*Disclosure: some links may contain affiliate links. For more information on what this means, visit my disclosure page.
How to Pack a Healthy Lunch for Kids
Packing a lunch for your child can be challenging enough; but when you ask the question ‘how to pack a healthy lunch for kids?’. Now, that’s a whole other story and could possibly be stressful, if you don’t even know where to start!
Not knowing how to pack a healthy lunch for you child should NOT stop you from doing so; whether you’re packing their lunch for school, or taking advantage of the lunch box meal prep method this summer to save your sanity!
And, in reality, packing a healthy lunch isn’t much more difficult than packing an unhealthy lunch, just a little more prepping to do. But, the benefits for you and your child for packing a healthier lunch is absolutely worth the little extra work and care that goes into it.
So, ditch those store bought granola bars and other highly processed foods, and keep reading to find out exactly how to make your childs lunch healthier!
Want to Remember This? Pin How to Pack a Healthy Lunch for Kids to your favorite Pinterest Board!!
Start with What They Like!
If your child is already used to the highly processed and convenient lunch bag toss ins you get from the grocery store, or maybe the lunches they serve at school (that really aren’t that healthy); then you’ll want to start swapping out the unhealthy for the healthier options slowly.
One part of the lunch at a time.
Say they do really like the store bought granola bars; try instead, to make your own granola bars, or cereal bars, or even the copycat protein type bars. I’ve been using this nakd bar recipe lately, and my 6 year old will not stop asking for them; it’s a great special treat to put in her lunch everyday. And, it’s soo much healthier (and cheaper) than buying the bars at the store.
If they love the lunches they serve at school, try making a healthier version at home for them to take with them. If it’s warm food they like at school, get them their own thermos to keep the home made version warm til lunchtime.
Make Sure All Main Food Groups are Included
And, by all food groups, I mean….
- and Veggies
For a drink, they do not need milk, you can simply give them water. No need to worry about keeping their milk cold til lunch, or sending them to school with money for milk.
And, if you’re wondering why I suggest this and don’t have the dairy ‘food group’ listed above that we all grew up learning about; it’s because dairy is not necessary. The main nutrient in dairy the people are concerned about is calcium, and that can easily be found in veggies and other foods. The dairy ‘food group’ is a made up food group to help sell more milk, cheese, and other animal products high in saturated fat that are also very addictive in nature.
As for the other food groups, half the lunch should be carbs and proteins, and half fruits and veggies. If you want more information on how to put together a healthy meal, check out: How to Teach Children to Build a Healthy Plate
You can also add in a healthy dessert, but it should be healthy and not processed. Some recent desserts my 6 year has been loving in her lunchbox are:
- homemade nakd bars
- gluten free cereal bars
- chocolate chip or raisin muffins (recipes coming soon!)
- homemade cinnamon tortilla chips with fruit dip (recipe coming soon!)
But, lately with the warm weather, she’s been fine without a dessert, and just eating her fruit as a dessert, instead.
Avoid Processed Foods
One of the key things that differs in a healthy lunch vs. a not healthy lunch, is the absence of processed foods.
Sure, processed foods makes making a lunch early in the morning (when we’re barely awake) convenient and super easy. But, it doesn’t do much for our kids after they eat it and still feel hungry. With a little prep work on the weekends, or simpler foods the day of, packing a healthy lunch can be just as easy.
If your kids love fruit bars or granola bars in their lunches, try making your own and doubling or tripling the batch. Just make sure your kids like them before making more than one batch, then you can freeze them and throw them in their lunch bags the day of. (This recipe was a huge win in my home!)
Packing fruits and veggies (like you should be, for any healthy meal), makes avoiding processed foods easy. Simply wash and put in their lunch! Or, peel/cut them and add them in, depending on your childs preference. (For apples, sprinkle some lemon juice on top to help it stay good.)
If your kids are fans of uncrustables, or another processed food item as the ‘main’ part of their meal (the carbs and protein part); see if you can make it at home with less processed ingredients. (Here’s a healthy recipe for uncrustables from one of my favorite gluten-free, allergy friendly, vegan food bloggers!)
Keep it Simple
Whoever said making a healthy lunch is hard and super time-consuming was obviously trying to re-invent the wheel! Either that, or they were trying too hard to please their kids with their lunches.
