10+ Ideas for Fun Lunches with Kids

One of my favorite things about homeschooling is that I get to have lunch with my kids everyday. I love to chat about how we think the day is going and to hear their silly jokes. I don’t always eat with them (I’m sometimes feeding the baby or getting my dinner prep out of the way while we’re all in the kitchen) and I often just have a salad or smoothie myself, but I still love making lunch together an “anchor point” of our day. (See previous post about the importance of having anchor points throughout the day.)

It occurred to me that many parents are now not only facing the task of supervising their children’s education from home, but they also have to prepare lunches for their kids who are normally eating at school. So I thought I’d share some of our favorite lunches as a homeschooling family. Although I love to cook, I’ve loathed preparing lunch for a while and only recently started coming around. This has been my struggle: it’s a disruption to the flow of our day, I’m often about to hit the “early afternoon slump”, and usually I want to serve something quick. When I started to look at lunch as another valuable chance to connect with my kids and get creative in the kitchen, it became more fun. So I asked them what some of their favorite lunches are, and we came up with this list. Some of these ideas take a little more time and planning ahead, but when I have the time, they make lunch more fun. Hopefully you can glean an idea or two for yourself!

Favorite picnic/outdoor lunches:

  1. Baguettes with cheese and meat. I’ve never liked packing a picnic lunch, even though I do it all the time. Making 5 different sandwiches assembly-line style tended to get in the way of our morning routine and letting the kids make their own meant more clean up for me when we were trying to get out of the house. But the task became easier when I was turned on to the idea of simply packing a baguette, some cheese, and some deli meat and letting the kids break apart what they wanted when we eat. When I started doing this, my kids LOVED it and I appreciate the simplicity. Now it’s a lunch they request weekly. Personally, I make my own baguettes because I enjoy pushing myself in the kitchen (it’s a hobby of mine) and if that interests you, I use the Cook’s Illustrated recipe and make them a couple times a week. There are plenty of other recipes you can find online!
  2. Chicken salad wraps. Any kind of wrap or pocket, really. I’ve found that simply switching up the vessel in which I serve a “sandwich” makes lunch more interesting and appealing to my kids, and me! We love a good turkey wrap, ham wrap, or chicken salad wrap. If we’re at home, they make it themselves. I simply put out the ingredients and let them have at it. If we’re picnicking, wraps are SUPER portable which is perfect for exploring.

Favorite FUN lunches at home:

  1. HOMEMADE PIZZA! This is always a winner, and it’s easier to make than you might think. Pizza for lunch feels really special to my kids so I love to treat them to it. I make my own dough (recipe below)*, but the Pillsbury pizza crust is also tasty. A little sauce, a little cheese, throw it in the oven at 425* for 10 minutes and it’s done. Really fast lunch, and super fun! Here’s how we like to change it up…
    • Make-Your-Own-Pizza day! If we don’t have a lot on the schedule, this is a treat. We don’t do school on Fridays so it’s a good day for this if we don’t have a field trip planned or co-op (like, you know, now in quarantine world). They each get a little dough and spread toppings as they like.
    • Taco Pizza! This was an idea I stumbled upon sort of by accident about a year ago in an experiment and it instantly became a family favorite. Randy gets jealous when he hears the kids had it for lunch! To make it, I add a little taco seasoning (half a packet) to an 8 oz can of tomato sauce and use that for my “marinara.” I use the rest of the packet to flavor the beef or ground turkey as I cook it (about a 1/4 lb for one pizza). To assemble, I spread the sauce on the dough, top with Mexican cheese, and flavored meat. Bake at 425* for about 10 minutes. Once it comes out of the oven, I let it cool 2 minutes, then spread sour cream on top and sprinkle with lettuce and tomatoes and hot sauce. So good! If you don’t have taco seasoning, a combination of cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, and paprika will do!
    • Other Topping Ideas: sausage and broccoli, sausage and peppers, pepperoni, leftover BBQ chicken, bacon/spinach/fried eggs (My kids love fried eggs on everything! Whip up a pizza with wilted spinach, bacon or pancetta, and then crack a few eggs on top with 2 minutes left of bake time. The eggs will cook in the oven and leave a runny yolk. “Breakfast” pizza!)
    • **I started making sourdough at the beginning of the year and have discovered that sourdough pizza crust is delicious and a great way to use your discarded starter. Some people have been trying this bread during the pandemic, so if that’s you, consider giving this crust a try, too! I make it once a week. First thing in the morning, I’ll separate my starter so I can feed some for a new loaf of bread and turn the rest into pizza crust for our lunch. I’ve also found recipes for sourdough pretzels (kid FAVORITE), waffles, and other goodies that are very tasty. It is such a satisfying process for a home cook and baker!
  2. Cheeseburgers and hot dogs. As the weather warms up, this is a great lunch. Even though cheeseburgers are often supper food, they’re really quick to make and the kids think they’re getting something pretty special when it’s burgers for lunch! If I’m planning on making burgers for dinner one night, I’ll often make extra patties to serve for lunch later in the week. As someone who makes 21 meals for 7 people every week, I can attest that it’s perfectly fine to repeat favorites during the same week and the buying/prepping in bulk is so economical: saves a lot of time and money!
  3. Calzones. Ask my kids if they prefer pizza or calzones and they will say “calzones.” Ask them if they prefer taco pizza or calzones and they will say they don’t want to live in a world where they have to choose. I typically make a version of Ree Drummond’s easy calzones. It’s a good amount of work for a lunch, so they can easily be prepped the night before, or just make ’em for dinner, they reheat beautifully for lunch!

