Sticky chicken drumsticks

Sticky chicken drumsticks

  • 1/4 cup (60ml) honey

  • 1/4 cup (60ml) barbecue sauce

  • 1 tbsp teriyaki sauce

  • 8 small chicken drumsticks

To make:

  • Combine all ingredients in a shallow dish (or large snap-lock plastic bag); mix well. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

  • Preheat oven to 200C/180C fan-forced.

  • Place the drained chicken in a baking dish lined with baking paper; roast for about 45 minutes or until browned and cooked through. Turn halfway through cooking and brush occasionally with pan juices.

  • Store chicken next to an icy-cold drink bottle to keep it fresh in the lunchbox. Pack salad vegetables such as cucumber, tomato and celery in the lunchbox with the chicken.

Teriyaki beef rice paper rolls

Teriyaki beef rice paper rolls

You can substitute the beef with chicken, or tofu for a vegetarian option.

  • 500g beef rump steak, trimmed

  • 1/4 cup teriyaki sauce, plus extra to serve

  • 1 clove garlic, crushed

  • 12 rounds rice paper

  • bunch fresh mint, leaves picked

  • 1/4 pineapple, peeled, thinly sliced (or canned pineapple pieces)

  • 100g cooked, drained, chopped vermicelli noodles

To make:

  • In a small bowl combine beef, teriyaki sauce and garlic. Marinate 10 minutes.

  • Heat an oiled frying pan on high. Cook beef 3-4 minutes each side. Rest 5 minutes. Slice thinly.

  • Working with one rice paper at a time, dip into warm water to soften. Place on a clean tea towel. Arrange 2 mint leaves across paper, leaving 4cm on both sides. Top with 2 pineapple slices, 2 beef slices and ¼ cup noodles.

  • Fold over the edge facing you, then both sides. Roll up to enclose. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Serve with extra teriyaki sauce.

Nutritionists recommend that kids’ lunchboxes contain a source of protein to keep them full for longer, some carbohydrate to keep their energy levels up and raw fruit and veggies to meet their five-plus-a-day requirements.

Good sources of protein include meat, yoghurt, cheese, tofu, edamame, eggs, peanut butter, chickpeas and beans.

Good sources of carbohydrate include lentils, beans, popcorn, wholegrain bread, couscous, noodles, potato and kumara.

Cheesymite scrolls

Cheesymite scrolls

  • 2 cups self-raising flour

  • 30g butter, chopped

  • 3/4 cup grated tasty cheese

  • 1 cupmilk

  • 2 tbsp Marmite or Vegemite

To make:

  • Preheat oven to 200°C. Lightly grease an oven tray.

  • Sift flour into a bowl. Using fingertips, rub in butter, then stir in ¼ cup cheese.

  • Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture. Pour in milk, then using a bread and butter knife, mix quickly to a soft, sticky dough.

  • Turn out onto a lightly floured board. Knead gently, then press out to a rectangle about 5mm thick, long side facing you.

  • Using a spatula, spread Vegemite completely over dough. Sprinkle evenly with remaining cheese.

  • Roll dough up like a Swiss roll. Chop into 1.5cm slices. Arrange cut-side up on tray in a circle or other shape, slightly overlapping.

  • Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and base sounds hollow when tapped. Cool slightly before serving.

Chicken, bacon and pea slice

Chicken, bacon and pea slice

If you’re short on time you could substitute the filling ingredients with chopped ham and about three cups of frozen mixed veggies.

  • 4 rashers rindless bacon, chopped

  • 1 cup cooked chicken, shredded

  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed

  • 100g feta

  • 1/3 cup mint, chopped

  • 4 spring onions, finely sliced

  • 1 quantity frittata mixture (see below)

To make:

Frittata mixture

  • 6 eggs

  • 1/2 cup cream

  • 1/2 cup milk

  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan

  • Preheat oven to moderate, 180°C. Lightly grease and line a 20cm square cake pan or 20cm pie plate.

  • Whisk the frittata ingredients together, season and set aside.

  • Combine all of the other ingredients in a large bowl. Arrange half the combined ingredients in pan. Pour over frittata mixture. Top with remaining combined ingredients.

  • Bake for 35-40 minutes until just set and lightly golden on top.

Sushi slice

Sushi slice

The salmon could be substituted for tuna, cooked chicken or tofu.

