Healthy School Lunch Ideas and Packing Tips
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Before sharing these healthy school lunch ideas, I have a confession that… Since we study at homethis is not an area I have daily experience as I don’t need to pack lunch every day (but with great respect to all of you parents!).
Most of us grew up on grilled cheese sandwiches (crust on or off?) or classic PB&J. But it’s possible to reinvent the wheel and pack in more nutritious options during the back-to-school period.
Healthy Food School Lunch Ideas
This year, we prioritize field trips every week. So I’ve had a lot of experience packing lunches for 6-8 kids (we bring friends) at least once a week, sometimes more. In my kids’ lunch-packing experiments, I’ve realized how much time they can save. I’ve started “packing” lunches a few days a week for the kids to eat at home during our lunch break.
They love kid-friendly boxed lunches because it’s far from the norm and I love that I don’t have to prepare lunch that day. I can even prep a few days’ worth of lunches at a time. I usually do a mason jar salad myself or eat leftovers while my child enjoys an “easy school lunch.”
Over time, I’ve found a way to make it easier to prepare packed lunches.
Tip #1: Let the kids help
This is a big broblem. Letting the kids help means they’re excited to actually eat the food they make. I have seen amazing results after working with my older kids to allow them more freedom in the kitchen. My son even Wrote a cookbook with his friends!
How to teach your child to help safely
Let your child help in all aspects of cooking. Children naturally love to help prepare and cook in the kitchen. And they may be able and willing to do more than they are currently allowed to do.
Our family used these Kids Cook Real Food Online Class Teach children basic and advanced cooking skills. You can watch three of the lessons (including a great knife skills class for kids of all ages) for free using the link above.
While these videos are the easiest way I’ve found to allow my kids to learn how to help (because they learn from someone other than me… and she’s an excellent teacher), I recommend looking Ways to get your kids involved in more than preparing and cooking. They may be more willing to eat the healthier foods they helped make.
Set up a kitchen for kids
I keep all the “baby” dishes in the bottom cupboard in the kitchen, not just the lunch ones. This way, they can easily reach with their dishes to grab a drink or a plate. In our cabinets we have:
Tip #2: Use a Reusable Lunch Box
One of the biggest hurdles I faced was finding something to pack my lunch. When I was growing up, I had a plastic lunch box. And there are plastic Tupperware and plastic bags to go inside.
Because we try avoid plastic, this is not an option for me. I also don’t want to use food preservation glass plate when we are away from home. Many schools also do not allow glass plates or lunch boxes.
Reusable lunch box (no plastic)
After trying several options, I finally decided large lunch program steel lunch box. These bento boxes are large enough to hold my older child’s food, they are dishwasher safe and easy to clean. I’ve used the smaller sized lunch programs in the past and they were great for our little ones, but not accommodating enough for my school age kids (6+). They are more expensive than plastic lunch boxes, but they are healthier and last longer.
Here are some other healthy containers we use to pack lunches:
I keep all of these containers in a bottom cabinet in our kitchen. This way, the kids can reach them to help pack their lunches and put them away after washing.
Tip #3: Always include vegetables and fruits
Vegetables and fruits are excellent sources of many nutrients. Eating a variety not only helps ensure children get enough micronutrients, but also helps develop their appetite for these foods. It can be difficult to get kids to eat and enjoy their produce, but I found the tips above very helpful here.
Here are some healthy school lunch ideas for fruits and veggies:
- Shoot peas
- cherry tomatoes
- Cauliflower flower
- Sliced bell pepper
- apple slices
- Watermelon block
- Cucumber slices
- Diced Jicama (with some lemon and salt)
- Celery with almond butter or other nut butter
This is one of those areas of lunch prep that I always allow my kids to help or handle entirely because it encourages them to try and enjoy new foods. My older kids have graduated with regular chef knives, but even my toddlers can safely use them. crinkle cutter for cutting fruits and vegetables.
Tip #4: Get creative with drinks
Our thanks steel bottles for drinksand silicone squeeze bottleWe can get really creative with drinks. This is another way I can eat vegetables, fruits and smoothies. I always send water but also smoothies, chia energy drinks, protein drinks or yogurts with fruit in silicone bottles.
My kids love drinking these “snacks” and I love them full of veggies, gelatin, and other nutrient-dense foods. They pack in more nutrients than your typical juice or milk carton (and soda especially!) and take minutes to make.
To simplify lunch planning even further (and integrate it with your shopping list), consider a meal planning tool. My all time favorite is The real plan. I liked it so much that I merged my own meal plan board with it and added all of my own recipes. You can seamlessly plan all your weekly meals and it creates a shopping list for you.
It’s so easy even my kids use it. And I love that it saves me hours and money every week. Read my review its here.
