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Easy Lunchbox and Healthy Lunch Ideas

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It’s back-to-school season, which means it’s also lunchbox season! If you’re looking for easy and healthy ideas for packing kids’ lunches, you’ll find that and more here. Simple solutions for foods the kids will love. And if they love it, they’ll eat it too!

Top view of back-to-school sandwich in the shape of an owl with a bento box in the background

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All lunch ideas here are based on a healthy approach to making school lunches that are simple, easy, and quick. They require no heating or a microwave but can be served chilled or at room temperature.

And I might mention these tips are helpful not only for healthy kids’ lunches but for healthy adult lunches too!

So, if you’re looking for lunch inspirations, you’ve come to the right place. Here you will find school lunch tips from health experts as well as more years than I can count of feeding kids (my own, the neighbors, and family).

And remember, there is no right or wrong way to make school lunches. What matters is that there are healthy options… and that the kids like them!

So, let’s dive into these easy ideas for healthy, packed lunches and well-balanced meals. Believe me, it’s easier than it feels sometimes!

What to Keep in Mind

  • Food Allergies: If packing school lunches, be aware of the school’s food restrictions for peanut and food allergies.
  • Food Safety: Be sure to keep food safety in mind. Certain items will keep at room temperature but some will require an ice pack to stay cool.

How to Build a Healthy Lunch Box

According to Harvard Health, lunch boxes should have a simple formula: Fill half of the lunch box with colorful fruits or vegetables (aim for two to three different types), one-quarter with whole grains, and one-quarter with healthy proteins.

Healthy fats and a small amount of dairy (if desired) round out a tasty meal that will fuel an active, healthy lifestyle.

What to Pack for a Healthy Lunch Box

  1. Choose any 1 fresh fruit. Here are some ideas: grapes, apple slices or rings, any melon chunks (cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon), any berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries), or banana slices.
  2. Choose any 2 vegetables. Here are some ideas: carrot coins or sticks, cucumber, broccoli, bell pepper strips, asparagus spears, summer squash ribbons, or grape tomatoes.
  3. Choose any 1 healthy protein. For example: Beans, edamame, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, hummus, veggie burger, roasted turkey or chicken slices, or a hardboiled egg.
  4. Choose any 1 whole grainFor example: whole grain pasta, bread and crackers, brown rice, quinoa, steel-cut oats, and other minimally-processed whole grains.
  5. Incorporating dairy (if desired)Here are some ideas: unflavored milk, plain Greek yogurt, small amounts of cheese like cottage cheese, and string cheese. For dairy-free options, try soy milk and soy yogurt, which contain similar amounts of calcium, protein, and vitamin D as dairy milk.

Lunchbox Ideas for Healthy Proteins

It’s important to include protein sources in lunches to help fuel the day with brain power and keep you satisfied until the next meal. Here are some protein ideas perfect to fit in boxed lunches:

  • Rotisserie chicken
  • Deli meat (turkey, ham, etc)
  • Seed and nut butters
  • Chicken, tuna, salmon or chickpea salads
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Whole grain pasta
  • Quinoa
  • Beans
  • Cottage cheese
  • Hummus and chickpeas
  • Greek yogurt
  • Cheddar cheese squares
  • Nuts and seeds

How much protein do kids need?

How much protein does your child need? “Ten to 30% of your calorie intake should come from protein,” says the Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences.

The Cleveland Clinic says, “Children should get enough protein every day for basic needs and athletics if they eat two servings of lean protein, such as lean beef, pork, poultry, fish, Greek yogurt or meat alternatives.”

AGEPROTEIN GRAMS PER DAY
1-313 grams
4-819 grams
9-1334 grams
14-1852 grams for boys, 46 grams for girls
Top view of whole grain deli sandwich with an owl face

Building a Healthy Lunchbox They’ll Actually Eat!

Variety is key when building lunchboxes the kids will love and actually eat. Keep a selection of fruits, veggies, and protein on hand for quick morning lunches and afternoon snacks.

Instead of classic PB&J sandwiches daily, swap in tortillas, flatbreads, pita bread, bagels, and traditional bread to keep things interesting.

