man eating lunch at his desk

Lunch boxes: They’re not just for kids anymore! There’s plenty of ideas out there for what should be included in the lunch boxes we pack and send to school with our children, but what about our grown-up lunches?

Some of the same guidelines can definitely be applied, and the Harvard School of Public Health gives some good ideas for kids and adults alike. For instance, every lunch box should ideally contain fresh fruit and vegetables, healthy protein (like roasted turkey, peanut butter, or beans), whole grain, and — optionally — a dairy item. But here’s the thing: Making lunch is kind of like fixing dinner; it’s easy to fall into a rut. It’s easy to grab the same loaf of whole grain bread, the same deli meats, and the same piece of fruit… day after day.

The good news is that there’s absolutely no reason to do that! We have a ton of ideas for adding something fun and different to your lunch box, and there’s some bonuses here: All of these things will keep well in an insulated lunch box, they reheat well (if needed), and they’re not going to be much more complicated to make than those sandwiches you might be tired of. Some might even be made ahead of time, and while you might not be as surprised by your lunch as you were back in the day — you packed it, after all — you might just find yourself looking forward to sitting down and cracking open your lunch box.

Applesauce is a lunch box classic for adults and kids alike

Applesauce in a jar with a fresh apple

Sure, you can pick up a jar of applesauce at the grocery store, but the next time you’re there, take a peek at the list of ingredients, and you might see unneeded sugars and even less fiber than you would normally find in a fresh apple. Now, take a look at our applesauce recipe for a sweet treat you can easily make at home — and the only things you’ll be adding are seasonings and a dash of lemon juice. Puree the apples to make your applesauce as chunky or as smooth as you’d like, and not only will you get your fruit for the day, but you’ll also get your sweet fix!

One-pot mac and cheese, like Mom used to make, is perfect for a packed lunch

If you’re looking at a few chilly days in the week ahead, mac and cheese might be just the perfect thing to include in your lunch box. We have a brilliantly easy, one-pot mac and cheese recipe that not only takes just about 20 minutes to make, but you can definitely make this ahead, and put it cold into microwave-safe containers. Pro tip: take along a little container of milk to add a dash before you reheat it for lunch, and it’ll be just as perfectly creamy as it was when you took it off the stove.

Sourdough bread and peanut butter for an easy lunch box for all ages

The Harvard School of Public Health recommends peanut butter for lunches, but that doesn’t mean a boring old PB&J, and it doesn’t mean store-bought peanut butter (complete with additives), either. We have a super easy recipe for homemade peanut butter that’s just about the perfect thing to add to your lunch box, and of course, you’ll need a few slices of homemade sourdough bread to complete the meal. Sounds pretty great, right? Our sourdough bread recipe helps take some of the guesswork out of this traditionally challenging baking project.

White chicken chili and cornbread will be your new lunch box fave

Chili is always a win, and we’re going to recommend taking a look at our white chicken chili recipe. Instead of the typical chili ingredients, this calls for chicken, broth, white beans, and a helping of sour cream to make it all creamy and delicious. Start this slow cooker recipe the night before, or be extra efficient: Make it for dinner, and use leftovers in your lunch. Up your lunch game by adding a square of our homemade cornbread, too — it’s a lot easier than you think, and what goes better with chili than cornbread?

A Cuban sandwich is a lunch box upgrade

Sick of the usual PB&J, or deli meat standard sandwiches? Check out our recipe for a Cuban sandwich that will absolutely up your sandwich game into something you’ll spend the whole morning looking forward to. This sandwich is piled with meats of your choosing, cheese, pickles, and a kick of your favorite mustard, and since they’re traditionally served hot, we’d recommend making and packing this while it’s cold, then using the office’s toaster oven to heat it up right before you’re ready to eat. (But if you have this cold, it’ll still be a delicious lunch!)

Pasties are a British lunch box treat

Pasties are an old lunch food: They were originally developed by miners in Cornwall to allow them to take an entire meal — meat, veg, potatoes, and bread — down into the mines as they labored away beneath the earth. You might not be working away deep underground, but they’re still an absolutely brilliant option for a portable, easy-to-eat lunch that you can make ahead of time with our recipe for pasties. We include not just making the filling but the dough, too, and it’s an idea that can be adapted into almost infinite possibilities.

Taquitos will bring the taste back to your lunch box

We firmly believe that every day can be made better with tacos, and that’s where our recipe for taquitos comes in! Not only are these little tacos surprisingly healthy (they’re even baked), but they’ll keep in the fridge — ready to be reheated in the office toaster oven — for three days. They also freeze really well, and that means you can take a weekend afternoon and make trays of them, portion them up, and freeze them for later. You’ll need to bake them again before lunch, so just pop them in that faithful toaster oven, and enjoy!

No-bake peanut butter balls for when your lunch box could use some sweet

We get it, life is busy and sometimes it’s tough to find the time to pack a lunch, much less pack something epic. We have the perfect solution for you: our recipe for no-bake peanut butter balls. Not only are these sweet treats going to give you a delicious bite of pure protein, but they’re going to let you finish off lunch the right way with a bite-sized bit of goodness. They’ll take just 30 minutes to make, and they’ll keep in the fridge… provided no one else in the family gets their hands on them.

Puppy chow in your lunch box will have you feeling like a kid again

Are potato chips a common addition to your lunch? Well, we have a brilliant option that’s an even better thing to snack on while you’re kicking back on your break and catching up on your reading — and that’s puppy chow!

