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Packing a Lunch: Healthy Food To Go

How to Pack a Healthy Lunch over 70 ideas and tips from a former teacher who has seen it all

I feel like I’m always looking for more easy lunch packing ideas for my kids!

I don’t want to make special lunch recipes – I just want those boxes packed up and ready for school in the morning, without stress. Amen?

My history with both observing and packing school lunches is pretty extensive (as is this list of tips for healthy lunches on the go that I hope will help you stick to your budget, follow all the food allergy rules, and avoid wasting food).

You see, when I was a teacher (in 3rd grade, before we started our cooking classes for kids online), our lunch situation was, I think, rather unique. The children ate in the rooms, and the classroom teacher was the one in charge.

I don’t think many teachers actually spend lunchtimes with their students since most schools have lunchrooms or lunch aides of some sort. I had to eat my healthy lunch on the go, but I didn’t mind it.

It was actually quite a treat to:

(a) see my kids interact with each other more spontaneously,
(b) observe what kind of foods for lunch they brought and how much they ate, and
(c) get a chance to read books to them and/or chat with them while they ate.

Unlike much of the staff, I truly enjoyed the opportunity to be with my students at lunch.

There was a wide range of lunches as far as nutrition goes, from Lunchables to carefully packed, very healthy sack lunches.

As I began packing school lunches for my own kids five years later, I knew they had to be healthy, easy and budget-friendly. Over 1,000 lunches later and counting, I have lots of tips to share!

I think it’s of the utmost importance that children have a healthy lunch, and it is definitely a real challenge to think of portable, nourishing foods that don’t have to be heated and that kids will enjoy.

RELATED: If your school is requiring a disposable lunch, learn how to reduce waste.

Healthy Lunch Packing Ideas, Tips and Tricks

I compiled all my best stuff into an eBook so you can have the kid-friendly lunch recipes and packing strategies all in one place – The Healthy Lunch Box has been a guide for many KS readers for years, and I refer to it myself as well – especially because we rarely have bread in the house:

Tired of sandwiches? Not eating bread anymore? Packing lunches can be challenging even with a daily sandwich, but if you’re trying to cut down on empty carbs for kids, you need The Healthy Lunch Box: Sandwich-Free Secrets to Packing a Real Food Lunch with its tips, strategies, and recipes to take the stress out of the lunch box and keep the healthy foods IN.

The Healthy Lunch Box 500px New
Get The Healthy Lunch Box, an eBook to help you pack real food lunches all year long!

If you’re plant based, these packed lunch ideas (kid friendly!) are for you. 

More Healthy Lunch Ideas Than I can Count!

Ok, maybe there’s about 70 in the whole post. Here goes with the list!

Packable Fruits and Veggies

Veggies in Reusable Bag for Lunch
  • Frozen peas
  • Fresh fruit, whole or cut depending on the child
    • Bananas, oranges, apples, pears, plums, melon, grapes, cherries, strawberries, peaches, nectarines…try to stick with what is more or less in season and watch the Dirty Dozen list.
  • Raw cut veggies with a great dip: cucumbers, carrots, cherry tomatoes, tomato wedges if in season, pea pods, cauliflower, broccoli if they’ll eat it, red peppers, kohlrabi, etc.
  • Dips might include this easy hummus, homemade ranch dressing, or guacamole (if made the day before; longer than that and it gets too brown).
  • Dried fruit or homemade fruit rolls (video)
  • Homemade Veggie Chips

Unique Sandwiches to Experiment With at Lunch

pumpkin pancakes with yogurt cheese
  • Pancake sandwiches! Spread natural peanut butter or yogurt cheese and honey on leftover pancakes, like these orange vegetable Paleo pancakes (above with yogurt cheese) or grain-free almond pancakes for a new twist on the old sandwich.
  • Natural peanut butter or nut butter
    • PB and raw honey
    • PB and jelly (I made honey-sweetened freezer jam (no longer available) this year; just be sure to watch the ingredients for high-fructose corn syrup if you buy it)
    • PB and banana
    • PB and pickle
  • Leftover roast chicken or turkey
  • Homemade lunchmeat
  • Egg salad, chicken salad, or tuna salad (even try canned salmon like tuna if the kids like it)
    Be sure not to serve tuna more than once a week or so because of chemical build-up.
  • Cream cheese and jelly
  • PB and cream cheese
  • Cream cheese with strawberry slices and raw honey (use the code Katie15 for 15% off at that site!) (peaches are good too!)
  • I actually use yogurt cheese instead of cream cheese in all of the above sandwiches
  • BLT (low- or no-nitrite bacon is best, regular stuff is a compromise food)
  • Bean spreads (the black bean dip in Real Food, Real Easy (link no longer available) is a new family favorite!)
  • Make all these on 100% whole grain bread or homemade or bread-free
  • Try making a wrap to switch it up, but watch the tortilla ingredients for trans fats. I make my own homemade tortillas or grain-free crepes, recipe in The Healthy Lunch Box. Or easier yet, use the meat as a wrap and put cheese and vegs inside (my kids love a pickle in there)!

