back to school

15 Cold Lunch Ideas to Kick-Start Back-to-School Season

published Aug 15, 2022
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Photo of buffalo chicken wrap on a plate with carrot and celery sticks.
Credit: Meleyna Nomura

Looking for easy, fuss-free lunches to pack for your kid? That’s where recipes that taste best cold (or at room temperature) come into play. While a hot lunch can certainly be a satisfying meal, a cold lunch is a godsend when it comes to back-to-school time — it means you don’t have to procure temperature-sensitive containers or worry about whether the food will still be safe and tasty to consume once it’s dropped to a cooler internal temperature.

From pasta salads to sandwich wraps to finger foods, the chilled lunch format offers many options. To lend a helping hand during this busy back-to-school season, we’re sharing 15 delicious ideas for easy, cold lunches that kids (and adults!) will love.

1 / 15
Ranch Pasta Salad
This ranch pasta salad is packed with veggies and texture, but still delivers classic creamy macaroni salad vibes. Pack it in an airtight container, and the flavors will stay intact until lunchtime.
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2 / 15
BLT Lettuce Wraps with Avocado
Cold lunches are superb when they involve easy lettuce wraps filled with bacon, tomatoes, and avocado.
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3 / 15
Buffalo Chicken Wraps
Spicy, creamy, and cooling, Buffalo chicken wraps work equally well as a school lunch, work-from-home meal, or party food.
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4 / 15
Salmon and Black Sesame Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls)
In Japan, you’ll find onigiri in supermarkets and convenience stores wrapped in an ingenious way that keeps the seaweed separate from the rice until you open it, meaning it stays dry and crisp. In your kitchen, wrap each rice ball fully in plastic wrap before storing in the refrigerator or packing for lunch.
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5 / 15
No-Chop Cold Veggie Noodle Bowls With Soy Lime Vinaigrette
This veggie sauté plopped over rice noodles is everything you'll crave in a cold noodle lunch bowl.
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6 / 15
Ham and Cheddar Lunch Box Muffins
These hearty muffins are mixed with cornmeal for extra heft and texture, and loaded with thick-cut chunks of ham, sharp cheddar, and a pinch of chives.
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7 / 15
Rainbow Vegetable Spring Rolls
These spring rolls make a fresh and surprisingly satisfying lunch — especially with some creamy avocado rolled up with the vegetables and a spicy Sriracha-mayo sauce on the side for dipping.
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8 / 15
Ham, Egg, and Cheese Wraps
These egg wraps are great at room temperature. Pack them for lunch, a high-protein snack after school, or before or after a sports practice.
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9 / 15
Mini Bagels and Lox
This rendition on the iconic New York bagel sandwich is the perfect hearty snack or simple lunch. Just toast some mini bagels and top them with a quick schmear of cream cheese (flavored with chives, if you like). Layer on the smoked salmon, sprinkle with toppings, and you're done!
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10 / 15
Pizza Bagels
Turn this throwback after-school snack into quick and easy nosh. Although it's tasty when warm and fresh, it tastes great cold or at room temperature.
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11 / 15
Light & Easy Broccoli Salad
A recipe for a lightened-up version of classic broccoli slaw, which can be made ahead and portioned out for multiple lunches.
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Greek Salad in a Jar
Although any type of salad bodes well in this format, classic Greek salad — loaded with tomatoes, cucumbers, salty kalamata olives, and creamy feta — is particularly well-suited to getting packed in a lunch jar.
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13 / 15
Apple Sandwiches
What happens when apples and peanut butter get dressed up with a little flair? They turn into these charming little apple sandwiches for lunch.
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14 / 15
Fruit on the Bottom Yogurt Cups
An easy recipe for yogurt cups layered with fruit, jam, and granola that make for a simple, healthy lunchbox treat.
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Rainbow Fruit Salad
The key to a good lunchtime-friendly cold fruit salad is twofold. Choose fruits that play well together, and completely toss them in dressing. Honey and lime juice make for a sweet and tangy dressing that coats every inch of the fruit salad, without weighing it down to soggy sadness.
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