Step-by-Step Guide to Packing Healthy School Lunches
Here we are, at the beginning of a fresh, exciting and new school year!
When the previous school year ended (for us it was at the end of June), I was staring at what I thought was a long, long summer. However, it feels like the summer passed in the blink of an eye.
Did you feel the same way? Or is it just me who feels that the older I get, the faster the time passes?
Anyway, don’t let me digress from my main point today, which is to help you be ready and able for packing healthy school lunches for picky eaters.
At the beginning of each school year I am very excited about the idea of packing delicious and nutritious lunches for my children and each year, without fail, my enthusiasm goes down around the two-month mark, sometimes earlier.
But I found something that keeps me stay on track even when all I want to do is to hire a chef to make not only lunches, but also breakfasts and suppers for my entire family. 😉
Yes, you guessed: it’s making a list. Actually a few small lists. (And yes, you’re right, I LOVE lists).
When I plan my kids’ lunches, I always follow these simple rules:
- Pack a protein and a healthy fat
- Pack a fresh fruit
- Pack a fresh vegetable
- Pack a snack
This simple plan ensures that my kids not only eat protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates, but also fiber, enzymes, vitamins and minerals. They will stay full for a long time and their body is loaded with nutrients. No more mood swings, foggy brains and restless bodies.
I made a list for each of the categories above, with a total of four (not too long) lists. Here’s six examples from each category.
Protein and healthy fats list:
- Boiled eggs
- Sandwich with meat, vegetables, mayo, etc.
- Leftovers such as beef chili, chicken pilaf, stews, homemade pizza, pasta and sauce
- Wraps with cooked meat, lettuce, tomatoes, avocadoes, etc.
- Yogurt and cheese – if your kids are not sensitive to them
This list can be very long. The sky is the limit. Packing leftovers is the easiest way to get protein and healthy fats, as long as you made a double batch the night before.
- Apples – I cut them in half, core them and then wrap the two halves together
- Asian pears – same method as for the apples
- Kiwi – I cut it in two, wrap the two halves together and pack a spoon
On the fruit list we don’t include fruit that gets mushy or oxidizes easily. We eat those at home (apricots, nectarines, etc.)
- Bell peppers cored and cut in strips
- Celery cut in sticks
- Small cauliflower florets
- Small broccoli florets
- Cucumber sticks or rounds
- Baby carrots
- Popcorn – it’s usually homemade with coconut oil and sea salt
- Rice crackers
- Sunflower chia bites – from Orgali Foods which get delivered to your door
- Homemade baked oatmeal
- Quinoa squares – also from Orgali Foods
- Homemade muffins, cookies or any other baked treats that my kids love
I avoid packaged snacks as much as possible because of three reasons:
- Most of them are extremely processed and have very little nutrition
- Most of them have a long and unfamiliar ingredient list
- Price. Nothing beats a homemade snack when it comes to price.
The only time packaged snacks show up in my kids’ school lunches is when we find some that are minimally processed, have a short list of recognizable ingredients and are affordable.
Again, these are just a few examples from our lists. You can make your own lists with foods that your child likes the most. Even better, plan the school lunches together. The more you involve your child, the more likely they are to eat their entire school lunch.
Another rule I follow when I pack school lunches is that I never pack foods that my kids are not familiar with or that I know for sure that they won’t eat. I keep it very simple, tasty and healthy. No food experiments in school lunches, so no food coming back home.
And here’s a quick step-by-step guide to help you AND your child pack healthy school lunches:
- Sit down together to make the four lists (protein and healthy fats, fruit, vegetables, snacks).
- We do this on Fridays as I go shopping on Saturdays.
- The child chooses 5 different items from each list – one for each school day.
- Put the school lunch meal plan in the kitchen for everybody to see. This will ensure that the meal plan will happen and that you won’t feel scrambled every morning trying to patch together a lunch for your child. We stick our list on one of the kitchen cabinets.
- Include all the foods that your child chose in your weekly shopping list.
- Go shopping together. Or by yourself if you’re in a hurry. Or if it’s before everyone wakes up – like in my case. I usually go shopping on Saturday morning at 7 am, but sometimes I order online and my husband picks up the order from the store in the evening.
- If your child is old enough, they can help pack their school lunch or even do it by themselves.
There you have it – a step-by-step guide to help you and your child be ready for packing healthy school lunches.
Did you find it useful? What was your biggest take-away?
What is your trick (or tricks) when it comes to packing healthy school lunches? Share it below! We all could use more help.
Looking for more inspiration? Here are a few articles I wrote in the past that will help you come up with tons more ideas.
This is a post I wrote when my son was in grade 3. I still refer to it once in a while as it has great tips.
Here you can find more than 50 school lunch ideas that are tasty and healthy.