Easy Homemade Egg Salad for a Quick Healthy Lunch


If you can’t view the video above, click Easy Homemade Egg Salad for a Quick Healthy Lunch to see it directly on YouTube.

Other Protein-Rich “Main” Options:

Homemade Meat and Cheese Lunchable
  • Cheese and whole grain crackers or homemade wheat thin crackers
  • Cold burrito or refried beans with guacamole or salsa on a tortilla. (I used to think cold refried beans were gross, but then I realized that people don’t even question eating cold refried beans in so many tex-mex dips with tortilla chips.)
  • Homemade “lunchables” – stack crackers (or cukes and peppers for a grain-free version like below), cheese slices, and meat slices for the child to assemble with apple slices and cream cheese dip.
  • Hard-boiled egg with salt and pepper (cut in half is easier to handle)
  • Nuts – Apples and nut butter, ants on a log, nut butter and crackers, trail mix

Leftovers that can handle the “thermos” treatment:

thermos of 3 bean soup with rice pudding and cheese
  • Homemade soups (like the kid-friendly three bean soup shown above)
  • Homemade mac-n-cheese
  • Many casseroles
  • Spaghetti and other pasta dishes
  • Stir fry with brown rice
  • Of course, heat on the stove before packing in the thermos. Not that I would use the microwave anyway, but mic’d food just doesn’t hold the heat long enough, no matter what.

Leftovers that are great eaten cold:

BBQ chicken and rice school lunch options

Kid-friendly Salads that work for Lunch:

homemade potato salad - great for school lunches!

Nourishing Sides that will Satiate

Life Without Plastic 8cm Stainless Steel airtight yogurt containers
  • Homemade yogurt (with frozen fruit and/or granola in it) – add some food-grade probiotics made just for kids for that extra boost to the immune system. WellBelly disappears right in. 🙂 We eat yogurt every day with lunch in these perfect containers, and it is packable! 
  • Cottage cheese with various mix-ins
  • Rice pudding
  • Homemade jerky (recipe can be found in the newly expanded Healthy Snacks to Go eBook along with over 45 real food snack recipes – click HERE to learn more.)

Snacky Stuff that Makes a Great SideEasy Gluten free Pumpkin Muffins

What to Drink for Lunch on the Go?

Water. Period. Send a reusable water bottle like one of these or anything made of stainless steel (not aluminum!) that you can find. (Why not juice?)

What to Pack School Lunch IN?

Lunchbot quad with apples leftover steak pea pods potato salad

I use either the EcoLunchbox or Lunchbot Quad every day and LOVE both of them. I really love not having waste, too. Check out my reviews of many brands of bento boxes (more to come each year!) and a ton of reusable sandwich and snack bags too.

Packing Lunch for School – How Much Food to Send?

Who knows how much (and what foods) kids will eat at lunch? School lunches go mighty fast, and hitting the right quantity is not always easy. Part of the story is who packs the lunch. Which philosophy are you?

  1. Let kids help so that they have some agency, some choice in the process. That will encourage them to eat what has been packed, and Mom is more informed about what they like.
  2. Pack kids’ lunches yourself. Then you are in charge not only of what is packed, but portion sizes. Sometimes this is important, but I would tend toward the first philosophy unless you have a strong reason to go with number 2.

Many parents find great success in making a list of foods with the child(ren), organizing it by category (main dish, vegetables, fruits, snacks, fun foods, etc) and allowing the child(ren) to choose an item from each list for the day’s lunch.

If this is too complicated for you (for example, the more kids you have, the less they probably get to choose because you must streamline the packing process!), may I highly recommend this policy:

Whatever goes to school comes back home,
unless you have eaten it.

I always told my students to take home whatever they didn’t eat, “So that moms and dads know what you like, what you don’t like, and how hungry you were today.” (Broken record teacher line right there, were you feelin’ it?)

How to Pack a Healthy Lunch over 70 ideas and tips from a former teacher who has seen it all

I explained that taking home the half sandwich you didn’t like because it had mustard on it and you hate mustard is a very effective way of communicating, almost like writing a note. Sometimes I even told kids to write notes about dislikes and put them into the lunchboxes!

Do explain this concept to your kids; it’s a great way to stay in control even when you’re out of control because you’re not there. 🙂 More on how to interpret the “notes” kids bring home as you read this post…

If you’ve been struck with “lunch-packing block” in the past (you know, like writers’ block, except you can’t think of anything creative to pack instead), it is my fervent hope that you will find some new ideas on these lists that get you packin’ once again.

