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Summer is winding down and school is fast approaching. Which means us mamas have to start packing those lunches again. Depending on where you are, your kids may already be back in school. And after packing those lunches for the past week or two, you might already be looking for some easy and healthy school lunch ideas! (If you’re here just for the download, skip to the bottom!)
During the summer, lunch for us is usually leftover meat, a cooked veggie, and a side of fruit. But when the kids are in school, cooking up some fresh hot veggies just isn’t possible. And my kids aren’t huge fans of raw vegetables. So our veggie selection during school days is cut down to those that can be reheated without turning to mush or hidden in the food somehow. I do try to compensate by loading them up at dinner time and weekends with their rainbow of veggies and fermented foods!
I still want their lunches to be as nutritious as possible, however. But they still have to be portable, practical, and realistic.
Let’s just get one thing clear, though … I’m not fancy when it comes to packing my kids lunches. A lot of times they get just the basic foods in basic forms. I don’t cut their food into fun little shapes (God bless you mamas that have time to do so!). And I don’t have the fun dishware packed with picture perfect food that you see all over Pinterest when searching for “school lunch ideas”. My kids’ school lunches are packed with mismatched glassware, plastic containers (that we use only for cold foods), and disposable baggies. Sorry, but that’s the reality of the mom life that I live. I don’t keep up with the Jones’ and I’m not that Pinterest mom.
That said, I do put a sticky note with a message on it for them. Bonus points there, right?!
So, now onto those easy and healthy school lunch ideas that still allow us to feed our kids nutrient dense foods and help them stay their healthiest. Because we all know schools are a breeding ground for germs. Just saying.
Main Lunchbox Items
There’s no reason kids can’t have leftovers for lunch. How many times did the kids eat leftovers for their lunch during the summer? So why not at school? It’s the easiest food to add, especially if you plan ahead a bit and make a little extra. This is the kind of lunch my kids get most of the time.
This could look like:
- Meatloaf (this is even more portable when you make it in a muffin tin)
- Pork chops
- Pulled pork
- Taco meat bowl
- Soups (made with bone broth for extra nutrients)
- Homemade pizza (flatbread, sauce, ground meat or chicken, and cheese)
Add some good ‘ole unsweetened ketchup to any meat and the kids will mow down. What kid doesn’t like ketchup? (We use Primal Kitchen brand and I buy it through Thrive Market for a deal.) They can eat the leftovers cold or warmed up if the school allows them to do so. My kids go to a small school, so warming up meals isn’t a problem. (Be sure to send food items that need warming up in glass, not plastic.)
Sandwiches or Wraps – with a word of caution
Classic right? And it doesn’t have to be warmed up!
But I have a warning if you’re thinking about using pre-packaged processed lunch meats for your kiddos sandwiches everyday. (If you don’t want to hear it, jump down to the sandwich/wrap ideas section.)
Studies are still going on to determine whether the use of some iffy ingredients in lunch meats are linked to cancers, diabetes, heart disease, allergies, asthma, serious brain disorders such as seizures, and symptoms of ADHD, and other behavior issues in our kiddos.
As the studies are still underway or inconclusive in determining one way or the other, we err on the side of caution and greatly limit what lunch meats we eat. We choose to purchase ones that don’t have the above ingredients in them. Why have more unnecessary things in our body anyways? With a food allergy and sensitivity kiddo, we don’t want to take any chances of putting anything else foreign into his body that he could react to. I take the approach that if I can’t pronounce the name on the label and don’t know what it is, then I DON’T BUY IT. Plain and simple.
It’s not that I’m picking on just lunch meats either. These ingredients are in a lot of foods. And I don’t know about your kids, but mine seem to eat ALL. THE. TIME. So unless I’m calculating just how much of those above-mentioned ingredients they’re getting every time I feed them something that has them in it, I really don’t know the total amount they’ve consumed. Just something to think about.
So instead of buying pre-packaged processed lunch meats, use whole meats. Leftover chicken, turkey, ham, pulled pork or roast can be sliced to sandwich thins or shredded. If you have that picky kiddo that just won’t go for that, then get your lunch meat cut fresh at the deli and be sure to check the label of the meat they’re slicing it from. Having your cold cuts sliced from fresh whole meat is often going to have less preservatives in it. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s a better option. You can do canned tuna or salmon as well. Again, read the label on the brand you buy.
But guess what … you don’t even have to have meat on a sandwich! It’s true. You can do things like egg salad sandwich, cheese sandwich, or veggie sandwich.
If we use bread, we use either Ezekiel bread, a sprouted spelt flatbread (it’s unleavened bread, actually), or a homemade sweet potato wrap for our bread. I do like the Siete wraps because of the minimal ingredients, but they can be kind of pricey. So we typically make our own. If my kids liked lettuce then I’d do a lettuce wrap for them, but that’s a work in progress. If your kids do like lettuce then you could do a lettuce wrap or even a seaweed wrap to really pack that sandwich full of vitamins and minerals. Here’s a secret, though … I sometimes tear up the seaweed into really tiny pieces and sprinkle it on their sandwich. My kids never even know it’s there with all the other toppings!
