Our Favorite Easy At-Home Lunches

posted by Andrea | 05/17/2017
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Since summer is just around the corner (YAY!) and kids will be home for lunches again, I thought it might be good timing to share some of our favorite EASY at-home lunches.

At this point, all 3 kids and I are home every day for lunch — and sometimes we have friends or neighbors home for lunch too. In the summer, Dave will also be home every day for lunch, so I really do need to make sure we have lots of lunch foods in the house — otherwise it’s VERY easy to quickly run down the street and grab a pizza or fast food!

However, I don’t want to put tons of pressure on myself to “plan” all our lunches ahead of time (like I do our dinners). So instead, we have a short list of favorite hot and cold at-home lunch ideas that we choose from every day around 11:00am.

Sometimes I have an idea in mind as to what would be the best choice for lunch on specific days, and sometimes I even prepare all the lunch plates well ahead of time if I know we’ll be in a hurry. However, most of the time I just ask the kids “what would you like for lunch today?” and after a few minutes of conferring, we come to a consensus (I try to always make everyone the same thing for convenience sake!)

Then they get to watch a show or play outside while I make lunch. We eat at almost exactly 11:30 every single day 🙂

Easy At-Home HOT Lunches:

Up until a year ago, we had hot lunches almost every single day — because my kids wouldn’t eat sandwiches. It wasn’t horrible as long as I planned ahead, and we were able to use up a lot of leftovers this way.

We still enjoy hot lunches several times a week. Here are some of their favorites — all of which are fairly simple in my opinion. 

  • Chicken Nuggets
  • Fish Sticks
  • Quesadillas (bean and cheese, just cheese, meat and cheese, etc.)
  • Grilled cheese and tomato soup
  • Baked Sandwiches
  • Pizza Sammies
  • Mac and Cheese + Hotdogs
  • Any type of pasta with meat sauce
  • Bagel Pizzas (or make your own personal pan pizzas if I have the crust in the house)
  • Leftovers — casseroles, soups, etc. (this is my personal favorite)
  • Pancakes, eggs, and sausage (if we didn’t have a big breakfast earlier in the day)
  • Occasional fast food — Arby’s is their favorite and it’s almost walking distance from our house!

Easy At-Home COLD Lunches:

I think everyone in our family prefers hot lunches over cold lunches — but due to convenience and time, we have cold lunches at least 3 times a week.

Right now, we really only have 3 types of cold lunches that we eat — but there are several variations among them.

1. Meat and Cheese

This option is by-far the preferred cold lunch for all 3 kids. It basically involves me cutting up various types of meat and cheese, and serving it along with cut-up fruit, chips, crackers, applesauce, raw veggies, or anything else that’s in the fridge.

If you look in the meat drawer in our refrigerator, you’ll almost always find containers of sliced summer sausage, pepperoni, salami, already cooked bacon and sausage, and a grilled chicken breast or two. And the cheese drawer ALWAYS has containers of sliced, cubed, and stick cheeses — I just slice or cube them from larger blocks and always try to keep a variety available for quick meals and snacks.

2. Sandwiches or wraps

Peanut butter and Jelly sandwiches are usually the kid’s request. But if I have homemade rolls, they will sometimes have meat and cheese on a buttered roll.

I will also put thin slices of deli meat and cheese on tortillas (with sour cream) and roll those up as a little wrap. Nora is usually the only one who will eat this, but it’s VERY mess-free and portable — so I have a feeling we’ll do this a lot for school lunches next year.

I also enjoy chicken salad on a wrap or BLT’s every now and then.

3. Salads

The kids don’t eat salad very willingly, but I frequently make up big batch of chicken salad or taco meat so I don’t need to think about my own lunches much during the week.

We always have lettuce, spinach, and various salad toppings in the house, so adding a scoop of taco meat or chicken salad makes a super quick and easy meal for me.

I will also put chicken nuggets on my salad if I’m making them for the kids — I make something similar to the crispy chicken salad at Applebee’s and it’s SOOOOOO tasty!

Usually once a month I make a half batch of this yummy layered lettuce salad as a side dish for one of our dinners — and there are always lots of leftovers for lunches the next day.

Easy, At-Home Side Dishes:

I’ve always been big on variety when I eat (I love buffets!) and my kids have followed suit. So I try to have a large variety of side dish options that can be prepared ahead of time and just dumped on their plates as they request.

Here are a few of our favorites.

  • Already washed and cut up fruits (strawberries, grapes, and clementines are favorites around here)
  • Already washed and cut up veggies (here’s a convenient way to store them)
  • Finger Jell-O
  • Craisins or raisins
  • Frozen blueberries
  • Dill Pickles
  • Yogurt pouches (I usually make my own using these pouches)
  • Chips, cheetos, cheese balls, pretzels, crackers, etc.

The thing I love about almost every food listed above is that they all have some elements that can be prepared ahead of time and ready to go for lunches.

The meat and cheese can be sliced ahead of time, the fruits and veggies can be washed and prepared ahead of time, the taco meat or chicken salad can be made ahead of time, even PB&J sandwiches can be made ahead and frozen if you’re really in a bind.

Our lunch options are much more limited than our dinner options, but we still have enough variety ready to go each day that we don’t get bored or feel like we’re eating the same things day after day.

What are your favorite at-home lunch ideas?

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22 comments

  1. Kate

    05/18/2017

    We have also done the mini pizzas on “pop ‘n fresh” biscuit dough. Very cheap and easy!

