One of our favorite annual features of Green Child’s digital magazine – the Back to School Lunch & Gear Guide always helps us get back into the swing of packing healthy lunches. Even after 8 years, we enjoy the challenge of coming up with new healthy school lunch ideas.
It is important that kids eat well during their school day. They exert so much energy, both physically and mentally and good food gives them the fuel they need to play and learn throughout the day. So even though it’s more work to pack a nutritious lunch, it’s worth it!
We don’t pack an Instagram-worthy lunch every day. What parent needs that pressure?
But we do make it a priority to pack a healthy lunch.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t mornings when you’ll find us rushing around the kitchen making the world’s fastest quesadilla and shoving carrot sticks and an apple in the lunch box while calling over our shoulder, “I don’t know. Where was the last place you saw your shoes?”
Just like keeping the school papers organized so your house isn’t covered in artwork or math tests, having a plan for lunches can really help keep you sane.
GET ORGANIZED FOR PACKING HEALTHY SCHOOL LUNCHES
Here are some tips that help us keep the morning routine smooth enough to pack nutritious lunches.
KEEP CONTAINERS CLEAN & ACCESSIBLE
Store all of your clean containers organized in one easily accessible spot. Whether it’s a cabinet, section of your pantry, or storage basket or bin, a little organization goes a long way to save time.
GIVE YOURSELF PREP TIME
Do what you can the night before. Cut fruits and veggies, prep salads, make muffins or dips. If leftovers will go in tomorrow’s lunches, go ahead and separate them into lunch containers to save the extra step in the morning.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF LEFTOVERS
We often make a soup for dinner and that will be the main course of lunches the following day. The trick is to make extra so you have plenty left over for lunches. Some things are fine the next day, like soups, chili, or homemade veggie mac-n-cheese.
BUY IN BULK
Instead of buying individually wrapped servings of fruit, vegetables, or snacks buy in bulk and wrap them in small portions. Buying in bulk with save you money and reduce excess packaging waste.
INVOLVE THE KIDS
Let your kids come with you to the grocery store and pick out their own foods. Give them a guideline such as one protein, one fruit, two veggies, and a snack… and see what they put together.
PACK SCHOOL LUNCHES IN WASTE-FREE (& HEALTHIER) GEAR
Not only is waste-free lunch gear much better for the planet, it’s far more economical. One mom found that by packing a reusable, waste-free lunch, they saved $2.32 per child per day, or $417.60 per child per school year.
Here are the essentials of a waste-free lunch:
REUSABLE LUNCH BOX OR BAG
Buy a quality lunch box or bag. Some of our favorites are these adorable styles from SoYoung. The Planetbox stainless steel bento style lunchbox might be a bit of an investment up front, but on the Greren Child team, one Planetbox has been through three kids since 2012!
REUSABLE FOOD CONTAINERS
Read the labels of all products you buy and make sure they are non-toxic. Lots of plastic items contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and Bisphenol A (BPA). Our favorite safe containers are the glass storage cubes from Wean Green, reusable silicone bags from Stasher, and the stainless steel Splash Box and Pods Set from ECOlunchbox.
REFILLABLE WATER BOTTLE
Choose a non-toxic stainless steel water bottle and fill it with water. Juice boxes and pouches are usually filled with artificial ingredients and sugar. Glass water bottles are our favorite for home use, but many schools don’t allow them. Our top stainless choices are Kleen Kanteen and Hydro Flask.
REUSABLE SILVERWARE & CLOTH NAPKINS
Skip the disposable plastic silverware and go with a bamboo set or some silverware from home. If your child can remember to bring home his lunchbox and container lids every day, he’s responsible enough to remember his fork or spoon. Don’t forget to pack a cloth napkin.
INSPIRATION: OUR FAVORITE HEALTHY SCHOOL LUNCH IDEAS
Here are some deliciously healthy ideas to help you pack a lunch with a nutritious punch. No matter what kind of eater you have we’ve got ideas that will help.. and most of them really are simple to make!