With the back-to-school season underway, here are some more “mom tips” for building a healthy lunch box they’ll eat:

  • Pack finger foods: Fit brain-fueling foods into each lunch box. Cut fruits and veggies into bite pieces to give you room for a variety of good-for-you foods.
  • Use food groups to balance nutrition: It’s important to include foods you know they’ll love, which means they will actually eat them. Aim to include proteins, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and whole grains (barring any food allergies, of course!).
  • Make it bright: Kids love foods that have bright and fun colors. Think cherry tomatoes, a rainbow of pepper colors, baby carrots, sliced cucumbers, blueberries, strawberries, and mandarin oranges.
  • Dips make everything work: Fit small containers with hummus, yogurt dips or nut butter to encourage kids to eat the good stuff.
  • Let them help: When kids help pack and choose the items in their lunch boxes, they are much more likely to eat them!

Lunchbox Ideas

Healthy Lunchbox Ideas
Healthy Lunchbox Ideas
Healthy Lunchbox Ideas with Owl Shaped Whole Grain Sandwich
Healthy Lunchbox Ideas
Healthy Lunchbox Ideas

Lunchboxes I’m Using This Year

I’m using two lunchboxes this year.

The first is the Rover Lunchbox made from stainless steel, dishwasher safe, and leak-proof!

The second lunchbox I’m using is the Big Bento Box, with no BPAs, which is not only leak-proof and dishwasher-safe but also microwave-safe!

Healthy Hot Lunches

If you have access to a microwave and want hot lunch ideas, you might like these:


Healthy Breakfast Ideas


Top view of back-to-school sandwich in the shape of an owl with a bento box in the background

Healthy Lunch Ideas for Lunchboxes

Yield: 1+ servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes

Easy and healthy lunchbox ideas for kids that are quick and simple to make and require no heating. Delicious school lunches they'll love!

Ingredients

Fruits

  • Melons cubes or shapes (like cantaloupse, honeydew, watermelon, etc.)
  • Berries (like strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries)
  • Grapes
  • Apple slices or rings
  • Banana slices
  • Orange or Mandarin segments
  • Applesauce

Vegetables

  • Carrots with dressing and dips
  • Celery sticks with peanut butter
  • Bell Pepper strips in a variety of colors
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Greens (lettuce, spinach)

Proteins

  • Sandwiches (pb&j, deli meat, cream cheese, etc.)
  • Peanut Butter Banana Wraps
  • Rotisserie chicken slices with dipping sauce
  • Salad Sandwiches (like egg salad, tuna salad, salmon salad)
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Bagels and cream cheese
  • Whole grain mini pancakes or waffles
  • Yogurt
  • Pasta salad
  • Tortellini with pesto or marinara
  • Deli roll-ups (deli with cream cheese on a wrap, sliced into pinwheels)

Snacks and Treats

  • Whole grain crackers and crisps
  • Pretzels
  • Trail mix
  • Hummus and Dips
  • Granola or granola bars
  • String cheese
  • Whole grain muffins
  • Popcorn
  • Graham crackers
  • Veggie chips
  • Peanut butter cookies

Instructions

  1. Mix and match these ideas from each of the food groups: fruit, vegetables, proteins, and snacks or treats. Let the kids help decide the choices and pack their lunches. They'll be much more apt to love it that way!

Notes

Quick and easy recipes

Tips for Packing a Healthy Lunchbox

  1. Choose any 1 fresh fruit. For example: grapes, apple slices or rings, any melon chunks (cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon), any berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries), or banana slices.
  2. Choose any 2 vegetables. For example: carrot coins or sticks, cucumber, broccoli, bell pepper strips, asparagus spears, summer squash ribbons, or grape tomatoes.
  3. Choose any 1 healthy protein. For example: Beans, edamame, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, hummus, veggie burger, roasted turkey or chicken slices, or a hardboiled egg.
  4. Choose any 1 whole grainFor example: whole grain pasta, bread and crackers, brown rice, quinoa, steel-cut oats, and other minimally-processed whole grains.
  5. Incorporating dairy (if desired)For example: unflavored milk, plain Greek yogurt, small amounts of cheese like cottage cheese, and string cheese. For dairy-free options, try soy milk and soy yogurt, which contain similar amounts of calcium, protein, and vitamin D as dairy milk.


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