24 ways to pack a nutrient dense, healthy school lunch your child will actually eat:
1. Keep it simple – You should be able to throw this together in five minutes or less – ideally in the morning, so you can send hot or cold foods.
Use leftovers when possible and make a few things on Sunday to have for the week, like rice or quinoa, a roast chicken, or cut up carrots.
2. Don't experiment – Stick with foods you know your kid likes. Now's not the time to try something new.
3. Include lots of saturated fat – This is essential for sustained energy and brainpower.
Don't be shy – butter, whole fat milk, yogurt, and cheese, bacon, avocado, nuts, etc are your secret lunch weapons. Use liberally.
4. Skip the pre-packaged junk – This should go without saying, but no bags of chips, packages of crackers or cookies – even if they're “organic” and all natural.
Instead of gummy snacks or sugary baked goods, send sliced fruit, blueberries, grapes or raisins everyday. One exception to packaged foods: If you kid likes it, toss in a pack of dried seaweed for a salty, crunchy, mineral-rich alternative to chips.
Check that it's made with olive or sesame oil, not canola or other newfangled fats.
5. Stock up – Invest in a good thermos to keep foods hot or cold. Buy some good stainless steel lunch containers to keep foods separate and avoid the mess and waste of plastic bags.
Make a list of the staples you need on hand for quick, last-minute lunches. At my house it's the fixin's for a peanut butter and raw honey sandwich on sprouted bread and carrots from our local farmer.
6. Make classic sandwiches – Tuna fish, egg salad, meatloaf, roast chicken – with raw cheese, and layered with homemade mayo for a great addition of fat and nutrients. Use a sprouted grain or traditionally soured bread.
7. PB & J…improved – Organic nut butter on sprouted grain toast drizzled with raw honey. Feel free to add a layer of butter for extra fat. Another option: sliced bananas.
8. Do the dip – Sliced carrots or veggies of choice with full-fat Greek yogurt or sour cream mixed with soy sauce for dipping.
9. Skip the bread – Cubes of raw cheese with leftover roast chicken or other meat from dinner and some cucumber slices.
10. Homemade “pizza” – Sprouted toast topped with butter, tomato sauce, and a sprinkle of cheese from grass-fed cows, melt in a toaster oven or under the broiler.
11. Snack as lunch – Guacamole with homemade tortilla chips (cut and fry sprouted grain tortillas in coconut oil, butter or pastured lard), slices of raw cheese on the side.
12. Cup o' soup – Or stew, or chili in a thermos. Homemade with bone broth, of course!
13. Breakfast for lunch – Scrambled eggs with bacon cooked the night before or leftover from the weekend, warmed in the morning and sent in a thermos.
Oatmeal – make it on the weekend by soaking oats overnight and cooking in the morning. Reheat in a frying pan by adding a bit of water to reach desired consistency. Top it with butter, raw cream, sliced fruit or raisins, and a drizzle of raw honey or grade B maple syrup.
14. Stretch out Sunday – Leftover french toast cooked in lots of butter with a side of grade B maple syrup and fruit. Warm the toast in the am, and send in a thermos.
15. Homemade granola – Send of with a side or raw milk or full-fat yogurt. Recipe here, at the bottom of this post.
16. Dinner as lunch – Warm up your kid's favorite leftovers in the morning and pack in a thermos.
17. Taco Tuesdays – Wrap leftover meat (shredded chicken, crumbled hamburger, or whatever you have) in a corn tortilla. Top with shredded cheese. Send a side of Greek yogurt, guacamole, and salsa for extra fat and extra fun.
18. R & B to go – Cook rice and beans separately in homemade broth over the weekend, then heat and top with butter and raw cheese, and send to school in a thermos.
19. Roll-ups – Use organic free-range turkey slices to wrap up goat cheese or raw cheddar, avocado and a sliver of carrot.
20. Healthy, fast “Mac n cheese” – Heat left-over rice or quinoa with lots of butter. Top with some full fat yogurt or cream and a handful of shredded raw cheese. Add some frozen organic peas or other veggies you have on hand only if your kid likes them, and send in a thermos.
21. Smoothies – Mix frozen berries or other fruit with full-fat yogurt and a drizzle of raw honey. Blend and send in a thermos.
22. Fruit and yogurt parfait – Full-fat Greek yogurt with sliced fruit, slivered almonds, and a drizzle of raw honey.
23. Homemade banana or zucchini bread – Substitute with persimmons or whatever else is in season. Make with wholesome pastured eggs, real butter or coconut oil, sprouted flour, and natural sugar.
Make a double batch on the weekend a freeze a loaf for later. Here's a recipe for grain-free pumpkin bread, but you can easily substitute zucchini or bananas for the pumpkin.
