School lunches from around the world

Looking for new ideas for your child’s lunch? Take a spin around the globe for inspiration.

By Sarah Henry

Think globally

Jazz up your child's lunch by thinking outside lunch box staples and choosing foods from different parts of the world instead. The essential building blocks of these dishes — rice, beans, noodles, and chicken — can be prepared ahead (and served for dinner the night before) then transformed into wraps, rolls, flatbreads, soups, or salads for lunch.

In the guide, Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools, veteran chef and cookbook author Georgeanne Brennan teamed up with Ann M. Evans to create recipes based on six popular dishes (soup, salad, pasta, rice bowls, wraps, and pizza), combined with flavors from six world regions (Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and India). The downloadable guide, says Brennan, "offers ideas for adding fresh, local, healthy foods with a global focus to school lunch.”

Flavorful Mediterranean favorites

Ingredients for the healthy cuisine associated with countries in this region, such as Italy, Greece, and Spain, include: olives, olive oil, garlic, basil, tomatoes, cheeses (mozzarella, parmesan, and feta), and pasta.


7 tasty lunch ideas using Mediterranean staples:

A taste of Asia

Asia is about as culturally and culinarily diverse as it gets, but there are common ingredients found in many Asian cuisines, including: tofu, ginger (fresh or pickled), rice, soy sauce, tamari sauce, seaweed (nori), and rice paper wrappers.


4 Asian-inspired lunch ideas:


Latin American fare

Signature tastes from this part of the world include kid-friendly foods, such as: avocados, beans, jicama (a crunchy, mild-tasting fruit), quinoa (a protein-packed, grain-like seed), mangos, and tortillas.



3 dishes with Latin American flair:

  • Quinoa salad with beans and mangoes
  • Jicama salad — Just peel, slice, or dice, and mix with lime juice. Add a sprinkle of chili pepper for kids who like a kick.
  • Taco salad wrap made with a flour tortilla and a side of avocado-mango salad


Middle Eastern eats

Most kids love dips — and creamy dips are a popular starter in the Middle East and in European countries like Greece and Turkey. Common ingredients in Middle Eastern foods include: olive oil, garlic, garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas), peppers, and bulgur (cracked wheat).


3 lunch ideas with Middle Eastern influence:

  •  Hummus, a garlic and garbanzo bean dip (try roasted red pepper hummus for a change)
  •  Tabbouleh, a hearty side salad made with bulgur and lots of veggies
  •  Falafel are chickpea patties that can be dipped in hummus or served inside a pita pocket with lettuce, tomato, tabbouleh, and hummus


Out of Africa

Flavors from Africa (north and south) can be combined with ingredients from the southern U.S. to create healthy, satisfying fare. Common ingredients include: black-eyed peas, peanuts, sweet potatoes, and couscous.


6 African-meets-Southern lunch ideas:


Indian cuisine ideas

Indian dishes tend to be fragrant, with spices such as cardamom, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, curry, and turmeric. Other common Indian ingredients include: yogurt, chickpeas, paneer (cheese), chutney, and rice.



3 flavorful Indian lunch ideas:

Sarah Henry is a Bay Area-based freelance food writer and the voice behind the blog Lettuce Eat Kale.