Hint- kids don’t need to be given everything they want in their lunch! They can help with making it, or the decisions; but ultimately, you’re the one who decides what goes in.
A really simple lunch could be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, an apple and some baby carrots. To make it healthy, be sure to use whole wheat bread and read the ingredient list for the jam if buying it (the less ingredients the better, avoid anything with high fructose corn syrup), or make your own.
Or, make a batch of homemade spaghettios on the weekend, or another favorite dish; heat it up in the morning (possibly too hot) and put it in a thermos for your kids to bring. Then you just need to add in the fruits and veggies, add in some hummus or nut butter for some extra protein and to dip the fruits and veggies in.
Make it Fun!
Just because it’s healthy doesn’t mean it has to be a boring lunch!
Add in some cute notes for lunch time, or use cookie cutters to cut melons, or other fruits and veggies, into fun shapes.
If you’re real creative, maybe you can pull off some of the picture like foods that can be found on Pinterest, like these!
Honestly, I am not that creative. Believe me, I tried during the A to Z snack challenge my girls and I went through. Luckily, my girls were having fun watching and helping me make the pictures, they didn’t care how it turned out!
Sometimes adding in a healthy special snack will be fun enough for your kids! It certainly is for my daughter!
Keep it Mess-Free
Just because unhealthy, processed foods, come in nice, neat wrappers, doesn’t mean that healthy food needs to be messy!
Make sure you use containers that don’t leak. I still have some that I bought on clearance about ten years ago that are probably discontinued, but go here to check out some other great options!
Also, be sure to add in a napkin, just in case. My daughter also likes to use her napkin to wrap up any utensils she used to eat her lunch, so her lunch bag doesn’t get wet or gross from the food.
Oh, and don’t pack liquids in anything other than a very secure thermos. Whether the ‘leak proof’ containers say they will leak, or not, they will.
Make Sure It’ll Stay Good Til Lunch Time
Making sure your childs lunch will stay good until lunch time is probably one of the most difficult parts of packing a lunch. If they had a fridge at school to keep their lunches in, or a microwave to use to heat up their food, it’d be so much easier. But, they don’t.
There’s a few different ways to overcome this challenge.
First, you could pack them foods that aren’t supposed to be warm or cold, but room temperature. This includes sandwiches, some fruits and veggies, nut butters for dipping, home made granola or fruit bars, etc.
Or, to keep foods cold til lunch time, put some ice packs in their lunch. I even tend to buy frozen fruit and add that to my daughters lunch while still frozen; that way, by lunch time it’s thawed and still cold! Plus, frozen fruit tends to be cheaper than fresh fruit and is just as healthy.
If you’re trying to keep food warm; heat it up too hot and then put it in a thermos in their lunch bag.
If you have any other ideas for healthy food that stays good til lunch time, please comment below!!
Don’t Forget About Water
Water is probably one of the most important thing to put in your childs lunch to help make it healthy!
Though, honestly, they should have their water with them all through out the day whenever possible because of all of it’s benefits. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure most teachers will let kids keep water on their tables/desks all day; I know my daughters teacher this past year did.
If you’re still not convinced that your child doesn’t need milk at lunch, then that’s your opinion and you have your right to it.
Regardless, you need to be sending your child to school with a full water bottle everyday. It’ll help them learn better (by helping them have a clear mind) and keep them hydrated during the day, which is super important, especially on days they have gym!
Let’s Summarize How to Pack a Healthy Lunch for Kids
First of all, it isn’t as difficult as everyone seems to think it is. With a little prep work, or just giving your kids simpler meals, it’s just as easy to pack a healthy lunch as it is to pack an unhealthy lunch.
Ok, so you may need to spend on hour on the weekend batching snacks or making a meal for them to take to school all week, but it isn’t necessary.
- start with what they like
- make sure you include protein, carbs, fruits, and veggies
- avoid processed foods
- keep it simple (how much simpler could it be than throwing in some fruits and veggies)
- make it fun (as easy as adding in a special home made treat that you made and froze over the weekend)
- keep it mess free
- make sure it’ll stay good til lunch
- and give them WATER!!
If your child wants to help make decisions about what’s in their healthy lunch, they can fill out these lunch bag printables!