Pack a healthy lunchbox for your children in just minutes by following this easy-to-use guide loaded with simple tips and tricks guaranteed to ensure big smiles and full tummies.
Trying to pack a healthy lunchbox day in and day out can be tough. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to throw in the towel or been at a loss for a new idea. However, I’ve committed to Ellie and Frances that when I pack their lunches (they now love hot lunch at the school too) it is going to be nutritious, tasty and fun. And while yes, with every meal I hope the girls will scarf down each little carrot or bell pepper strip first, the reality is there are days when they don’t eat those at all. However, I believe that continued exposure (aka repetition aka it is totally cool to pack the same lunch multiple days in a row) with a healthy balance of new foods will keep lunches exciting every time your child opens the box (or bag)>
I’ve compiled all of my lunchbox, advice, recipes, shopping tips, videos and more into one place for you called my Healthy Lunchbox Headquarters. Check it out and let me know your thoughts. While you search around the headquarters, keep these 5 important tips in mind to help you plan simple and quick lunchbox meals.
Tips to Help Pack a Healthy Lunchbox
1. Get Creative with Veggies:
Don’t get discouraged if the raw baby carrots you pack for lunch day-in and day-out continue to be sent home untouched. Studies have found that children are more likely to eat their vegetables when offered with a dip so try packing the guacamole or hummus alongside raw veggies and see what happens. Also, consider your preparation method. Is your child more likely to eat grilled or roasted veggies versus raw? Try preparing foods like spaghetti sauce and meatloaf with shredded or diced carrots, onions, peppers and celery mixed in and send leftovers in the lunchbox.
- Quick ideas: corn kernels/corn on the cob; raw broccoli florets with hummus/roasted broccoli/steamed broccoli with cheese sauce; baked sweet potato sprinkled with cinnamon/oven-baked sweet potato fries; oven-roasted potato wedges/potato cakes/oven-baked chips; raw zucchini rounds with ranch dip/zucchini bread
2. Keep Your Child Hydrated:
Staying hydrated throughout the day is critical to maintaining concentration and energy levels. If you’re worried about your child not drinking enough water at school, make sure to include water-packed foods in the lunchbox. You can also start the morning by offering oatmeal or ready-to-eat cereal made milk and topped with fruit.
- Quick ideas: watermelon, strawberries, pasta, salad greens, rice, cucumbers, grapes, bell peppers
3. Think Outside the Sandwich:
Sandwiches with lean, low-sodium deli meat are an easy way to boost protein in the lunchbox. But if you need to break out of the sandwich rut then consider some of these protein-rich foods to keep your child feeling satisfied all afternoon.
- Quick ideas: edamame, hummus, hard-boiled eggs, Greek yogurt, cheese, beans, lentils, quinoa, roasted chickpeas, nuts, cottage cheese, tofu cubes, smoothies made with yogurt or silken tofu, and nut or seed butters
4. Pack the Power Trio: Fiber, Protein, and Healthy Fat
The three nutrients fiber, protein, and healthy fat have the “staying power” to keep your child feeling energized throughout the day and boost their daily nutrient quotient. When packing a lunchbox, choose foods that hit these target nutrients.
- Quick ideas: whole wheat tortilla spread with nut or seed butter, topped with banana slices and flax seed and rolled up; leftover grilled chicken sandwich with spinach, grilled veggies and hummus; low-sodium turkey pita with tomatoes, cheese, arugula and a smear of fresh avocado; egg salad made with canola mayo or Greek yogurt atop salad greens with whole wheat crackers
5. Make it Fun
Just because you’re packing a nutritious lunch doesn’t mean you can’t offer healthier alternatives to the sweet or salty treats your child craves. Consider making some of the traditional favorites yourself so you can oversee the ingredient list and remember to keep portions in check. You can also pack stickers, lunchbox notes, and small toys to keep lunch interesting and fun. Or have a theme like an alphabet lunchbox or a “white out” lunchbox.
- Quick ideas: trail mix with whole grain cereal, nuts and chocolate chips; baked potato chips; dark chocolate square; whole grain pretzels; mini whole grain muffin; yogurt-covered raisins
BONUS: Choose Fun Bento-Style Lunchboxes
The lunchboxes I use for most of my posts are Bentgo Kids. I like them because they’re leakproof and the perfect size for my little girls (they recommend ages 3-7). Many parents have asked before if they would work for older kids and I would say it likely depends on the appetite but I pack my lunch in there and always have plenty of food. We also love the Planetbox Rover boxes for the times when we need to hold more food. Both are easy to pack, easy to store, and most important to this mama, dishwasher safe!
Want More Lunchbox Inspiration?
With over 125 healthy lunchboxes for kids, this is the ULTIMATE GUIDE to your lunchbox packing needs. Whether you want gluten-free, gluten-packed, vegetarian, meat-lovers, vegan, kosher, dairy-free, dairy-loaded, snack box, and sandwich-free ideas, you’re sure to find multiple boxes to help with your planning.
If you like what you see here and we aren’t connected yet, I post lunchbox images on my Instagram account each week. You can also follow along with them at #healthylittlelunchbox. Why do I not post one each day? Because I’m human and I make lunches at the last minute too despite my best efforts to plan ahead and we are often racing out the door before I can grab a picture.