9 trendy packed lunch inspirations for school and work

kids eating lunch together

Lou Sanz

Posted January 28, 2020


Gone are the days of a peanut butter sandwich and bottle of water. As kids head back to school and adults return to the workplace, jazz up the next lunch you pack.

Whether you're brown-bagging or lunch-boxing it, parents are always on the lookout for easy, affordable, and healthy-packed lunch ideas for both their children and themselves.

From schoolyards to corner offices, we've got nine lunch ideas that'll keep your kids happy and healthy, and offering adults a bit of excitement come your midday break.


Inspiration for a packed lunch
 

Sandwiches

The good old-fashioned sandwich is a great addition to a balanced and nutritious lunch - especially when utilising the amazing variety of bread to suit your needs (such as low-carb, gluten-free or paleo, to name a few.)

While you might be tempted to go with a standard vegemite and white bread combo (a favourite for a reason), why not take advantage of the diversity of the lunchbox and make it your own?

  • Rolls - you could go exotic with bánh mi, Italian deli-inspired, or even the super-fancy lobster roll. This roast chicken sandwich from RACV City Club Executive Chef Jason Camillo is always a crowd pleaser. 
  • Wraps – can be made, wrapped, and packed, or just pack the components and assemble on the go.
  • Low carb – most independent grocers and supermarket chains now sell low carb bread and wrap options, leaving you to focus on the most important thing - the filling. 
  • Subs - fill a long roll with a mix of protein and veggie options, and add a homemade dipping sauce to accompany for an extra ‘wow’ factor.
  • Toasties and quesadillas - make at home and toast at work to be the envy of the office.
  • Remember to bring your salad/veggies with you to put in just before you tuck in, that way, the bread doesn't get soggy. Pack them next to a cold drink in the lunchbox to keep them freshest.

Leftovers

Waste not, want not.

Made extra? Full up? Or simply just good planning - portion out your dinner leftovers from meals like curries, rice, casseroles, and this easy sausage roll recipe, and bring them in for lunch the next day. It's also a great way to save money at the checkout counter. 

Remember, leftovers don't mean a re-run of the night before - why not repurpose them? Leftovers from that family Sunday roast? Make your own roast sub, with crispy bread and gravy for dipping, or use those spiral noodles into a fresh pasta salad for a kid's summer lunch the next day. 

Meze-inspired

A little bit of everything - this appeals to everyone – so make it bespoke for kids or adults alike. Add some dolmades, falafel, hummus, carrot-sticks, roast eggplant, tabouleh or yoghurt in a multi-compartment lunch box to give yourself or your loved ones a delicious combination of flavours and a visual feast. Chop some mint, or make your own pesto and drizzle olive oil over the yoghurt for an extra 'zing'.

Soup and salad

A staple for the busy office - you just need a microwave. Soup can be meal-prepped in bulk and portioned off for freezing - good for winter, and the salad makes it fun healthy and allows you to mix it up, ensuring your tastebuds never get bored.

Making soup is easy with the right recipe and homegrown herbs – you don’t need to subject yourself to tinned soup.

Bowls, boxes and bentos

  • Poké bowls – poké translated from Hawaiian means ‘sliced’. Start with your chosen base, anything like rice, quinoa, or lentils, then add sliced vegetables, protein, and dressing. Mix and match as you wish.
  • Tupperware – whether you are transporting last night’s casserole or a salad, Tupperware containers are the modern-age lunch boxes. Now coming in all shapes and sizes, consider one of these to help the environment, before buying another $2 plastic box that is destined to leak. A Thermos is also a good idea for school, though probably best for older kids.
  • Bento boxes – one for those obsessed with Marie Kondo and being organised, traditional Japanese or mixed bento boxes are great space-savers. Pickled veggies or kimchi are always a great addition to any bento.

 

kids bento box with koala cut out sandwich

You can have fun with your bento boxes with a fun sandwich animal every day! Image: Getty. 


High protein

Watching those macros? Looking for lean gains? Don't have time to meal prep? Protein-rich foods like tuna, nuts, protein balls and jerky can be great additions to your desk-draw, lunch box, or work fridge. Keep ingredients on hand to throw together a high-protein lunch without resorting to buying lunch every day.

 

Vegan

Carrots and hummus are excellent, but you can mix up your vegan game with items like tofu, homemade laksa and Mexican bean salad.

You can also choose to keep it simple - quinoa dotted with finely chopped roasted vegetables is great on its own, with extras like baked tofu or a fresh, healthy zoodle salad.

Feel free to go fancy and finely chop or spiralise your chosen veggies, then dress with soy, rice vinegar, or miso dressing. Add a bit of mint or our samphire and warrigal greens pesto before serving for a refreshing note.

 

Snacks

Snacks are a must for busy and active kids to help get them through the school day. Fruit is a good option, but there are plenty of nutritious and easy-to-pack snacks you can also add for variety, including acheese sticks, popcorn, cabanossi slices, dolmades, bite-size frittata squares and baby veggies.

Treats

As the Cookie Monster now says, “Cookies are a sometimes-food”. 

Sometimes foods such as dark chocolate, nuts, banana or apple bread and oat cookies, are all great semi-healthy snacks. 

Consider making your own fruit wraps at home, something the whole family can get involved with - adding loads of fun.

However, every now and then, it's okay to indulge a little. Check out this award-winning chocolate chip cookie recipe to add as your Friday treat.