24. For extra (nutrient dense) credit – Skip the juices which are basically liquid junk. Instead, send a thermos of whole raw milk (add some raw cream for extra fat) – add a sprinkle of cinnamon if your kid likes it like that.
To make sure it stays nice and cold, add a few raw milk ice cubes (frozen ahead of time).
What are your top tips to packing a healthy school lunch?
This is awesome! I have been having major dilemmas over the food packing situation. I have spent lots of time looking up different lunch packing solutions, and was about to purchase a laptop lunch system, but am hesitant about buying plastic. We go on so many outings, it would be nice to just have a system where I can throw everything into a small insulated sack that will fit into the “diaper bag.” I like the idea of stainless steel over plastic any day…
Robin Green says
Emily! This is a fantastic list of lunch ideas! I think I will print it out and put it on the fridge for times when I’m need some lunch inspiration!
Claire Clark says
Most uk school do not allow children to take nuts (due to allergies) which is a major pain for veggie lunches. Its a great list that I will use for myself. Thanks
Stephanie Doucette says
Thanks! I passed it along on FB!
Just discovered your excellent site via Traci Danielson Mitchell – a nutritionist I know – thanks so much for these excellent ideas for packing lunches! I would add there is an excellent system called the Planet Box that is wonderful!
Is there any need to worry about bacteria growth/food poisoning with meats/cheeses in a lunchbox that is not refrigerated?
Emily Christenson via Facebook says
some similar things to what you pack, however my kids have pretty much refused leftover dinner as lunch. here’s what i wrote when they were younger
Emily Christenson via Facebook says
Season Johnson via Facebook says
Sophie Woodforde via Facebook says
re the squatty potty – when in India, I always found the squat type loos very easy to use. Felt like a very natural way to go to the loo. It was just the smell and expectation to wipe with your left hand that I could have done without.
Tia Maria via Facebook says
Love school lunch ideas ….. Always so helpful !
These are great ideas! Thanks! I also found a great stainless steel lunchbox system called Planet Box that will help me incorporate these ideas. Yea! a way to simplify!
Em, I love this cuz its all still kid’s food. We are in almond butter honey sprouted bread fall back this first week of school! They need predictables when everything else is new.
I can’t seem to find the Zuchini recipe?
Hi Karlene, thanks for the question. I have updated the link above to redirect to my grain-free pumpkin bread and you can easily follow the instructions for a wheat flour version from the photo and/or use zucchini or banana instead of pumpkin.
Jennifer L. says
I am feeling a little helpless in the food department this year because they do shared snacks in kindergarten where each family is responsible for bringing snacks one day a week. It’s great that we go to a sugar free school; however, things like rice cakes and corn cakes are encouraged. Ugg. Likewise, so are other “gluten free” packaged foods. I should maybe quietly offer some healthier snack suggestions, in case anyone needs “ideas.” I’ll send them this way 🙂
GiGi Eats Celebrities says
When my mom would make me lunch for school, she would pack me 2 ostrich burgers (8 oz) and a bell pepper! My favorite 🙂 People thought it was kind of weird, but I loved it. This was in high school though…. In elementary school my mother would try to send me to school with an Ezikiel Bagel with tuna salad spread on it – UHHHHHH not exactly the most popular food! LOL! I would always throw it out and eat some of my friend’s food!
Nice, love it!
I’ve several articles on packing healthy lunches, and this one is the best by far! Great ideas! I homeschool, but I am thinking about packing lunches the night before, so making lunch isn’t so time consuming. Thanks!
Useful post thankyou.
We are grain-free, so some of the suggestions won’t work for us. But most of them will.
And I agree with those posters who are suggesting the planet box – we have just bought some for our kids and they are great! A little pricy, but you get what you pay for, and I am sure these will last for several years.
Jenn KD says
That is a FANTASTIC list! Thank you.
This is a great list. Finally found one with some REAL food suggestions. My kids at 8 and 10 in public school and lunch is a PAIN. Peer pressure means they want the same packaged crap everyone else has. They often come home with uneaten food because they don’t want to eat it in front of their friends. EXPENSIVE food! Ug.
I’ve resorted to packing almost nothing for lunches (meat, nuts & dried fruit) and serving high fat breakfasts and warm vegetable after school snacks.
I’ve been putting fish oil ( CLO) in my (two) sons’ tea. A squeeze of the mango flavored stuff and a squirt of the green pastures orange flavor, along with a pinch of stevia for sweet.
I’m currently ‘brewing’ up some water kefir to try that for variety.
I appreciate this subject, thank you for some new ideas.