Favorite Ways to Use Leftovers

  1. Rice Bowls. For a family of 7, rice is a staple. Some dinner favorites around here include arroz con pollo, pork fried rice (any Asian rice dish, really), and risotto either as a side or a main dish. When I make rice for dinner, I always make a big batch so we have leftovers for lunch. I will take the leftover rice and fry it in a large saute pan with some frozen corn or peas (and maybe some ham if I have it and there isn’t already meat in the leftover rice), and fry eggs in another pan. Everyone gets a big bowl of the prepared rice and a fried egg or two on top. They love to use the runny yolk as a “sauce” in their rice. This is seriously a lunch my kids get excited about. I turn into the “BEST mom ever!” when this is on their placemats. And all I did was reheat dinner and fry some eggs…
  2. “Anything goes” pockets. Store bought pastry dough can turn any leftover dish into a fun “pocket” or “turnover” or whatever you want to call it. Here’s a go-to example we use:
    • Take leftover mashed potatoes and mix in a bowl with leftover ham (or turkey or chicken).
    • Add some frozen vegetables (peas or corn are what I use)
    • Add some shredded cheese and season with salt and pepper. Mix well.
    • Unfold the pastry dough and cut into squares. Fill each square with the potato mixture and brush with an egg wash to help seal in the shape of a triangle. Poke a few holes in the top of the pocket to allow steam to escape while baking.
    • Place stuffed “pockets” on a baking sheet and bake at 400* for 12-15 minutes, or until dough is golden brown and cooked all the way through. Let cool! The filling will be hot, so allow time to cool before serving. These are great dipped in ranch dressing or chutney.
  3. Leftover chicken can become chicken salad. Turn it into a wrap or serve it on a salad (this might be a more favorable lunch for Mom, but my oldest will have a salad like this any day).
  4. When I make a big batch of spaghetti sauce and meatballs, some meatballs and sauce can be reserved for meatball subs at lunch. That’s a rare and therefore special occurrence around here.
  5. Crockpot meals make excellent lunch re-heaters. Some of our favorites are slow-cooker barbeque pork for pulled pork sandwiches or tacos, pulled chicken, or even slow cooker pot roast. All great next-day lunches!
  6. Tacos. I mean, either make a huge batch the night before for dinner and then leftover lunch, or just make them for lunch… tacos are amazingly easy and delicious. Enough said.

