Knowing what to pack for school lunch.... being creative, healthy, diverse, and yummy... man it is exhausting. I feel like I am having to sit down and reinvent the wheel every week, or I am just sending the same old thing. Enough is enough. I decided to make an easy to follow, mix and match sheet to pack school lunches.
This list doesn't contain your normal sandwiches, in fact sandwiches didn’t even make the list. Everything on here can be done gluten free and there are plenty of dairy free options. Nothing on here is make ahead. All of it you can buy at the grocery store already done for you. Aside from cutting up some veggies, (which the grocery store will also do for you) most everything on this list is just throw and go.
I quickly learned when packing lunches for my toddler that I just didn't have the time to make that much from scratch. However, I didn't want him eating all packaged stuff at school either. That is why this list was born, to provide simple, go to items to include in our kids’ lunch boxes that are healthy.
Nutrients Your Child Needs
How to Mix and Match
What nutrients does your child actually need? They need fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Each one of these "macro nutrients" will provide them with the energy and brain power they need to get through a school day. To be more detailed:
30% Fat | 30% Protein | 40% Carbohydrates
Fat - This is anything from nut butters to avocado to healthy salad dressing. The item that have good fat are marked with a circle on the downloadable freebie sheet.
Protein - This is meat, beans, eggs, etc.
Carbohydrates - These are your vegetables and starches. Just think sweet potato and rice cakes.
The sheet below is set up to be sure that your child gets each one of the "macro nutrients" listed above. All you do is pick one item from each of the categories below:
Be sure you have a fat "circle" in there somewhere
Picking one of each of these really does create a healthy, well-rounded meal for you children.
Ultimately, you can mix and match in any way, but you know your child is covered on their nutrients without having to be crazy creative each time you pack a lunch.
Ideas From Lunch Box Guide
Pasta Salad - Brown rice pasta (bonus item), cherry tomatoes (vegetable), berries (fruit), and rotisserie chicken (protein), and feta cheese crumbles or olive oil (fat)
Nacho bar - Corn chips (bonus item), bell peppers sliced (vegetable), avocado (fruit), taco meat or shredded chicken (protein and fat), and optional shredded cheese (fat)
Traditional lunchable - lunch meat (protein), crackers (bonus item), baby carrots (vegetable), and thin slices of pear (fruit), and optional hummus for dipping
Fajitas - ground beef (protein and fat), corn tortilla (bonus item), bell peppers sliced (vegetable), and fruit leather for dessert (fruit)
Sugar In Lunches
I can't talk school lunches without talking sugar, so let’s do this. School is nearly impossible for a child to handle if they are jacked up on sugar. Think of yourself trying to sit still and listen to someone do long division after having a pot of coffee. I mean, not even possible. Sugar in a little one’s body pretty much does the exact same thing.
You will be including a fruit and more than likely a starch in their lunch, which has naturally occurring sugar. That is really all the sugar they need. When buying things, look at the label. Sugar shouldn’t be listed in the first few ingredients in any form. In general you will recognize the words used for sugar on the label. However, any word ending in -ose (example: dextrose) is also a sugar.
Here are the culprits to watch out for on the mix and match list. They may have hidden sugar, so check your labels.
All the dips
Any dairy item - string cheese, yogurt, etc.
Chicken nuggets - ridiculous I know
Crackers - look for seed and nut based crackers
If you would like more information on additives in package foods please check out the following article.
If you are buying processed, packaged deli meat be sure it is nitrate free. If the ingredient list has sodium nitrate then it contains this harmful ingredient linked to cancer.
Try freezing the fruit. This way it is cold by the time they are eating it. I particularly love doing this to grapes. Cut them in half for littles.
You can put hot meats in a thermos. That way they are warm when they eat them.
Send dips with lids, so you don’t have a mess to clean up.
Get your kids involved. Let them pick out one of the items. Have them help wash the fruit in the sink with you.
Put cinnamon on fruits and orange vegetables to make them more appealing.
Buy sweet potatoes and butternut squash already cut up and just saute in some coconut oil that morning.
Try cauliflower and broccoli rice in rice bowls.
Make it fun! See below.
Want more lunchbox ideas? Check out my Pinterest board.
How to Make Lunch Boxes Fun
Lunch Products I Love:
These are some great ways to make your kid’s lunch just that much more fun, and give you the “inspo” you need make it happen!
My all time favorite lunch box is done by Planet Box. My son is two and a half, and right now the Shuttle is the perfect size for him. I can't say enough about how easy to use and clean this lunchbox is. It is super durable too!
These add-ons are great to use as well:
This makes a great little decoration in their lunches!
I mean what kid doesn't love their broccoli having eyes? Thank you Veggietales.
Reusable ziplocks. Save money and avoid all those nasty chemicals!
This is our favorite water bottle! This is stainless steal and made with silicone, so all the nasty chemicals are avoided. I have bought one for my son, and he has had it for over a year. Yes, I know we have kept up with it for a year.... impressive. I was able to switch the top from a bottle, to a sippy, to a straw without ever buying a new bottle.
Don't Forget...Grab the Free Guide on How to Pack a Healthy Lunch