And now to make it all very doable so you don’t go insane with real food!!

5 TIPS FOR PACKING REAL FOOD LUNCHES

Healthy Ideas for Packing School Lunches – Tip #1: Make Lists Now to Fill the Squares

Planning lunches makes all the difference! These lists will help you grocery shop better and have less stress at lunch packing time.

Before you’re rushing around in the morning, wondering what to pack for lunch, take 5-10 minutes and think ahead:

What are some healthy, whole foods that you can easily pack in a lunch? Even better yet if you always or often (or could regularly) have them on hand in the house…

Make a list now that might look something like this (slightly shorter than the massive list above):

  • Fresh fruits: cut melon, grapes, apples, bananas, kiwi (cut in half or peeled and sliced), berries of all kinds, oranges in season (peeled, or your child will spend half their lunch trying to get into the orange, or just skip it), peaches or nectarines, sliced, whole plums, etc. – whatever you might occasionally have on hand
  • OR just write “fresh fruit” and then make it a point to consider good lunchtime fruits when you’re grocery shopping.
  • Raw cut veggies with a great dip: cucumbers, carrots, cherry tomatoes, tomato wedges if in season, pea pods, cauliflower, broccoli if they’ll eat it, red peppers, kohlrabi, etc.
  • Dips might include this easy hummus, homemade ranch dressing, or guacamole (if made the day before; longer than that and it gets too brown).
  • Cold meats: leftover grilled or roasted chicken, roast beef, homemade chicken nuggets, nitrate-free lunchmeat rolls or sausages
  • Egg salad or hard-boiled eggs (cut in half for ease of eating and safety)
  • Nut-based “main” courses: apples and nut butter, ants on a log, nut butter and crackers, trail mix
  • Cheese: slices or cubes
  • Great leftovers: cold homemade pizza, pasta dishes, BBQ chicken or taco meat, soups (can be frozen for “uh oh” days) – anything that either your kids will eat cold or that will travel well in a thermos.
  • Homemade yogurt – our staple in every lunch!
  • Healthy grains if you eat them: homemade whole wheat crackers, healthy pumpkin muffins (or the GF version), KS classic granola bars, homemade tortillas stuffed with delicious things inside, even cold oatmeal (or in a thermos) or rice pudding goes over well with my kids.
  • Here’s my whole school lunch gallery of photos on Facebook for visual inspiration, and for a more extensive list, check out this massive list of healthy food to pack for lunches.

If you keep this list on your fridge, you can save on brain power for lunch packing and also have some ideas of what you might want to keep on hand, either purchased or homemade.

Plenty more ideas and recipes in my eBook! 5 Easy Tips to Help you Pack Super Successful Real Food Lunches this School Year. 5 tips to avoid processed lunches from a former teacher and mom of 4 - you can pack a healthy lunch to go every day and not stress about it!The Healthy Lunch Box: Sandwich-free Secrets to Packing a Real Food Lunch is loaded with strategies to streamline your packing process, stock your pantry with emergency backups for your backups, and send healthy, delicious food in the lunch box, no matter how old your eater is. Read more and start packing healthier, processed-free lunches today.

Healthy Lunch on the Go Tip #2: Plan Ahead by Stocking the Freezer

5 tips for packing real food lunches

Whether you take half a Saturday every month or just make double batches whenever you can or whenever you run out of something, having certain lunch foods in the freezer will help your packing efforts immensely.

Here are a few key items I try to always keep stocked in the freezer throughout the school year:

  • Muffins: either the pumpkin muffins or these grain-free coconut muffins — both come out of the freezer super moist and will thaw in a few hours.
  • Soups: I make big batches of soup anyway, and I’ve learned that my kids don’t go through more than 1/2-1 cup in a lunch. There’s just too little time, too much to look at and talk about. In August and September, then, I’ll take out little portions of soup in small jars, one per serving. Then I can grab two the night before and thaw a bit on the counter and also in the fridge.
  • Homemade chicken nuggets: last September I made five pounds in one night, froze most of them, and would only tap into my “emergency stash” when I seriously had no food to send with my kids. Chicken nuggets days were their favorite, and my 5 pounds lasted almost exactly to the end of the school year. Smile
  • Granola bars: just another easy, grabble snack or official lunch item.
  • Green smoothies: If there’s ever a bit of smoothie left, I freeze it in a plastic container, Squooshi, or silicone ice pop mold (found on Amazon). They are great “convenience foods” to grab quickly and thaw to “icy yummy” by lunchtime.
  • Frozen peas: Your kids eat these cold, right? My kids treat them like candy! One of my favorite simple, ready-to-eat real foods for lunch…

It doesn’t take dozens of items to be prepared for lunch, as long as you have some staples on hand.

