The Ultimate Guide to Packing Healthy Lunchboxes
Are you in a lunchbox rut? Struggling to get your kids to eat healthy, balanced school lunches? Are they coming home from school with everything you packed the night before? Don’t worry! We can help. Below you’ll find our most popular lunchbox packing tips, recipes and more into the ultimate guide to packing healthy lunchboxes.
Who’s still adjusting to the back-to-school routine? This mom is! The new school year has brought with it some new challenges. For example, my youngest has a new folder system with items that can be taken out and kept at school and other that need to go back with her. While packing lunches after dinner one night, I mixed up these papers and faced a meltdown of epic proportions from Charli thinking she was going to look bad to her teacher. #momfail (Don’t worry, all was fine.)
While we’re all trying to get our bearings in a new school year, Produce for Kids’ annual Power Your Lunchbox is in full swing! As parents, we understand the craziness that back to school brings, and we want to help you get your family on a healthy track for the new school year.
And while we can’t promise you won’t mix up the new folder system, forget about crazy hat day, or lose your sanity while waiting for your youngest to find her missing shoe, we can promise to provide you with lots of healthy, easy lunchbox ideas!
School lunches are important to our children’s concentration, energy levels, and general nutrition. Although many of us would like to throw a bag lunch together in the couple of free minutes we have each morning, it is important for parents to plan out nutritious and balanced meals for kids to take to school….and to get the kids involved in the packing process! This guide will simplify how to make these lunches tasty but good for the growing bodies and minds we need to be feeding!
Resources for Packing Healthy School Lunches
Looking for more lunchbox ideas? We’ve got you covered with 70+ recipes, like make-ahead ideas, non-sandwich lunches, ideas for repurposing leftovers, and diet-specific options that include vegetarian, nut-free and gluten-free recipes.
Or check out all of our back-to-school content on our blog. A few of our most popular posts include:
- The Ultimate Guide to Packing Healthy Lunchboxes
- After-School Snacks that Won’t Ruin Dinner
- The Best Lunchboxes for Kids
- 20 Lunchbox-Packing Tips & Hacks from Parents
For this blog, we’ve pulled together our most popular tips, round-ups and more to give you all the ammunition you need to tackle the task of lunchbox-packing.
How do you #PowerYourLunchbox? Show us your healthy lunchboxes on Instagram using #PowerYourLunchbox.
How To Pack Healthy Lunchboxes for Your Kids
We’ll get the not-so-glamorous — but extremely important — part of packing lunches out of the way first: food safety.
Packing food in a safe way is the most important part of packing a lunch. Not sure which foods should stay cold, the best way to keep hot foods hot or what to do with leftovers? Holley Grainger has you covered with these 5 Lunchbox Food Safety Tips, which include:
- Using an insulated bag or box to keep food safe.
- Packing food cold to prevent spoiling or bacteria growth.
- Keeping food cold with an ice pack or frozen juice boxes.
- Store hot food by prepping the correct containers.
- Toss all leftovers after the school day.
Whatever you do, don’t fall victim to a lunchbox-packing mistake, either. Sally of RealMomNutrition.com shares tips on repurposing leftovers, how to keep items fresh, introducing new foods, and packing a balanced lunch in Episode 34 of the Healthy Family Project Podcast.
Choosing the Right Lunchbox
One of the biggest questions we get this time of year is, “What are the best lunchboxes for kids?” The truth is that it all depends on your kid! What types of foods do they like in their lunch? How old are they? Can food touch or do they need a separate compartment for everything? These are a just a few examples of things to consider when choosing a lunchbox for your little one.
So we’ve rounded up our favorite lunchboxes and accessories to take the hard work out of choosing one and to help you navigate the many choices out there.
When in Doubt, Plan it Out
Trust me, when you plan ahead you avoid the headache of having to throw together a lunchbox in 5 minutes before running out the door to catch the bus. And I promise it’s not as hard as it sounds, either!
I love this Lunchbox Basics: Set Yourself up for Success post from Brenda of Meal Planning Magic because it’s full of simple ways to keep school lunches organized. Plus, grab her Top 10 Meal Planning Tips for Back to School (or returning to school after the holidays) to get yourself and your family on track.