Favorite ways to re-imagine “classics”…

  1. Homemade mac & cheese. This is actually not much harder to make than a boxed mac & cheese. The longest part of either process is waiting for the water to boil and the pasta to cook. The rest is a piece of cake! And when you make it yourself, you can change up the cheese, flavoring, and additions. To make the cheese part, I start with a couple TBs of butter, melting in a pot. Once melted, add about 1/4 cup of flour. Whisk together and cook until flour is completely mixed in with the butter. I then add about 1 TB of dijon mustard, and a dollop of sour cream (not necessary, if you don’t have sour cream, no biggie, I don’t always use it, but it adds good depth to flavor). Then I quickly whisk in about 1 1/2 cups of milk and continue whisking over high heat until thickened. (The higher the fat content of the milk, the faster this will go. Whole milk is a great option.) Then I turn off the heat and add my cheese, anywhere from 1-2 cups of shredded cheese, depending on how cheesy you like it. Season liberally with salt and pepper and add in the cooked pasta (I always use a whole pound of shells, or 2 cups of elbows pasta). Done! If you want “plain” mac and cheese, use shredded cheddar jack. You can add some frozen peas or chopped spinach to get those veggies in. OR use a sharp white cheddar cheese and add in some broccoli and cooked chicken or ham. Changing up the cheese and pasta on occasion is a fun surprise for the kids!
  2. Grilled cheese and tomato soup. I have ordered grilled cheese for my kids from restaurants only to get a barely melted piece of cheese between two barely toasted pieces of bread. Forget that. This grilled cheese is ooey, gooey, and oh, so flavorful. I make this when I want a “gourmet” lunch for myself! And the kids love it because… it’s grilled cheese! In the food processor, I put whatever cheese I have left on hand (a bag of shredded cheddar is a great option, but cheese in multiple forms is a staple in this house–blocks of cheddar, gruyere, and parmesan are usually in the fridge so I often add those to the mix), half a stick of butter, a handful of spinach, a pinch of salt, and some fresh basil. Pulse until well combined. Scoop a spoonful or two between two pieces of bread (sourdough or white) and grill until melted and the bread is toasted. I also add a little shredded parmesan and chopped basil to our tomato soup–we buy the organic Imagine brand. It is so smooth and “creamy”, but no dairy. This is truly a “gourmet” soup and sandwich lunch.
  3. Instead of PB&Js, try... Peanut butter and jelly (or fluff) Ritz crackers. I also love to spread Nutella or cream cheese on these and top them with fruit. And of course, cheese and pepperoni make great cracker “sandwiches.” A variety of crackers with creative toppings is always a crowd pleaser and fills them up.

In a hurry but no leftovers…

  1. If I need to get lunch on the table fast but don’t have leftovers in the fridge, I often just put out a sampling of veggie sticks with dressing, fruit, cheese, and crackers. Separately these all make great appetizers, but served together, it can be a healthy, filling, and easy lunch!
  2. Yogurt, fruit, and granola. This is a super easy lunch and satisfies my kids, especially if they’ve had a big breakfast or a snack mid-morning.
  3. If I don’t have time to make sandwiches, it’s often better if I simply put out the deli meats, condiments, and bread. They love making their own sandwiches and they often eat the whole thing when they’ve made it themselves (ownership of creation and everything). 🙂

Next up, Fuel-Filled Breakfasts for “Homeschool” Days, stay tuned!

*Here’s my pizza dough recipe (not sourdough):

  1. Mix 1 TB sugar and 1 tsp of dry, active yeast in 1 1/2 cups warm water. Set aside.
  2. Combine 3 cups of flour, 1 tsp salt, and about 1/4 – 1/3 cup olive oil in a large bowl.
  3. Stir the water/yeast mixture into the flour mixture until well combined. Add up to another cup of flour (slowly) if needed. Knead into a ball and place in a bowl with olive oil and roll the dough in the oil. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise 1-2 hours. This should make enough dough for 2 pizzas.
Cheese pizza on sourdough crust!

Thriving During Distance Learning

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” Marcus Tullius Cicero

There is a beautiful sentiment of simplicity behind this quote and perhaps in today’s digital age, the “library” could be replaced with the “internet” though many would still shudder to think so. But now that we are being temporarily stripped of our usual luxuries and even confined to our homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, this ancient quote is being put to the test. Children are having to practice “distance learning” since attending school is not an option and parents who didn’t ever plan to homeschool are struggling to figure out how to ensure their children stay on the educational path while juggling everything else on their plate, possibly even working from home. Can we really find satisfaction without our restaurants, movie theaters, and shopping excursions? Are books and outdoor exploration really enough to educate a child? Many parents are now having to ask themselves this question along with, “How are we going to get through this unfamiliar territory in one piece?!”