Organizing Tip #3: Choose Strategic Lunch Packing Times

5 tips for packing real food lunches

Let’s just start by agreeing that in the morning during the breakfast rush is a bad time to pack lunches. Whenever I don’t follow my own advice and leave lunch packing until morning, I always regret it! That’s when I’m more likely to dip into my “Uh oh” stash of chicken nuggets in the freezer, but I can’t do that every day.

When I am wise and strategic, I pack lunches throughout the day before.

I might spread some peanut butter on leftover pancakes in the morning after the bus leaves and put them directly into lunchboxes for the next day’s lunch (check out my favorite lunch containers here).

When the yogurt is out for my own lunch, if I’m smart, I’ll dole out a few more yogurts with frozen fruit in these stainless steel containers for those school lunches.

And at dinner, when we’re cleaning up the table, I’ll grab some of the cut veggies we always offer and a dollop of ranch dressing while the spoon is already in the jar, add it to the pancake sandwiches, and voila! I only have to find one or two more items and the lunches are 100% packed, without my even having to get out anything that wasn’t already out.

Trust me, you’ll love yourself and real food lunches will feel so doable if you can get in some of these habits!

Lunch Packing Tip #4: Involve the Kids

5 tips for packing real food lunches

I’m a big believer in kids having responsibility and helping out around the house, both inside the kitchen and out.

With each year that passes, each child receives a bit more of his or her own “unpacking the lunch” responsibility, starting with just getting the lunchbox to the kitchen counter in kindergarten.

By second or third grade, they should be unpacking the lunch completely: ice pack in the freezer, dishes in the dishwasher or sink, leftover food checked with mom and pitched or refrigerated, and any trash (we usually don’t have any) in the garbage.

The lunchbox must be put away before they can play.

It helps you have a more sane kitchen, teaches kids routine, and it’s a great first step into encouraging the kids to help more in the kitchen.

Hopefully they can start packing their own lunch eventually too!

 

The holidays are a tough time for healthy eating, especially when kids really just want to bake fun foods!

(If they want to get into the kitchen at all!) 

Maybe…just this once…we should do something I don’t normally recommend. 

What if we give them what they want?

If you’re ready for your kids to gain baking independence without sacrificing all the healthy standards you value, join the Holiday Baking Challenge! Now on sale for just $19, you get professionally filmed videos of me and my kids teaching you to make baking favorites with healthier ingredients.

Holiday Baking Challenge

Time-Saving Tip #5: Double Duty Lunch Prep

5 tips for packing real food lunches

This is another easy “just have to think about it” tip like number three.

When you’re packing something, do it twice.

This means that if I’m going to portion out yogurts with frozen fruit for Monday, I might as well do four of them and have Monday and Tuesday knocked out.

It also means that I might pack a “double lunch” like this:

  1. Child comes home from school with empty lunchbox.
  2. Mom grabs box immediately. If it’s still a bit cold, Mom packs the exact same lunch, in the exact same squares (for the same kid) for the next day.
  3. Put it into the fridge and you’re done for the following day!

Food safety wise, you should only use this tip on two consecutive days, no more, but if you would allow your child (or yourself) to put an unfinished dinner plate or yogurt cup into the fridge and eat it the following day, how is this any different?

It cuts down on brain power needed because you don’t have to think about what you pack on day two, and, my favorite, cuts down on dishes because you use everything twice. You do need to use a few ice packs or a Pack-It lunchbox to keep things nice and cold.

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When it comes to snacks, I’ll put a granola bar or muffin into a reusable snack bag 3-5 times in a row, depending on the item and condition of the bag when it comes home.

Come to think of it, this would be a great way to give the kids some more responsibility, since the choices are already made and they can just fill in the blanks. Thanks for helping me think that one through! Winking smileap

Ideas for Kids with Food Allergies

The Best Real Food Allergy Friendly Lunches

Packing a lunch gets even trickier if your food choices are more limited. MANY of the ideas on this list are safe for common allergies, but we have a few specific posts to help you dial in on what your children might need:

Note for ALL parents to help keep other kids safe:

Please remember that peanut allergies are very, very serious. The peanut allergen goes airborne, so many who suffer from a peanut allergy cannot even be in the same room as a peanut product. There is a list of substitutes and peanut-free ideas in the comments. If someone in your child’s classroom has an allergy, be sure to protect their health by abstaining from peanuts at school.