DIY Chicken Nachos Lunch – Grilled or pulled chicken, organic corn tortilla chips, lettuce, organic red peppers, organic grape tomatoes, Mexican cheese. Shown in the PlanetBox Rover Stainless Steel Bento.
Pretty Pinwheels – Turkey, lettuce, cheese wraps with organic carrots, cucumbers, sliced pineapple, and blackberries. Shown in Emily & Meritt Dotty Bow Lunch Bag with Harry Potter Mascot Lunch Box in background.
Breakfast for Lunch – Waffles, maple syrup, bacon, hard boiled egg, pineapple and blackberry medley, Barbara’s Organic O’s, Crunchies NonGMO Freeze Dried Strawberries. Shown in PlanetBox Rover Stainless Steel Bento.
Simple but Healthy – Sunflower seed butter and organic jam sandwich with sweet potato chips, Berry Blast RX Bar, organic grapes, mandarin orange. Pictured in the Blue Water Bento Splash Box and Pods Set from ECOlunchboxes with Sea Turtle lunch bag and Hydro Flask Kids water bottle.
Back to Basics – Nitrate-free turkey sandwich, organic carrots, apple, blueberry and raspberry medley, and Pomegranate Grape Slammers Protein pouch. Pictured in Emily & Meritt Dotty Bow Lunch Bag and reusable silicone storage bags from Stasher.
Monstrous Appetite – Grilled chicken lettuce wrap (chicken, tomatoes, cheese in romaine lettuce), quinoa chips, curly sweet potatoes, Kombucha jello with pomegranate seeds, roasted chickpeas, and Acai Oatmeal Fruit Squeeze. Shown in PlanetBox Rover Stainless Steel Bento with Kleen Kanteen water bottle.
Elevated Leftovers – Last night’s grilled chicken, organic baby spinach with cherry tomatoes and nutritional yeast, sliced cucumbers, grapes, Elemental Superfood Seed Bar, and pistachios. Shown in PlanetBox Rover Stainless Steel Bento.
Field trip or disposable lunch – Save plastic containers from strawberries or other produce so you’ll have options for field trip days. Volunteer to help with the field trip and maybe you can gather up some of the water bottles, juice boxes, and paper or plastic bags for recycling. Here, we’ve included an easy sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwich, grapes, broccoli florets, Alphabet Cookies from Happy Tot, and Yum Earth fruit snacks.
Simple Vegan Lunch – Organic carrots and homemade hummus, mixed greens with cherry tomatoes, Forager Organic Cashewgurt, and homemade pumpkin spice muffin. Shown in Wean Green glass storage containers.
Simple, Nourishing Soup – Butternut squash and basil soup, organic seaweed snack, banana, and chia seed bar. Keep the soup warm in an insulated container from Zoli.
Heavy on the Greens – Cauliflower rice with baby portabella mushrooms, garlic, and asparagus, mixed greens with feta, avocado, orange slices, and strawberries. Pictured in ECOlunchbox oval container, Snack Taxi reusable bag, and Lifefactory water bottle.
Eating a Healthy Rainbow – Greek yogurt with granola, celery with almond butter (or alternative) and raisins, baked kale chips (find easy kale chips recipe here), mixed organic berries, and mint dark chocolate square. Shown in Planetbox Shuttle lunch box with Sigg water bottle.
DIY Avocado Toast – Ezekiel bread with avocado and options like bacon, tomatoes, eggs (hard boiled or scrambled), feta cheese… whatever your child likes. Shown in Wean Green glass storage containers and RePlay Recycled containers.
Protein Packed – Mixed greens, asparagus, mushrooms, and feta with DIY trail mix (pretzels, almonds, cranberries), Stonyfield organic yogurt tube, banana, and Annie’s Organic Bunny Snacks. Shown in Wean Green glass storage containers and So Young lunchbox.
Yummy Bites – Club wrap (turkey, ham, cheese, kale, and hummus), carrots, edamame, and mini banana. Shown in Planetbox Shuttle lunch box.
Mix it Up – Mixed peppers, nut medley, pineapple blueberry medley, Garden Lites muffin with veggies, and TruJoy Organic Fruit Chews. Shown in Wean Green glass storage containers and RePlay Recycled bowl.