Need inspiration for summer lunches? Check out these tasty, cheap and easy summer lunch ideas — and the best ways to meal prep in the summer and save money.
From snacky lunches to sandwiches, burritos to salads, these are winning summer lunches to please the kids as well as adults. Do a big lunchtime meal prep or fill the freezer with some freezer meals so that summer lunches are a breeze.
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Summer time is busy. There’s family stuff, work stuff, vacation stuff, fun stuff. That often makes summer lunch feel unwieldy.
- Mealtimes may be hurried. You’re racing out the door for the next event.
- Meals might be on the go. You’re going to be away from home at lunchtime or even on vacation. Prepping food might seem more than you want to do, but fast food is so expensive.
- The kids might be perpetually hungry. It’s true. In summer my six kids become hobbits and are never satisfied.
There can be more relaxed days in summer, but, winter, spring, summer, or fall, one thing stays the same: ya gotta eat.
With more and more of us cooking at home, it’s that much more important to be ready with inspiration and resources to make it easy!
If you have an arsenal of summer lunch ideas at your fingertips, you’ll be more likely to have meals ready to go — either on the table or out the door. And if you know how to meal prep for summer? You’ll save money to spend on more fun summer pursuits.
Check out these summer lunch ideas and recipes as well as the mini-prep lists included to keep you and your people fed and happy this season:
Probably the easiest of summer lunches is the “snacky lunch”. The Snack Lunch is one that everyone loves and that takes very little time to prepare. It consists of fresh produce, some protein like cheese, nuts, hard-cooked eggs, and sliced meats, and a grain, like crackers, sourdough rye bread, or sub rolls.
Think about those expensive snack boxes at the cafe and make your own at home!
This is a weekly staple at our house, my go-to on Sunday afternoons or holidays. It can be made ahead of time and taken on the road as well — or turned into a Snacky Dinner or the more sophisticated Ploughman’s Lunch.
You can easily customize it for different diets and preferences, making it a light summer lunch for busy days.
- Wash your fresh produce in a vinegar rinse. This removes surface bacteria and grime.
- Slice apples and oranges, section grapefruit, cut grapes into clusters, cut cantaloupe, make berry salad. Doing this in advance lets everything chill well and makes for easy serving.
- Treat apples or pears with a little lemon or lime juice to prevent browning – the bane of picky children everywhere.
- Prep a veggie tray. If you build it, they will come. It’s the field of edible dreams, trust me.
- Slice cheeses. Be careful not to store crackers and cheese together. They tend to harden and soggify each other.
- Cook and chill your eggs.
- Make some mini Meat and Cheese platters to store in the fridge.
- Cook up a batch of Skillet Chicken Tenderloins or Fried Chicken Strips to keep on hand in the fridge.
You can either serve buffet style or portion each person’s lunch for homemade “lunchables.” Letting the kids assemble their own does help your picky eaters take ownership and make them more likely to eat it.
Smoothies, the milkshake of the 21st century, pleases almost everyone for a quick and easy summer lunch idea. You can make them in so many ways and even sneak in some healthy veggies like spinach or even riced cauliflower.
While popcorn is a great side dish to smoothies, some folks may need something more substantial. Chewing actually helps us feel more full. In that case, consider assembling smoothie bowls and top them with granola, sliced fruit, berries, nuts, and seeds.
- Load up on ingredients including protein powder so that you can make smoothies a protein-packed summer lunch.
- Freezer Smoothies make great breakfasts, lunches, or snacks. Simply blend up big batches of your favorite smoothie combinations and pour into small cups. Plastic freezer cups from Ball are great for this purpose. Twist on the caps and store in the freezer. I’ve packed these freezer smoothies into a cooler along with a picnic lunch and they thawed to the perfect consistency by the time we were ready for “lunch dessert.”
- Consider serving your kids a DIY Smoothie Bar. This allows them to assemble them however they like without (too many) complaints.