As a former-public-school-teacher-now-homeschool-mom, I hope I can offer a bit of encouragement here, but not alone. My friend (and veteran homeschool mom of four now-adult children) Jane and I worked together to compile a list of tips, tricks, resources, and encouragement for parents who are now faced with the seemingly daunting task of educating their children from home. We hope these insights prove helpful and encourage you to THRIVE through this unique time, not just survive it!

So get ready, this is a long one. Grab a beverage, and put the kids in front of a screen and don’t feel guilty this time. 😉 Here we go!

Thriving While Distance Learning… A Few Points to Remember

  1. School at Home is NOT the Same as School in the Classroom… You don’t have to recreate the school day. *You might want to find a way to occupy your children for 6-8 hours a day, which is a different topic and we’ll have some helpful resources for that as well, but first, please release yourself from the idea that you have to be teaching or your child has to be “actively learning” for 8, 6, or even 4 hours each day. It’s simply unrealistic.* Public school is designed for many children in a classroom setting. At home, learning goes much faster one-on-one. Try to set realistic expectations including shorter bursts of learning, frequent breaks, and motivate with rewards. Remind your child that you’re in this together. If you both can put in effort to get through an assignment, then you can both enjoy a reward (make a fun snack, take a walk, watch a movie, etc) together afterwards. We will give sample at-home routines later on. See learneverywhere.org for free printables and resources for covering subjects at home. Also remember that worksheets are “busywork” and might be necessary in the classroom so the teacher can assess everyone’s knowledge; but at home, if your child can answer a science/math/social studies question orally, they don’t need to write it down (unless you’re assessing their writing skills, too). And if they can complete six math problems quickly, efficiently, and correctly, then they don’t need to do 16. That is exasperation and will lead to burn out. More practice is needed only when more practice is needed.
  2. Focus on the Basics and Keep It Simple… It’s important to note that most of what our kids learn for science and social studies is repeated year after year in public school. So if you are also working from home, or you’re short on time, don’t stress over those subjects. Science can be really fun to do at home but if you’re not a science person or the thought of social studies intimidates you, let it go. Reading and math are the foundational skills kids need to “keep up” in school so give yourself freedom to focus on those, especially if your child needs extra practice with either.
  3. You are Not Alone… As a former public school teacher, I can imagine teachers everywhere trying to figure out what this classroom hiatus will do to the rest of the school year or the start of the next. If you can remind yourself that everyone is going through the same new situation, you can take some pressure off yourself to do this “right.” Reach out to your teacher friends and your homeschooling friends. Seek advice when needed (the digital socializing will be welcomed, I’m sure). But avoid comparing to what it looks like your neighbors are doing. Every family is unique and gifted in different ways. You are the right parent for your child and you do have the ability to teach them!

So HOW Do we Thrive While Learning at Home?

Set a Goal. Ask yourself, “What do I want to be able to say about this experience when it’s over?” Matthew 6:24 says that we cannot serve two masters, and Jesus was constantly calling people to demonstrate their devotion to Him by giving up something else they held precious. I believe this principle (if we are not intentional about serving God, we are serving something else) can be applied here. Sarah Mackenzie, author of Teaching from Rest* and the Read-Aloud Family*, and host of the Read-Aloud Revival podcast said in a recent episode that if we are not intentional about setting a goal to a desirable outcome, we are probably working towards an outcome we might not favor. When your kids go back to school, you might say something like, “Well, we finished all the work the district sent home” or “we ‘did school’ for 4 hours a day” or “it nearly killed us, but we survived.” But if you’re intentional about setting a desired outcome, you will be able to say so much more.