In a Massive Hurry? Compromise Foods for “Sometimes” Lunches

I hate to spend too much on school lunches, so I default to homemade whenever I can – but there ARE quite a few convenience foods that are pretty healthy nowadays, if you know what to look for. This list is for when you have more money than time:

  • Natural applesauce single cups
  • Packaged Popcorn, IF there aren’t any nasty additives. Costco sells big bags of popcorn with decent ingredients.
  • Blue Diamond Nut Thins and some other brands of crackers are “okay” on ingredients – again, Costco comes through with great gluten-free crackers
  • Canned fruit cups (if no sugar added and no artificial sweeteners)
  • Organic yogurt cups
  • Lunchmeat, as an occasional thing unless you get nitrate-free meats
  • String cheese and pre-sliced real cheese slices
  • Larabars and KIND bars
  • Fruit strips or chews that are 100% fruit or fruit juice – not so nourishing or very filling, but a quick fix for “sometimes”
  • I used to include Goldfish crackers, only the “Made with Whole Grain” version and pretzels on this list, but I now know that those Goldfish have MSGs…so…I won’t touch ’em with a 10-foot pole. And white flour just isn’t worth the slippery slope it opens up. It’s all about baby steps, and cutting these out was one of mine.

Unacceptable items (or: This Counts as Dessert if you Pack It!)

Junk food has no place in a child’s lunchbox, where every bite counts because there is so little time to eat! The following are super common in packed lunches, but don’t be ordinary. Rise above!

  • Potato chips
  • Lunchables
  • HFCS-laden yogurt cups and Gogurts (sorry, I know kids love these, but they’re not worth it!)
  • “Fruit Snacks” (this stuff is candy!!!)
  • Fruit Roll-ups and similar (see above)
  • Little Debbie anything
  • Pudding cups (is there any “real food” in pudding cups?)
  • Jello cups (ditto)
  • Processed cheese slices or cheese and cracker packages
  • Processed beef jerky
  • Storebought cookies
  • Pop-tarts
  • Pastries, crescent rolls, biscuits from a can (trans fat alert!!)

I’ve been away from school lunches long enough that I’ve forgotten some of the atrocities passed off as “food” that don’t fit into any food groups. What else should be banned from healthy school lunches?

Remember the Goal

Back to school with healthy lunches to go!

The purpose of lunch is to provide the person with brain food and energy for the rest of the day. Learning happens all day long at school, and it’s so important that kids don’t have a “brain drain” between the hours of 1-3:00 because their lunch didn’t provide them the fuel they needed.

Many kids also need energy for after-school sports or playtime. It’s okay to constantly remind your kids that good food makes you feel good, think better and get stronger. Someday they’ll thank you for it, and for now, you’ve been charged with your family’s nutrition. What a blessing and a responsibility! (Check out these high protein snack ideas for working out.)

What’s the hardest part about school lunch (or lunch at home) for you right now?

More Lunch Packing Thoughts from KS:

Other posts that may interest you as you head Back to School:

If you’re not overwhelmed by information overload yet, here are some great tips on how to make healthy food COUNT!
Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

64 thoughts on “Packing a Lunch: Healthy Food To Go”

  1. I keep re-posting these so people don’t have any excuse to not pack healthy lunches. As a supply teacher, I agree that eating in classrooms with supervision is the best because it creates a teachable opportunity about eating healthy. It also allows a teacher to stop kids from taking food away from other kids! I still remember the first time I saw a child with only a pack of “Ramen noodles” that they proceeded to pound into pieces before opening, then open and sprinkle with the packet of flavoring! Parents actually let 10 yr olds eat these!!!! I was appalled! The elementary school my children attended did not allow sweets and junk and this helped a lot in teaching my children good eating habits.

  2. I know this isn’t a new post, but I love the ideas! Like some of the other commenters, I’m going to be packing a lunch for me, rather than for a youngster, and the information is just as relevant.

    Adults trying to pack along healthy food daily face the same challenges, amusingly enough — or maybe even more so, because we expect our hungry-at-lunch selves to be understanding when our late-in-the-morning selves just threw an apple and bread in a bag and dashed out the door. 😀

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  4. Kelly @ The Nourishing Home

    Such GREAT tips, Katie! I’ve included this in my back-to-school healthy lunch ideas post over at KOTH. Always appreciate your wonderful ideas and inspiration! Lots of blessings, Kelly 🙂

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  7. Instead of gogurt, Stonyfield Farms now makes organic yogurt tubes! Granted they still have sugar in them at least its organic and the kids can have yogurt tubes they love!

    Thank you for all the ideas! This is our first year packing lunch, and also with a toddler and pregnant (i feel terrible while pregnant) I am going to print this out, and use it for ideas!