- Prep smoothie kits. In ziptop freezer bags, assemble the ingredients that you would normally include in a smoothie, including frozen yogurt blobs and frozen strawberries. When you’re ready to blend, just pull out a bag and empty it into the blender, adding the liquid you prefer. My daughter calls this “homemade Daily Harvest”.
Burritos & Burrito Bowls
Don’t want the tortilla? No problem, make a burrito bowl! They’re all super budget-friendly.
- Cook beans and make “burrito kits,” assembling a pint of cooked pintos, a bag of shredded cheese, precooked taco meat, and a package of tortillas. Chill anything that might be hot and store this in the freezer for an easy lunch.
- Freezer Burritos all rolled and ready to go can be a game changer. Somebody hungry and in need of a snack? Just microwave a frozen burrito. Not wanting to make a big fuss at lunch? Thaw a bag of burritos and crisp them on the griddle for almost instant chimichangas.
- Chili Cheese Burritos and Green Chile Burritos both come together super easily.
Sandwiches and chips are an old stand-by where summer lunch ideas are concerned. They are cool, portable, and easily eaten on the go. You can go as simple as a ham or bologna sandwich or go Dagwood-style with our multi-layered Club Sandwich.
Remember this: Sandwiches need never be boring. Check out these Tips for Making the Best Sandwiches so that you’re always ready for lunchtime.
- Bread freezes well, so stock up when you see a good price on your favorite breads for sandwiches. Don’t forget that bagels, pita bread, and tortillas also are good bases on which to build your sandwich.
- Chicken salad, deli meats, tuna salad, and hard cooked eggs make great fillings. You can make these at the beginning of the week and they’ll be good in the fridge for up to 4 days.
- One of the humble sandwich’s selling points is that each diner can custom make his own, any time. Set aside a special drawer or section of the refrigerator for sandwich fillings and condiments that are fair game and let your people have at it.
Instant Pot Recipes
Your favorite Instant Pot recipes are perfect for summer since they are quick to make, allow for hands-free prep, and don’t heat up the kitchen. From beans to hard cooked eggs, to the BEST Mac and Cheese and easy sandwich fillings, the electric pressure cooker offers a lot of versatility.
You can even make Banana Bread in the Instant Pot!
- Pre-chop ingredients or buy them ready to go to make it easy to throw things in the pot and get cooking.
- Identify your favorites at the start of summer and load up on pantry staples and freezer-friendly ingredients. You’ll never be stuck for an idea.
- Remember that you can make your recipe at the start of the week, divide it into single-serve portions, and reheat throughout the week. In some instances, you can even freeze the prepped dish for even easier cooking!
- If you’re making IP sandwiches in advance, store the filling separately from the rolls. Reheat and assemble right before serving.
Entree salads are my favorite of these summer lunch ideas as they are a great way for everyone to cool off and get their daily dose of vegetables. In fact, meal prep salads are a boon to busy families, whether you make them single-serve or family size.
Kids will enjoy salads if you include them in the planning and prep — and make sure you’ve got some good dressings on hand. Homemade dressings are some of the best, and you can easily make your favorites, from Italian Salad Dressing to Homemade Buttermilk Ranch.
- Consider prepping a Salad Bar so everyone can choose what s/he wants. A DIY Pasta Bar is super simple and fun
- Prep all your toppings in advance: chopped lettuce, tomatoes, onions, peppers, cucumbers, etc. In fact, you can easily Meal Prep Vegetables for the Whole Week.
- Mix up some favorite dressings.
- Prep some fun toppings, like Cheese and Garlic Croutons or Maple Spiced Pepitas.
- Include some hearty protein options, like garbanzo beans, Grilled Chicken Strips, hard cooked eggs, and tuna.
- My perfect lunch salad is this Raspberry Salad recipe with goat cheese and chicken. So delish!
There are so many great summer lunch ideas, that the mid-day meal can be an easy, make-ahead affair that pleases everyone at your picnic table.
This post was originally published on June 10, 2012. It has been updated for content and clarity.