  • 1 1/2 cups sushi rice

  • 1 1/2 cups water

  • 1/4 cup sushi vinegar

  • 3 sheets nori

  • 1 lebanese cucumber, thinly sliced

  • 210g can pink salmon, drained, flaked

To make:

  • Rinse rice in cold water until water runs clear. Drain. Place in a heavy-based saucepan with water. Bring to the boil, stirring. Reduce heat; cover. Simmer 12 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Remove from heat. Stand 5 minutes (don’t lift lid).

  • Drain rice. Spread in a baking dish. Drizzle sushi vinegar over hot rice. Using a flat spatula, slice through rice to distribute. Cover with a damp tea-towel. Cool.

  • Line a 30 x 20cm (base measurement) slice pan with plastic food wrap, extending plastic at sides. Cover base with 1 1/2 sheets of the nori. Using damp hands, press half the rice evenly over nori. Top with cucumber and salmon. Press remaining rice over salmon; level surface. Top with remaining nori. Cover with plastic food wrap. Chill 30 minutes or until firm. Cut to serve.

  • Sushi vinegar will be available in the Asian food aisle of your supermarket. Alternatively, you can make your own by combining 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon caster sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt, until dissolved.*

Easy mini bacon and egg pies

Easy mini bacon and egg pies

  • 12 bread slices, crusts removed, flattened with a rolling pin

  • 60g butter, melted

  • 6 bacon or ham slices, halved

  • 12 small eggs

  • 12 cherry tomatoes, quartered

  • 1/2 cup tasty cheese, grated

To make:

  • Preheat oven to moderate, 180°C.

  • Brush both sides of bread slices with butter. Press into recesses of a 12-hole muffin pan. Bake for 5-8 minutes to seal case and slightly colour.

  • Line bread cases with bacon. Break in an egg, then top with a quartered tomato and a sprinkling of cheese. Season.

  • Bake for 10-15 minutes until egg is cooked to your liking.

Other lunchbox ideas that parents swear by

  • Leftover fried rice

  • Leftover chicken and noodles

  • Cooked pasta with chopped up ham, grated cheese and cherry tomatoes

  • Mini pizzas

  • Pita pockets filled with mashed egg and ham / hummus, ham and salad / Marmite and cheese

Meatball and pasta salad

Meatball and pasta salad

  • 125g spiral pasta

  • 3 beef chevap (skinless sausages)

  • 2 tsp olive oil

  • 1/4 cup pesto

  • 100g cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered if large

  • 1/2 small red capsicum, seeded, chopped

To make:

  • Cook pasta in boiling water for 10-12 minutes until al dente. Drain and rinse under cold running water.

  • Meanwhile, break each sausage into 6 pieces, and roll into balls. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan. Cook the meatballs over medium heat tor 5 minutes, until brown and cooked through

  • Toss the pasta with pesto, and add the meatballs, tomatoes and capsicum.

If you have time you could make your own meatballs by combining mince with an egg, a handful of breadcrumbs and seasoning, then moulding into balls and frying off until cooked through.

Tuna sushi sandwiches

To prevent cut-up apple and pear from browning, dip in a bowl of water with salt added.

Tuna sushi sandwiches

  • 95g can tuna

  • 1/2 lebanese cucumber

  • 1/4 medium carrot

  • 4 slices wholegrain bread, crusts removed

  • 50g spreadable cream cheese

To make:

  • Drain and flake tuna. Deseed cucumber. Cut cucumber and carrot into matchsticks.

  • Using a rolling pin, flatten bread slices. Spread cream cheese over bread. Place tuna, cucumber and carrot in rows next to each other on the bread, leaving 1cm border along one edge.

  • Roll bread from opposite edge to enclose filling. Cut each roll into 3 rounds.

Pasta and corn frittatas

These can be made with leftover cooked pasta.

  • 3/4 cup cooked short pasta

  • 1/2 cup corn kernals (canned or from 1 corn cob)

  • 1 quantity frittata mixture (see below)

  • 1/4 cup basil pesto

  • Muffin/cupcake cases

Frittata mixture:

  • 6 eggs

  • 1/2 cup cream

  • 1/2 cup milk

  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan

To make:

  • Preheat oven to moderate, 180°C. Line a 12-hole muffin pan with paper patty cases.

  • In a bowl, whisk frittata ingredients together and season. Set aside.

  • Divide combined pasta and corn between each case. Pour in frittata mixture and top cases with a dollop of pesto.

  • Bake for 20-25 minutes until just set. Cool in pan for 5 minutes. Serve warm or cold.

For more inspiration, visit our sister site,

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