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  9. What are your suggestions for someone who is allergic to honey? everything else is easily replaceable but honey is considered the healthiest sweetener but for someone who is allergic to it that means everything is much harder to eat healthy w/o making it completely from scratch

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Bre,
      Honey in what? In general, most baking recipes seem to work great with any liquid sweetener, so if you can’t do honey, try maple syrup, sorghum syrup, brown rice syrup, etc. (sorry I took so long to reply!) Here’s some helpful sweetener info for you: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/tag/a-sweet-sweet-summer/
      🙂 Katie

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  11. Thanks for the input. Tomorrow I send my 5yr. old off for her first day at kindergarden. My husband and I decided to send her with packed lunches, and due to her alllergies, put her at the peanut-free table in the cafiteria. We love the look of bento boxes, but untill now have seemed clueless as to how to put the foods that she will actually like/ eat all together…. It’s hard enough at the dining room table.
    I love the idea of bring all your leftovers home.
    I am trying to explain to her the importance of not sharing foods. She knows her own allergy pretty well, but does not know theirs. I am making my own magnetic menu to place on the fridge. in the future, organizing it a week in advance with her help…. I’ve got to make my own labels so my reusable containers all make it home.
    question: if a cold pack can keep foods cold, would one of those hot hand warmers used for winter keep foods hot enough?

    1. Stacy,
      I’ve never tried a hot pack like that, but my husband has had great luck with a thermos style bowl for soups and stews and such. Liquid-y items work best; others got too cold for him, but might still be warm enough for a child. Good luck! 🙂 Katie

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  13. Lisa @Granola Catholic

    I am going to share these ideas with my picky eater. We are trying to strike a balance with him eating at all and eating healthy,

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  15. Brandis @ Crunchy Thrify Cool

    Thanks for this- I’ve been meaning to sit down and make a list because I kind of dread packing lunches. Not only are we limited to things that will keep until lunch, but we are limited by my super picky child. I never cater to her likes at meals at home, but I feel like packing a lunch I know she won’t eat for school would be 1) mean (not that that one really concerns me the most), 2) wasteful, even if she does bring it home, and 3) counterproductive for her, because hungry kids don’t learn. The ONLY sandwich she will eat is peanut butter, and I’m sure they’ll ban that (with good reason, but still…). She doesn’t dip in anything… except peanut butter. She won’t eat any kind of mixed up anything, esp with any sort of sauce on it. Man, I am that mom I used to make fun of, trying to accommodate my picky eater. So she’ll probably get a lot of plain sliced meats, crackers or bread, and raw fruits and veggies… at least she loves fruits and veggies.

    And just generally I’m freaked out about her starting school, not because of the normal reasons moms freak out (my baby’s growing up, etc), but because I am afraid of the battles I’ll have to/want to fight with her teacher over things I feel strongly about, like hand sanitizer. I’m off to read that post:)

    1. Brandis,
      Very logical concerns, I think! Hopefully you’ll have the PB option for a while… Has she ever tried roasted almond butter or sunbutter (from sunflower seeds)? They’re a little different but almost mimic PB.

      Good luck as she starts school! 🙂 katie

  16. Thanks for the wonderful, timely post! But I do have a question. Why is pita and hummus a compromise food? I buy whole grain (multigrain) pitas, and make my own hummus, so I’ve always felt this was a healthy choice. I also include carrots and/or other vegs to dip into the hummus as well. I’m interested to hear your thoughts!

    1. Dawn and Jessica,
      yes, good question! Coming from a strict traditional foods standpoint, purchased hummus would be a compromise because the beans wouldn’t be soaked overnight and slow cooked, and they usually use soybean oil. However, if you make your own, that’s a different story! Any whole grain, again from a traditional foods perspective, should be “soaked” first, so grains from the store are always a compromise in that case. That said…I’m having pita and hummus for lunch, so the compromise is a small one! 😉

      Hope that made sense – 🙂 Katie

  17. Cucee Sprouts

    I like your list of ideas – very informative, easy and healthy. I’ve been working on a back to school list of lunch and snacks and would be happy to share it with you http://cuceesprouts.com/2010/08/healthy-back-to-school-snacks-and-lunches/
    .-= Cucee Sprouts´s last blog ..Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad =-.

  18. My preschooler came home every day last year an emotional wreck because he had crazy junk for snack. This summer we really talked about why we eat healthy things, and so as a kindergartener this year he says things like”Mommy, my friends just eat not healthy stuff from the store!”. Ha! That’s a start, I guess. Katie, we need a healthy lunchbox pudding recipe. Kozy Shack makes a good one but I hate the individual packages and it is hard to find in my area.