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  2. wilma

    05/18/2017

    I always love these types of posts. My favourite at -home lunch idea is not about food, it’s about eating OUTSIDE. I love it, and we eat every lunch/dinner possible outside when the weather is nice (and before the wasps come out in earnest). I am even willing to bring the toaster outside (we keep it in a lower cupboard in a shallow plastic bin to contain the crumbs because I love having a clear counter, so it’s easy to transport) if the kids would like toast. The best thing about eating outside is that the mess stays outside!! I even hose off the table/chairs, ha! It’s also a good way to keep my kids outside–after dinner, they can play outside for a while, but if they want to come inside, it’s bath/bedtime :).

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, we love getting outside to eat too — it’s not always easy with younger kids, but we try to do it often throughout the summer!

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    wilma Reply:

    one thing that helped for us was having an old high chair that was all plastic that we left outside in the summer, and later on a strap on booster seat. it definitely made it easier w/ the babies–but I know what you mean, there’s definitely a cost/benefit analysis to make, haha

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  3. CARLEY

    05/17/2017

    Great list! My kids also like pizzadillas. You take a tortilla and put a little pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, pepperoni (or whatever toppings) fold in half and cook it on a skillet.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oooo… that’s a good one. I might have to try that!

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  4. Calliope

    05/17/2017

    My lunches are your dinners! You see in Greece, usually the big meal is during lunch. So dinner is – hopefully – smaller and lighter. So for something smaller I usually have a salad or an omelet or greek yogurt with quinoa,honey and nuts, or a wrap or leftovers.

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  5. Elizabeth

    05/17/2017

    This post is a god-send! We are on day three of Mac and cheese and even the baby is getting tired of it

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — I don’t think my kids would do mac and cheese for 3 days in a row either 🙂
    glad to offer a few new (easy) ideas!!

    [Reply]

  6. Leigh

    05/17/2017

    Homemade lunchables (so cheese, crackers, carrot/, hummus etc) are a classic for us.
    We also love scrambled eggs, veggies scrambled eggs or scrambled egg burritos.
    Today reheated mac and cheese was lunch.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, we love the “lunchables” This is what we do with the “meat and cheese” option I mentioned!

    [Reply]

  7. Amy

    05/17/2017

    My tip for getting kids to eat salads well…..put some easy to use serving spoons in the big bowl. Let them get out their salad and put it on their plate themselves. I also set up a salad bar with different toppings and let them pick their own like in a restaurant. They LOVE this and ask me for salad all the time 🙂 It’s messy…but, eh….at least they are eating salad!! lol!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I know someone who doesn’t let their kids eat salad until they are 4 — so it’s a “privilege” they all look forward too and ALL their kids gobble up the salads starting on their 4th birthday. I thought that was pretty clever!

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    Tara Reply:

    Woah! That is pure genius! Wish I’d thought of it. 🙂

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  8. Ann

    05/17/2017

    I want to move in with you! PB & J every single day over here!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — I have a feeling our lunches will have less variety once the kids start school 🙂

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    Alicia Reply:

    PB&J over here every day too! It started out as the only thing my kids would eat, but now it’s just what we have for lunch. The rare occasions I try to mix it up, they generally don’t like it! Go figure!

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  9. Jo

    05/17/2017

    Love this, and I actually already do some of these ideas – especially the salad one for myself! It makes my lunch a “no brainer” everyday for spring/summer and it’s so easy to add almonds or hard boiled eggs or chicken or carrots or whatever I have laying around! For the mac n cheese one, I often will mix in a can of green beans and my toddler seems to enjoy it. (Some days its a hit, some days a miss, let’s be honest, toddlers are not always easy to please! That’s why I also do lots of variety like you with different fruits, crackers, in case the ‘main’ part is a miss). Availability of easy food options are key – thanks for posting this!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    hmmm… I’ve never tried mixing veggies in with mac and cheese. Well, actually I mixed squash in once and the kids wouldn’t touch it. 🙁

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  10. Christine from The (mostly) Simple Life

    05/17/2017

    I work from home and have realized that if I don’t plan for some simple lunches, making lunch ends up sucking up too much time. I love your simple ideas!

    I like to make quesadillas with refried beans, cheese, and taco seasoning. Or I’ll make up some Pasta Roni and add some leftover chicken and chunks of tomato on top.

    [Reply]

  11. Angela

    05/17/2017

    Perfect timing for this post – school gets out early for us this year so summer will be upon us next week! And now that my husband is working from home alongside me, we will ALL be home. Feeding my people is my least favorite wifely duty so I’ll be using a lot of these tips to simplify! : )

    Do you have a post about how you organize your fridge? I’d love to see how you organize all your cut up fruit, veggies, meats and cheeses while still having space for milk and leftovers. If I recall, do you have an extra fridge? I’m considering that. With six of us, we almost always have three gallons of milk in the fridge so that takes up a lot of space.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    no post about fridge organization — but yes, we DO have an extra fridge that we use for extra milk, juice, soda, eggs, etc. I currently have 2 gallons of milk, 4 dozen eggs, several bottles of water, an extra orange juice, and extra lemonade, and a bunch of pop and juice boxes in our extra fridge. It’s awesome and makes it way easier to organize our kitchen fridge.

    In general, I keep all meat, cheese, fruits, and veggies in their own separate drawers, yogurt and sour cream on two shelves, eggs on one shelf, beverages on one shelf, leftovers on one shelf, condiments and other small containers in the doors.

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