When my kids go back to school/things return to “normal”, I want to say that…

  • we grew closer to each other
  • we grew closer to the Lord
  • I helped my child master a concept he/she was previously struggling with *Remember that public school is not really designed for mastery. It’s nearly impossible for one teacher to ensure that 30 students master a subject before they move on and many kids pass from one grade to the next with C and D grade averages. You have a rare opportunity to zoom in on an area of struggle for your child and help them get over the hump so they’ll be more successful when they return to school. It’s okay to push other things aside to give more attention where needed.
    • Need help mastering math facts? Check out www.mathantics.com or mathusee.com. There are also several math game apps that can be used on tablets and smart phones. Math games such as Boggle, Rummikub, Farkle, and even Battleship are great to play with your kids. (Public school teachers employ these in the classroom, too, TRUST ME.) If YOU are struggling to figure out how the teacher wants your child to solve their math problems, now is a great time to discuss with your child how you would do it and give them an alternate way to solve the problem. This might help them figure out how to explain to you how they learned it. (Now THAT is number-bonding with your child!)
    • Need help with spelling? Check out spellingyousee.com. Play Scrabble, Scrabble Jr., or Bananagrams (one of our favorites).
    • Need to work on printing or handwriting skills? Bible verse writing and copywork are great ways to enhance this and can be easy components of morning work. momstronginternational.com has FREE Bible verse copywork in printing and you can get cursive by joining the site for $10/month. What a great way to commit the Bible to memory, or something you can work on WITH your child! Writing letters is also a great way to improve handwriting and I’ll address that in more detail further down this post.
    • Check out Worldly Wise for help with vocabulary enhancement!
  • I helped my child learn a new skill or I learned a new skill with my child! Youtube has so many tutorials for things like crochet, whittling, and art! (My kids and I learned Chinese brush painting through youtube and it was so much fun!) Check out https://simplycharlottemason.com/store/handicrafts-made-simple/ for more video tutorials on handicrafts. These are great for your kids to do during movies or read-alouds, especially if they are naturally on the fidgety side.
  • We improved our morning routine or got better at household chores. Parents of littles know that it is a daunting task to teach our children how to do a chore WELL. You have to put in a lot of effort up front to see a good return in the future. So if you’ve ever felt like you couldn’t help them get better at a chore or improve your morning routine because of busyness, now’s your chance! Get that morning routine down pat so it will be automatic when school restarts. Help them learn how to wash dishes, make their beds, or even cook a meal start to finish.
  • We did a unit study on a topic my child shows intense interest in! Visit unitstudy.com for ideas and helpful tips and how to integrate school subjects into one unit. greatcoursesplus.com is a good resource for highschoolers, too!
  • My child “got over the hump” in reading and now enjoys it! This may seem like a stretch to those with reluctant readers, but it IS possible. So, let’s talk books…
    • First, I encourage everyone to subscribe to the Read-Aloud Revival podcast! It’s not just for homeschoolers, but for everyone who desires to “make meaning connections with their children through books.” You won’t regret it.
    • You can have a “family book club” or a “parent/child book club” or even a “virtual friend book club!” Pick a book, read it together (or separately during your own quiet times) and discuss them. That’s a literature class. And if you read a book that takes place during early American history, ancient times, the middle ages, or a biography; you’re also covering social studies! Visit https://readaloudrevival.com/rar-booklist/ for booklists in every category including struggling readers, first novels to read-aloud, and favorite picture books!
    • Listen to audiobooks! These are a great form of entertainment that doesn’t include staring at a screen. You can listen to an audiobook while doing a puzzle, a handicraft, coloring, or even cleaning the house or cooking a meal! If you have a struggling reader, it is perfectly acceptable to allow him or her to listen to an audiobook while following along in their own hard copy. It is a GREAT way to learn pronunciation, nuance, vocabulary, and fluency in reading.
    • Books that make good family read-alouds:
      • The Chronicles of Narnia
      • The Green Ember Series
      • The Wilderking Trilogy
      • The Penderwicks series
      • The Vanderbeekers series
      • The Bronze Bow (*great for Easter)
      • Vinegar Boy (*another Easter book)
      • Lost on a Mountain in Maine
      • The Golden Goblet
      • The Door in the Wall
      • Running out of Time
      • My Father’s Dragon series
      • The Little House Series (The Long Winter would be especially relatable during hard times, and these make FANTASTIC audiobooks–they are extremely well done!)
      • Anne of Green Gables
      • YWAM – Christian Heroes Then and Now
      • My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish (*good for struggling readers)
      • Magic Treehouse series
    • Books you can read and then watch the movie (compare/contrast):
      • The BFG
      • Matilda
      • James and the Giant Peach
      • Because of Winn Dixie
      • The Tale of Desperaux
      • The Little Princess
      • Little Women
      • Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings Series