    1. Have you tried “chocomole”? http://anusceciaochow.blogspot.com/2010/03/can-you-guess-what-i-made.html It is amazing, I kid you not. A must try if you like chocolate pudding. I also have lots of ideas in my Healthy Snacks to Go Ebook! http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2010/04/26/healthy-snacks-to-go-ebook-now-on-sale/

      Good luck!
      🙂 Katie

    2. We had a similar situation during the first year of kindergarten. My son now asks me to send snack some of the time and keep a couple good granola bars in his backpack in case (snack is a coop system), but at very least he drinks white milk most of the time. This year we are hoping to transition to bringing our own snacks, if I can convince him (hard to say no to birthday treats and such, I can understand). We’ll see how we do…

  19. My daughters preschool has each student bring a morning snack for the classroom (on rotation) and I see a lot of parents bring in gogurts and other prepackaged disguised junk. I hope to be able to forward this great reminder to all the families. Thank you

  20. What GREAT information!! Some of it I knew but a bunch I hadn’t even thought of. I always try to make my kids’ lunches somewhat nutritious. Now I know my kids won’t eat veggies at school so I make them eat more at dinner. But that doesn’t mean I’ll substitute with junk food. I’m amazed at some of the stuff these kids are bringing to school. My daughter would comment about how her friend always had chips & candy bars in her lunch every day…in first grade!! And we wonder why kids can’t concentrate in school.

    I will definitely be using many of your suggestions!!!
    .-= Michelle W´s last blog ..a good day =-.

  21. Found you through Tip Junkie. Thanks for all of the great suggestions. When I was teaching, I once had a student bring donuts and chocolate milk for lunch. That was it, nothing else! Inspired by “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” I talked with my kindergarten son about all the sugar in chocolate milk and the reason why he shouldn’t drink it (at least not everyday). Surprisingly, he took my challenge to only drink white milk for a week and HE noticed a difference in his energy in the afternoon. Now he asks me all the time if something is “healthy enough” to eat. So, definitely talk with your kids about their food choices!

    1. Marissa,
      I am SO impressed that your little guy noticed his energy change. Truly amazing that he is so aware of his health – bottle that up! 😉 I’m so glad you stopped by to share this story and hope to see more of you! 🙂 Katie

  22. I totally agree that allowing your kids to help with packing their lunch makes a world of difference in how much they eat at school. As the parent of a food allergy child, I just want to throw out a reminder that while natural peanut butter is a fabulous source of protein, some schools don’t allow it for the safety of the nut-allergic children. That basically leaves us with half of the options on your list, but my son doesn’t seem to mind!

    1. Tracy,
      Another gal just wondered about non-peanut options, too, and I was pleasantly surprised by how many ideas I could share with her (right above). It is definitely an important note, and one I should have mentioned in the post since I taught two little guys with peanut allergies.
      Thanks for the reminder for all of us!
      🙂 Katie

  23. jeanne @ inspiring ideas

    Oh – great tips! I’ll be doing school lunches for the first time in a few weeks. Good thing we eat a lot of these kinds of things already!
    .-= jeanne @ inspiring ideas´s last blog ..Back To School – Backpack Notes =-.

  24. Thanks for the tips, however at my son’s school we are not allowed to bring ANYTHING with Peanuts in it or Honey as there are kids who are very much allergic to it, so most of the sandwich ideas are out for us…. any other suggestions?

    1. Monica,
      Almond butter, or even “sun butter” made of sunflower seeds are two quick, easy 1:1 substitutions for peanut butter in any sandwich. You can even make your own to be frugal if you have a good food processor or powerful blender. My son loves his cream cheese and jelly (which is actually yogurt cheese). I’ve never heard of people being allergic to honey such that you couldn’t bring it, although I know the peanut butter allergies area VERY serious thing because they are anaphylactic and the peanut allergen can get airborne. Egg salad is another easy one, or any leftover roasted meat. Cold pizza, even cold refried beans and guacamole in a wrap are yummy.
      Hope that gives some inspiration!
      🙂 Katie

  25. Excellent tips! I pack two lunches a day and in a few weeks it will change to four!!
    .-= Crystal & Co´s last blog ..iLuke- The Movie Maker =-.

  26. Pingback: Healthy Packed Lunches for Work or School | Passionate Homemaking

  27. Great tips. I pack 4 lunches a day and get so tired of it. But it seems to be a healthier option than letting them buy. There are so many bad foods out there that go into school lunches, that the list would be very long.
    .-= Jennifer´s last blog ..The benefits of evergreen trees =-.

  28. Found you through Tip Junkie. I’m always looking for ideas for my husband’s lunches.
    .-= Young Wife´s last blog ..Happy Homemaker Monday =-.

  29. Kelly the Kitchen Kop

    Great, thank you Anita! 🙂
    .-= Kelly the Kitchen Kop´s last blog ..Monday Morning Mix-Up 9/28/09 =-.