You’ll be as excited about it as your pup is about its own food, because it’s a downright incredible combination of peanut butter, chocolate, vanilla, sugar, and Chex cereal. Our puppy chow recipe takes just 20 minutes to make and stores well, so that means you can enjoy for a few days after making it.

Put some Copycat Auntie Anne’s pretzels in your lunch box, and you won’t even miss the mall

You know the smell — and now, imagine that smell filling your office cafeteria, and it absolutely can, with help from our copycat Auntie Anne’s pretzel recipe. At the end of around an hour (give or take, as much of this time hands-off time to let the dough rise), you’ll have eight big, soft pretzels that are perfect for enjoying right out of the oven, or tucking into your lunch box. Add a little container of mustard or cheese sauce, heat it up in the microwave, and enjoy!

Homemade calzones for some amore in your lunch box

If you find yourself craving a little lunchtime pizza, we have good news for you — and it can come in the super-handy form outlined in our recipe for calzones. You can either make your own fresh pizza dough or opt for the frozen kind, and while we give you some ideas for making a calzone filled with baby spinach and Italian sausage, once you have the general principle down, there’s no end to the number of toppings you can bake inside a calzone. It’s a great way to pack yourself a mess-free lunch starring all your favorite pizza toppings.

Homemade churros are a lunch box treat you won’t want to share

With the responsibility of packing your own lunch comes a bonus — the ability to put in some fun things that are going to make your midday break something to seriously look forward to, like churros! Our churros recipe isn’t just easy, but at the end, you’ll have 40 churros. Pro tip: When you’re piping them into the oil to fry them, make them small enough they’ll fit into a plastic container, like your hard-sided sandwich savers. A container like that will help protect them until you’re ready to eat, and you’ll be oh-so-grateful!

Minestrone soup for a hearty lunch box treat

If you only take a standard sort of lunch box to work, you just might be doing it wrong. Pick up a reliable thermos, and you’ll have so many other options for a hot lunch, and we’ve got you covered. There’s no need to pick up a can and reheat it when you’ve got recipes like our rustic minestrone soup! There’s no need to stop there, either: you can also explore our other soup recipes, like this vegetable soup, our slow cooker potato soup, and our chicken noodle soup recipe that takes just 20 minutes.

Copycat Hostess cupcakes in your lunch box will take you back

Sure, you might be able to snag the odd cupcake when you need to send a batch to school with the little one, but check out our copycat Hostess cupcakes for a way to pack your lunch with nostalgia. These desserts are full of all the chocolatey goodness you remember, and as for that cream filling? That’s there, too, and while we show you how to duplicate the original recipe, there’s nothing that says you can’t add some fun flavors to that hidden center… because the frosting and the cream filling is the best part, right?

Create new lunch box memories with homemade whoopie pies

It’s not entirely clear just who invented the whoopie pie, but we’d like to take this time to say, "Thank you, whoever you are." These cakey desserts might be the stuff of fond childhood memories, but with help from our whoopie pie recipe, you’ll be making these to add to your lunch box as a sweet treat to be savored before you head back to work. Best of all, the marshmallow filling calls for vanilla extract, and a great way to mix these up might be to experiment with different extracts and flavors. You’re welcome!

Onigiri for a fresh take on lunch box treats

Japanese cuisine is as close to being an art form as any cuisine gets, and if you like sushi, well, have we got the lunch idea for you. Onigiri is — at the simplest definition — balls of rice that are stuffed and wrapped in a type of seaweed called nori, and with help from our onigiri recipe, you’ll be shocked at how easy it really is to create these deceptively complicated-looking rice balls. While we use salmon, the fillings are endless: We give you the template, and you fill as you see fit!

No-bake energy bites are the perfect lunch box pick-me-up

The contents of your lunch box don’t have to just be about lunch. What about that sleepy slump that hits about halfway between lunch and the end of your work day? Pack a few of our no-bake energy bites, and you’ll have a great excuse to step away from your desk, open your lunch box again, and treat yourself to a few bite-sized chocolate, peanut butter, and date-filled treats that will absolutely help you get through the rest of the day. Dig in, take a deep breath, regroup, and finish off your day!

Homemade oatmeal cream pies for a lunch box like back in the day

There’s a ton of Little Debbie snack cakes out there, but if you have a soft spot for the Oatmeal Cream Pies, you’re definitely not alone. We’re right there with you, and that’s why we’ve come up with this copycat oatmeal cream pie recipe that just might be the perfect addition to your lunch box — the same way they were when you were a kid. It’s easier than you think: we’ll walk you through making the soft, oatmeal cookies and the vanilla buttercream filling, and yes, they taste just as good as the ones you remember.

Homemade granola bars are a lunch box delight

Granola bars are brilliant because they’re just so handy, but store-bought granola bars come with all kinds of additives. They usually contain an astronomical amount of things like sugar, and that’s why we decided to come up with our own easy granola bar recipe that doesn’t have anything you’re not going to want to eat. Bonus? You can definitely make these ahead and even freeze them so they last longer, and that means you can always be sure you’ll have something quick and easy in your lunch box — and you don’t need to feel guilty about it.

Broccoli salad for when your lunch box needs a bit of green

Salads are definitely a great option for your lunch box, but if you get bored by the same old salads, check out our broccoli salad for something unique that will keep really well until you’re ready to eat lunch. The broccoli, nuts, cranberries, and carrots mean that it’s going to have that delicious crunch that you want in a salad, and these protein and nutrient-filled ingredients will help keep you going through the afternoon a little better than a standard lettuce salad might. Pro tip: Save the apple and dressing and add them at the last minute.