What to put in your child’s lunch box: Alternate meal plan
We homeschooled our children, but I attended public and private schools at different times while growing up. One thing I remember very well about school lunches (aside from how lousy most of them taste): rotating lunch schedules.
While my mother usually packs lunch for me during the school year, I sometimes get money to buy it. I’ll scour the lunch schedule to find out what day to buy lunch. Ironically, I usually never use the money, always waiting for better options. Tuesdays are usually fish cakes and Fridays are usually pizza (the most popular day at school).
I certainly wouldn’t recommend microwaving fish cakes, but there’s a valuable lesson in the idea of a lunch schedule. Children appreciate consistency and knowing a favorite dish is the norm on Friday gives them something to look forward to. Even if they don’t like the other lunch options very much.
For our purposes, I have a rotating group of ten meal options for whenever we pack lunch. For families with a regular school schedule, this may simply be a two-week rotating lunch schedule.
Here’s what that school lunch idea looks like:
Best school lunch ideas
Here are some of our favorite healthy school lunch ideas when it comes to packed lunches. While many of these lunch recipes are snack foods, you won’t find pepperoni bagels, Lunchables, or even whole grain pita bread on this list. Our family doesn’t eat a lot of grains and there are plenty of options without making bread!
Some of these require a bit of prep work, but you can create a large batch that will last into the weekend. Most are delicious at room temperature, or you can use a thermos to hold hot foods (like soup).
School lunch ideas for protein + main dish(s)
- Egg muffins
- Ham and egg breakfast bowl
- Beef jerky sticks or Paleovalley beef stick
- Mini Greek meatballs
- Chicken salad
- Chicken fingers
- Sweet chili steak salad (add gluten-free noodles if desired for a pasta salad)
- Smoked Chicken
- Steak Fajita Salad
- Avocado BLT Salad
- Tex Mex Salad Tacos
- Chipotle Style Burrito Bowl
- My Big Fat Greek Salad
- Artichoke Chicken Salad with Spinach
- Pancakes filled with frozen meat and sweet potatoes
- Chicken Parmesan Nuggets
- Homemade stick fish
- Egg salad served on lettuce
- Hard-boiled eggs (Instant Pot great for this)
- Quesadillas made from cornmeal and Mexican cheese or cheddar
Hot Soup + Main course
- Hearty Italian Sausage Soup
- Sweet potato soup
- Chicken tortilla soup
- Chicken Taco Soup
- Simple tomato soup
- Creamy broccoli soup
- Slow cooked orange beef stew
- Orange chicken
- Sweet and sour chicken
- Chicken Rotisserie
- Alfredo Smoked Chicken (one pan)
- Honey garlic sausage plate
School Lunch Ideas for Snacks + Party
- Zucchini Fritters
- Chia seed gel
- Homemade apple sauce
- Trail mix with dried fruit
- Homemade yogurt
- Crispy cheese
- Coconut flour waffles
- Crispy French fries
- Bite soft biscuits (no seeds)
- Simple cucumber salad
- roasted beans
Sweets (Still Healthy!)
- Probiotic gummies
- Jello Probiotic Snacks
- Chia seed energy ball
- Fruit skin (Like fruit roll)
- Coconut butter cup
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Bomb
- Tangerine gum
- Cinnamon Coconut Muffins
- Black chocolate
- Strawberry Cheesecake Parfait
- Peanut Butter Chia Seed Pudding
- Lemon poppy seed muffins
- Banana muffins
- Cranberry Orange Muffins
- Chocolate chip cookies without baking coconut
- Coconut Granola
Drinks to sip
- Creamy Berry Smoothie
- Herbal and fruit infused water
- Probiotic Lemonade
- Natural electrolyte sports drink
- More drink recipes
Dips for Dunking
- Yogurt fruit dip ice cream
- Radish Cream Cheese Dip
- French Dip Onion
- 5 minutes homemade tomato sauce
- Food Farm Food
- Grilled red chili hummus
- Add seasoning and dipping sauce
These healthy lunch ideas are a starting point for us and cover the basics of protein, vegetables, fruit, and healthy fats. I usually include some homemade sweet potato fries or other snacks. To keep things simple, you can rotate these ideas on a two-week schedule. Stick them on the fridge so the kids can prepare lunch every day.
Some of these lunches don’t have as many veggies and healthy fats as we eat at home. But my focus is on making sure that over the course of a day our kids eat a balanced diet and get enough of each macronutrient. For packed lunches, I usually make more of their favorites and snacks to keep things simple.
If you go astray, don’t worry… leftovers make great school lunches too!
What are your ideas and tips for healthy school lunches? Do you pack your school lunch every day? Let me know in the comments!