And if you’re packing lunches for everyone in the family (yourself included), then check out these registered dietitian’s tips for packing healthy, tasty lunches for the whole family.
Get Your Kids Involved in the Packing Process
While the thought of having your kids in the kitchen might stress you out, they’ll be much more likely to eat their lunch at school if they help make it. Print out this Build Your Own Healthy Lunchbox or Build a Better Sandwich Guide to help kids plan what they’re going to pack.
And don’t forget to pack that lunchbox full of fruits and veggies! It’s a great rule-of-thumb is pack at least two fruits or veggies per lunch. Bananas and sliced fruit are easy for kids of all ages to eat. Apples and carrot sticks are fresh but last a long time in the fridge, which makes them easy to stock up on. If it’s a struggle to have fresh fruits and veggies on hand, be sure to have dried fruits in the pantry. Here’s are 10 ways to add more of each to your child’s lunchbox.
Be smart about sweets. If your child is used to a desert in his lunchbox, try some healthier sweets such as yogurt-covered pretzels or chocolate-covered raisins. Apples with caramel dip can satisfy a sweet tooth without going overboard as well. If real deserts are a must, keep the portions small such as a sweet snack of two little Hershey kisses.
Mad Hacking Skills
These days, it seems like there’s a hack for just about everything, and packing healthy lunchboxes is no exception. So we’ve rounded up 20 of the top lunchbox-packing tips from fellow parents. Have a hack that’s not on the list? Comment on the post and let us know!
A top complaint with kids and parents when it comes to lunches? Sliced apples turning brown. We tested 6 different methods to prevent apples from browning. Get the full scoop here!
Make It Fun!
Let’s get one thing straight. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a “boring” lunch. It’s important for your child to eat something that’s well balanced to fuel them through their day. But “boring lunches” don’t have to be boring. In fact, they can be healthy and fun! Try to spruce up the sandwich, instead of traditional PB&J; try peanut butter and honey. For sandwiches made with lunch meat, be sure to use lean meats such as turkey or lean ham instead of salami or bologna. You can also add salad greens or grated carrots to the sandwich without making the sandwich soggy.
I have one very picky child who won’t eat very many things. But I do know that if I cut her sandwich into a fun shape using these sandwich cutters, she’ll eat it. Or that if I serve baby carrots with a little hummus (and definitely not ranch) to dip them in, she’ll eat them.
Believe me when I tell you that there are really simple ways to turn food into fun for kids. Maybe it’s cutting it into a fun shape, serving with a dip, or adding a few mini chocolate chips. Find what works for your schedule and kids, and have fun with it!
How to Avoid the Lunchbox Rut
As adults, we may not mind eating the same thing every day for lunch, but chances are your kiddos would. Gillian of LaLaLunchbox.com is sharing her tried and true tips for thinking outside the lunchbox rut in Episode 33 of the Healthy Family Project Podcast. This must-listen episode covers:
- Infusing creativity into lunchboxes
- Trying something new with your kids’ lunches without spending a lot of time
- Creating a balanced lunch
- Dealing with food allergies
What You’re Really Looking For – Lunchbox Ideas!
Here are our favorite round-ups of healthy lunchbox ideas to fuel kids through the school day:
- 60+ Healthy Lunchbox Ideas for Kids
- 22 Warm Lunchbox Ideas for Winter
- 25 Nut-Free Lunchbox Ideas + Nut-Free Alternative for Kids
- 27 Non-Sandwich Lunchbox Ideas
- 14 Healthy After-School Snacks Under 5 Ingredients (These ideas are perfect for lunchboxes, too!)
Regardless of your child’s age, you can work with them to find some healthy lunch items which are both nutritious and kid-friendly. If your first couple tries don’t work, don’t give up! Your child will benefit from the healthy lunches and will grow up learning what it means to eat well!
Did we miss anything? Do you have questions about packing lunchboxes? Comment below and let us know!
Wow! What an incredibly helpful article for parents who may be struggling with lunches! I have written a few posts on how to pack healthy lunchboxes and even I found a few helpful tips. ?
It’s a great article. It’s more useful and informative. I like it. Thanks for sharing.