So now that we’ve released you of the pressure to do things “just so” (you’ll choose what’s best for your family, right?!) how exactly will you keep these kids occupied all day?!

  • Have a schedule and follow it loosely. I like to say “rhythm” rather than routine. A schedule is good for everyone’s mental health. Children thrive on structure, honestly they do. But you also need to allow yourself grace, especially during an uncertain time such as this. A good suggestion is to have “anchor points” during your day. These are times that give your day structure and are largely stuck to, even when other things go astray. Meals, for instance, would be anchor points. And then you can ask yourself, “what do we want accomplish before lunch, or after?” In our house, quiet time is a big anchor point. It’s always after lunch, after the kitchen is cleaned. We read a picture book and then it’s naptime for the youngest children. The older two sit quietly in their designated areas for 30 minutes of quiet self-directed study. They can read, do activity books, practice origami, etc. Then they get an additional 30 minutes to play math games on their tablets. After that, they can play together quietly (usually legos or a board game together) until their siblings wake up from their naps. This is the most blissful time of my day! We all need a little break woven into our schedules. A certain time of day for physical activity (gonoodle.com) or outdoor exploration is a good anchor point, too.
  • You might try a designated start and/or finish to your “school” day. Maybe you open with devotions or a read-aloud time and you end with a nature walk? In our family, we do devotions during breakfast and then the older kids get right into their kitchen chores. When that is done, they have a checklist of morning work to get through on their own. If your child has a packet from his/her teacher and some of it can be done individually, now might be a good time to do it. Then I lead a lesson in whatever our topic is for the day, and we’re usually done by lunch, sometimes before. Then we focus on keeping a clean house, going for walks, reading aloud, art, music, or cooking in the afternoon.
  • Allow time for your child to research a topic of interest to them. This might be a “golden hour” everyday, or we have “Wonder Wednesday” when the kids get to “ask Google” about something they’re interested in or wondering about.
  • Write letters! I know this might seem archaic in our digital age, but consider that if writing a letter to a friend or family member is your child’s ELA lesson for the day, how they might enjoy it! Make sure you check for proper spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and letter format. The skill of complete sentence, paragraph, and letter writing are almost lost these days and you will be giving your child a good advantage if you hone these skills! If you’re feeling artistic, you can paint and design your own postcards to send to friends and family together. Letter writing could be done once or twice a week.
  • For additional ways to fill your days, look into https://www.themailbox.com/ for freebies and resources. Doing a craft after a read-aloud is a great way to use up time! For younger kids, try making your own playdough, baking, painting, drawing, and imaginary play. For older kids, the book Look, I’m an Engineer* has so many fun science experiments to do with household objects. (I will link other miscellaneous resources at the end of this post.)

Final tips to leave with you…

  • Remember that you’re teaching a child, not just material. Put your relationship before the curriculum. Don’t focus on what your child needs to learn, focus on what your child needs: you, comfort, security, connection, structure, love. You’ll do just fine.
  • Focus on the process, not just the outcome. You probably won’t find instant outcomes, so don’t look for them. Just focus on fostering relationship and learning with your child.
  • Expect pushback. Your children will struggle to see you as their “teacher” at first. Remember that you are their parent first and teacher second. Be honest. Acknowledge that you will do things differently than their teachers and that you’re learning together. Don’t take it personally when they exhibit a bad attitude; this is an adjustment for everyone.
  • Model a love of learning for your child. You’ll both be better for it in the end.
  • Plant a garden together. Read books. That’s really all you need.

Additional Resources:

*This post contains affiliate links.