  30. Hi Katie,
    Thanks for the welcome! I really like your blog!

    Hi Kelly,
    I’ve been reading yours for a while, too- it’s great.
    Red capsicum are Red Peppers in the US (I’m an Aussie). They add nice bright color to the quiches.You can add whatever leftover meat/vegies you’ve got. And you can substitute the cream for quark/kefir cheese or something else similar.
    Yes, they can be eaten cold, or better at room temperature. That quantity recipe made 24 mini quiches & 6 medium size!
    Anita.

  31. Kelly the Kitchen Kop

    Anita, what’s “red capsicum”?

    I love this recipe – you had me at “eggs and cream”! 🙂
    .-= Kelly the Kitchen Kop´s last blog ..Monday Morning Mix-Up 9/28/09 =-.

  32. My favorite lunch nibbly snack is Mini Quiches.
    I use 6 eggs, heavy cream, 1/2 cup plain flour, (lightly beaten with electric beater), 1 cup grated cheese, 1 onion & carrot- grated, some green vegetables, some red capsicum- chopped.
    Mix lightly in a bowl, then spoon into greased muffin trays/patty pans, & bake 20 mins.
    Great for breakfast on the go, or a filling lunch with tomato sauce & salad. YUMMY!

    1. Wow! I’m salivating…can you eat those cold, too? They sound easy, yummy and healthy! A great combination… Welcome! Katie

  33. I was a teacher with lunch in my classroom, too, and many of the same thoughts ran through my head at lunchtime! One of my students constantly had digestive issues (read: he was always constipated and always had gas!) but he NEVER, not once in the whole school year, had any whole wheat anything or even any fresh fruit/vegetable. The closest thing he ever got to fruit was yogurt-covered raisins. CHOCOLATE yogurt covered raisins. His mom complained that he was “picky”.

  34. We’re homeschoolers, but I still find myself drawing a blank at lunchtime – especially if we’re out of bread. So thank you for all the great ideas!

    Do you have links to recipes for bean-based sandwich spreads? This is something I would like to start doing, but I’m a dunce when it comes to flavoring things, so I need some recipes to get me started.

  35. Thank you for the wonderful tips on creating healthy lunches for our children. It can be so easy to get stuck in a rut when packing a lunch.

    We recently moved to Barcelona from California. On my blog, I wrote a post about the typical school lunches at my children’s kindergarten and the public elementary school. Packed lunches always involve a thermos with several courses inside – salads, entree, fruit or yogurt for dessert. Even mini bottles of olive oil! Bought lunches at school are very healthy, fresh-made – stuff you would serve for dinner.

    Looking forward to next week’s post!

  36. Trish Southard

    I am so grateful for this post on packing lunches.
    My teen enjoys healthy food and really appreciates when something interesting and different shows up for lunch.

  37. Pingback: School Lunches | Musings of a Housewife

  38. Pingback: Food on Fridays: State Fair Food «

  39. The Shopping Mama

    THANK YOU for all of the great information. I appreciate you stopping by my blog and am glad you directed me to yours.

    I will bookmark this so I can reference it next week when I have to start packing my son’s lunches.

  40. Local Nourishment

    I always have trouble thinking of lunch ideas. No reason we can’t have these lunches at home! Thanks!

  41. Thank you for this list! I have been talking to my daughter’s daycare about their menu and they are asking for better suggestions for what they are currently serving. I am going to print this out and pass it along.

  42. Emily @ marvelous recipes

    All these ideas are great and would work well for taking to work as well as to school! Thanks for sharing these with us! 🙂

  43. Kelly the Kitchen Kop

    Love these ideas. I just decided that each year a couple weeks before school starts (yikes, that’s NOW), we need to sit down with your list, my list, and others to ask the kids what their ideas are and what they’d like to take in their lunches. Then we can shop and be ready to go that first week of school. 🙂

  44. Wonderful lunch ideas! We head back tomorrow, and I’m planning to sit down with my boys today and make the list you suggest. And you’re so right — getting them involved means they actually EAT what you pack!

    We were at the pool yesterday, and a mom was moaning that she dreaded packing lunches, and needed to pick up some snickers bars for “protein.” I am not making this up.

    Which reminds me — another lunch my boys like is a “snacky” lunch. Dried fruit, nuts, some grapes and a slice of banana bread make a fun, nourishing lunch! (And this would be super easy to pack the night before.)

    Go moms! We can do this! 🙂

    1. My eyes got HUGE as I re-read the “Snickers for protein” bit. Heart palpitations. Oh, dear. The world we live in. More people need to read Kitchen Stewardship! 🙂

      Glad the ideas are helpful to you!

  45. thanks for the great tips! we don’t have a family yet – but pack lunches daily for the hubby and I, and these are even great tips for us.

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