- Turkey with mashed avocado and mustard
- Chicken with tomato, cheese and mayo (watch for yucky oils and added sugar, Chosen and Primal are good brands)
- Pulled pork with BBQ sauce or ketchup
- Ham slices or cubes with cheese, mustard, mayo and pickles
- Roast with cheese and mayo
- Bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayo
- Chicken salad made with mayo, grapes and celery
- Tuna fish mixed with mashed avocado and mustard, or just plain mayo
- Cream cheese and salmon
- Grilled cheese with bacon bits, shredded meats or cut up veggies
- Egg salad
- Cream cheese and cucumber slices
- Peanut butter or other nut butter (preferably sprouted nuts, but if not be sure it’s just the nuts and their oil, no other additives) and banana slices.
- Peanut butter or other nut butter and blueberries
- Cheese slices with mayo, mustard and tomato
- Cream cheese with chopped apples and cinnamon
Fruits and Veggies
Of course you can’t forget the fruits and veggies in the lunch box. You can do mixed fruits, or fruit with dips like peanut butter or cream cheese. Peanut butter mixed in plain yogurt makes a yummy fruit dip. You can always add a bit of honey to sweeten it up, too.
- Apple slices (can add cinnamon or peanut butter)
- Apple chips
- Bananas, fresh or dried
- Avocado chunks
- Cucumber slices
- Mashed sweet potato with butter or ghee, can do coconut oil to make it dairy free
- Sweet potato fries and ketchup
- Butternut squash fries and ketchup
- Cherry tomatoes or tomato slices
- Leftover fried zucchini
- Leftover baked cheesy zucchini (we just use our raw cheddar cheese in this recipe)
- Pickles (minimal preservatives, or homemade if possible)
- Carrot sticks
- Celery with cream cheese or a nut butter
- Real cheese slices (we like the Sierra Nevada Cheese Company’s raw cheddar)
- Baked cheese crisps
- Hardboiled egg
- Sprouted nuts trail mix
- Muffins with veggies like shredded zucchini or carrots mixed in
- Plain yogurt with mixed berries and honey
- Smoothies with a mix of fruit, veggies, collagen and Vitamin C (we use Camu Camu berries for our Vitamin C boost)
- Cottage cheese with fruit
- Sweet potato pancake topped with cream cheese
The Sweet and Crunchies
We’re always trying to find balance with the world’s tasty pleasures and our idea of healthy eating. So I don’t pack Oreos, Pringles, and Nutty Buddy’s in school lunches. Instead, I choose to find treats that are as nourishing as possible. Yes, of course, there’s going to be some sort of sweetener involved, but it will be far more nutritious than anything the mainstream “treats” offer.
- Sweet potato chips
- Siete chips and salsa
- Dried fruit
- Bear real fruit yoyos
- Figgy Pops
- Banana bread muffins
- Soaked oats banana bread
- Sweet potato cookie (I make this with sprouted spelt flour, extra cinnamon, and sometimes I add a banana)
- Avocado chocolate chip cookies
- Avocado chocolate pudding (I make it with a bit of honey added)
- Homemade ice cream (it’ll help keep the lunchbox cool, too!)
- Chocolate covered peanut butter bananas
- Sweet potato brownies
- Dates stuffed with peanut butter and dipped in chocolate
- Homemade strawberry banana gummies
- Popcorn with just butter and salt as ingredients, add nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor
Sometimes you just need those grab and go packaged snack options for those super rushed mornings. Check out my list of our favorite healthy packaged snack options here. Pick a few to always have on hand for easy and healthy school lunch grab and go options.
School lunch combinations
Keep school lunches realistic, simple, and healthy. Don’t over complicate it. Don’t compare yourself to what you think other moms are doing. Because, in reality, they’re probably not doing what you think they are! Pick a main food item, add a fruit and/or veggie and then a treat if you want. Foods can be nutritious and yummy without coming from a package or loaded with preservatives. Sometimes you just need someone else’s ideas to stir up some healthy ideas of your own!
Here’s a few combo examples you can do by picking something from each of the categories:
- Chicken with mayo, cheese and tomato in a sweet potato wrap (great one to hide seaweed bits in!), apple slices with peanut butter and homemade strawberry banana gummies.
- Leftover meatballs with shredded cheese and ketchup on the side. Sweet potato fries, grapes and chocolate covered peanut butter bananas.
- Cream cheese and cucumber slices on sprouted spelt flatbread, leftover baked cheesy zucchini, pear, and trail mix.
- Pulled pork either plain or on Ezekiel bread, cottage cheese and fruit, sweet potato cookie.
- Chili, cheese slices, berries, chocolate avocado pudding.
- For super rushed mornings lunch can be as easy as a hard boiled egg, banana, sweet potato chips and Larabar.
And there you have a few new easy and healthy school lunch ideas you can reference!
But I’ve got something else for you …
A FREE print out all of the foods listed above. Just mix and match from each category and voila … lunch is made. There’s even a spot to write down some of your own ideas and what your favorite combinations are! Just click here to download.
Help a mother out and be sure to share this article with another school mama!