Back-to-school time means back to packing school lunches!
Whether you’re about to pack your first-ever school lunch or have been packing lunches for years, it can be a challenge… and a source of frustration.
Especially if you’re navigating food preferences or allergies, time constraints, and/or healthy eating!
It’s time to simplify your lunchbox routine while developing an arsenal of healthy food choices your family will actually eat and enjoy! Here are 45 lunchbox recipes and bonus tips for packing a nourishing lunch for school.
Healthy School Lunch Ideas
The best healthy lunches start with the highest-quality ingredients that your budget will allow.
And if there’s one category of food that should get priority with quality control, it’s fats.
Opt for the highest-quality fats you can. That means reach for pastured butter, raw cheddar, sustainably-produced bacon, and nitrate/nitrite-free cured meats.
The reason is because environmental pollutants and other toxins are stored in fatty tissue. Always go organic and even pastured and grass-fed for those foods!
Other areas to focus on organic is the “Dirty Dozen” list from the Environmental Working Group. Strawberries, apples, grapes and tomatoes are on the dirty dozen, as are peaches and pears. You can check out their complete list here and take a look at their “Clean Fifteen” list while you’re at it.
So what are good foods to take to school for lunch?
Below is a list of 45 healthy school lunch ideas that kids will love!
In short, there are 8 hot thermos lunch ideas and 7 non-sandwich ideas so you potentially already have 15 days of fun lunch options for your kiddos. Combine that with some bento box lunches and you have a month’s worth of healthy school lunches at your disposal.
Hot Lunch Ideas
Image courtesy of Raising Generation Nourished.
These lunch box ideas will most likely require the use of a thermos. Amazon has a huge selection of thermoses at different sizes to accommodate everyone in the family. Some of them even come with portable spoons attached to either the side or on the cap.
Other great ideas to keep foods warm are to use glass containers (if school permitted and safe with child) and wrap towels or foil-wrap it.
For dry foods such as chicken nuggets, wrap them in parchment paper, then seal in a foil packet tightly.
(Note: I’ve found that chicken nuggets can get soggy in a thermos so my choice would be to use the parchment paper/foil option).
- Instant Pot Tomato Soup
- Instant Pot Pumpkin Turkey Chili
- Easy, Creamy Dairy-Free Macaroni and Cheese
- Paleo Chicken Fried Rice
- Paleo Egg Roll in a Bowl
- 5-Ingredient Paleo Chicken Nuggets
- Carrot Mint Bisque with Fresh Ginger and Bone Broth
- Veggie-Packed Sloppy Joes
Non-Sandwich Lunch Ideas
Image courtesy of The Nourishing Home.
Let’s face it… sandwiches are so yesterday.
Thankfully, between Pinterest and Google, we can find myriad of ways to feed our children nourishing foods. And no need to compromise when it comes to school lunches!
Muffins don’t have to be for breakfast only.
In fact, savory muffins are a great option for easy lunch box meal for your kiddo. They make a terrific lunch that kids will love.
How could you go wrong with corndog muffin or veggie bites? Packed with protein, nutrition, and fun for the kids!
These are also great to shake things up a bit and skip the thermos. Variety for you as you prepare these foods and variety for your kids as they open their lunchbox!
- Healthy Egg Muffins
- Paleo Sausage Cheese Balls
- Homemade Corndog Muffins
- Paleo Savory Zucchini Muffins
- Pizza Einkorn Muffins
- Mini Beef Meatballs
- Grain-Free Savory Chicken & Veggie Bites
Quick And Easy Lunches
Image courtesy of Don’t Waste The Crumbs.
The ideas below are mostly for bento-style lunches. They are convenient for kid’s lunchboxes because they are usually very quick and easy to put together.
Bento is a single portion, home-packed meal (or take-out) with roots in Japanese cuisine. The trend quickly picked up because it’s so easy to pack a variety of foods in one container.
My favorite containers for bento boxes are from PlanetBox. They have three different sizes and tons of accessories to go with them.
Kids love bento boxes because it gives them control over what is packed. It is especially helpful for children with sensory issues or those who are bothered when their “food touches each other.”
Some of these does require a little bit more prep time but typically all these are quick to put together during busy mornings. These bento boxes are fun for even the kids to put together the night before.
Additional foods that can be added to bento boxes that are not on this list include a variety of fresh fruits and veggies: grapes, strawberries, apple wedges, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, carrot sticks, etc. Be sure to add in a small container of healthy dip or hummus if your kids love to dip their veggies in.
I’ve also added raw cheddar and nitrate-free salami or pepperoni to my kid’s bento boxes.
- Healthy Homemade Lunchables
- Homemade Lunch Meat
- Allergy-Free Homemade Vegetable Dip
- Broccoli Cheddar Quinoa Bars
- Gluten-Free Cheddar Cheese Crackers
- Zucchini Chips
- Easy Roasted Broccolini
- Healthy Homemade Nut Free Granola Bars
- Creamy & Easy Homemade Ranch
- Easy Whole Wheat Einkorn Cheddar Crackers
- Green Plantain Crackers
- Easy Homemade Pickle Chips
- Healthy Gluten-Free Pasta Salad Recipe
- Mayo-Free Tuna Salad
- Healthy Potato Salad with Probiotics
This is the category for sweets. Of course, you can always throw in a handful of grapes and call it good. But for inspiration, this section has some really fun yet healthy sweets for your kids’ lunch boxes. These can easily be thrown into the bento box as well.
Remember to follow EWG’s recommendation for Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen fruits and vegetables.
The good thing about most of these recipes are that even though they are considered a dessert in your school lunchbox, they are still packed with nutrition. For example, the gummies and gelatin-type desserts require grass-fed gelatin, which is a great source of amino acids!
The last four items will need a small container to hold them. I love 4-ounce jelly jars but if you have to avoid glass, there are many options available online!
- Homemade Grapefruit Gummies
- Egg-Free Paleo Brownies
- Homemade “Jello” Dessert
- Mango & Cream Gummies
- Silky Smooth Dairy-Free Bean Fudge
- Maple Apple Cinnamon No-Bake Treats
- Carrot Raisin No-Bake Treats
- Melon Gummies
- Flourless Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bars
- Pumpkin Leather
- Peach Fruit Leather
- Instant Pot Lemon Pudding Cups
- No-Jello Chocolate Pudding Cups
- Instant Pot Rice Pudding
- Instant Pot 3-Minute Applesauce
Other Helpful Articles for Healthy School Lunch Ideas
From dilly carrot sticks to water kefir to homemade string cheese, these super easy ideas will help you pack a variety of nutritious fermented foods in your child’s lunchbox — without adding lots of prep time!
Here are 10 practical tips to help you pack delicious lunches all week long, without the stress. These tips will help you to plan and organize the lunch-making routine, and make sure that the packed lunch is actually eaten!
Stuck for ideas? Need some tips for choosing the best lunchbox or containers? Want to know how to get the kids involved or to create a lunchbox menu plan? This post has you covered! 2-week menu plan included to help you get started!
Do you need to make your lunches gluten-free? Here are lots of ideas for thinking beyond the sandwich, as well as tips for keeping lunches gluten-free while complying with nut-free policies.
Whether you are trying to cut down on plastic, or are just looking for alternative ideas for keeping food fresh, you can easily make your own reusable food wrap and you can even turn your wrap into homemade snack bags!
Picky eater? No problem! These tips will help you come up with healthy school lunch ideas for picky eaters.
Do you pack your child’s lunch or have them buy it? If packing, what do you pack in your child’s lunchbox?
This post was originally published and written by Andrea Sabean on 8/7/17. It has since been updated and republished.
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