school lunch aug 20

How to Pack a Healthy School Lunch

| 29 Comments

As we start another school year I am once again ready to start packing healthy and waste free school lunches for my children.   Like many parents across the country, I am unhappy with not only the poor nutrition of the food that is offered in my kid’s cafeteria but I am also disappointed in the way the food is presented.   There are far too many processed food items that are served in individual wrappers.  The food is highly processed, full of chemicals and preservatives and the packaging contributes to the continuing landfill and ecological problems faced by our communities.

By sending nutritious, natural foods packed in re-usable containers, I feel that I am modeling responsible stewardship of our planet’s resources while insuring that my children are getting the nutrition they need to thrive both physically and mentally.  My children were already well versed on the benefits of eating real foods vs. junk foods and I found that waste free school lunches were a natural way to introduce them to the concept of green living because every day they saw for themselves in the cafeteria that disposable lunches create a lot of garbage.

School lunch garbage is created in mass quantities because there is a whole category of food products made specifically for school lunches that feature individually wrapped servings of everything commonly found in the average lunchbox.  Grocery stores stock an amazing number of individually wrapped lunchbox items including juice boxes, single serve puddings, jellos, granola bars, chips, yogurt tubes, cheese sticks, Lunchables and even individually packaged servings of fruits and veggies. In fact, according to wastefreelunches.org, ” it has been estimated that on average a school-age child using a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. That equates to 18,760 pounds of lunch waste for just one average-size elementary school.”

Unfortunately, these lunch items also tend to be highly processed foods that have chemicals, preservatives, stabilizers and fillers and provide very little, if any, real nutrition.  Since I am determined to not only nourish my children’s bodies, but to also make a positive impact on our environment,  I think that healthy waste free lunches are fantastic.

So what do I pack in our re-usable lunch containers?

I like to look at my kids’ lunches as mini buffets so I use a rectangular, flat, plastic food container with a locking top and I use medium or large silicone cupcake liners to create food compartments within the container.  Some of the items that I pack into the compartments include:

  • Meatballs
  • Cubes or strips of leftover chicken breast, turkey breast, roast beef, or ham
  • Hard boiled egg
  • Cheese sticks or slices (cut from a block, not the individually wrapped ones)
  • Sandwich
  • Rolled up lunch meat (from my home cooked roasts)
  • Leftovers from any dinner that they particularly enjoyed
  • Nuts
  • Olives
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Baby carrots
  • Any veggie my kids like
  • Cut fruit such as apples, oranges, melons, kiwis
  • Whole fruits such as grapes, cherries, mandarin oranges, plums
  • Crackers
  • Yogurt (in re-usable silicone tubes)
  • Homemade jello or pudding (in re-usable silicone tubes)
  • Granola bars (homemade)
  • Cookies (homemade)

I found a re-useable silicone ice pop maker set that can be filled with flavored yogurt and frozen so that by lunch time the child has a yogurt tube style treat that is still cold and fresh.  These tubes could also be loaded with homemade jello or pudding for a great lunch time treat that has the added benefit of not requiring utensils to eat it.  For the beverage, I use a 12 ounce Thermos bottle with a flip top straw which will reliably keep drinks cold on even the hottest South Florida day.

In addition to being able  to offer my kids excellent nutrition another great benefit of the homemade, waste free lunch is saving money at the grocery store.  After the initial purchase of the lunch container (which can be a simple plastic food container system like mine to a dedicated lunch system like Laptop Lunchboxes, Goodbyns, LunchBots, PlanetBox, LunchSkins or EasyLunchboxes) I have found that each homemade lunch costs less to make than a comparable one made from individually packaged items and I am also saving money by not spending on all of those zipper bags either.

For my family it makes sense  economically, nutritionally and ecologically to spend a little extra time preparing and packing lunches.  My children are happy because they know that their lunch won’t be “gross” cafeteria food, and they enjoy being able to pick their favorite meats, cheeses, fruits, and veggies from the grocery store to include in their lunches.

Check out the ever growing collection of my kids’ lunches on my School Lunch Ideas gallery.

This post is participating in Make Your Own! Monday, Fat Tuesday, Trick or Treat Tuesday, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, Traditional Tuesdays, Heart and Soul, Real Food Wednesday, Healthy 2day Wednesdays, Allergy Free Wednesdays, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Works For Me Wednesday, Home Is Where The Heart Is, Tout It Tuesday, Whole Foods Wednesday, Full Plate Thursday, Tastetastic Thursday, Keep It Real Thursdays, Pennywise Platter Thursday, Link It Up Thursday, Freaky Friday, Fight Back Friday, Fresh Bites Friday, Friday Favorites, Feasting in Fellowship Friday, Foodie Friday, The Gallery of Favorites, Inspire Me Fridays, Fit and Fabulous Fridays, Get Schooled Saturday, Prudent Projects and Smart Solutions, Show and Tell Saturday, Nifty Thrifty Sunday, Melt In Your Mouth Monday, On The Menu Monday, Monday Mania, Must Try Monday, Homestead Barn Hop, Scratch Cookin’ Tuesday, One Creative Weekend

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29 Comments

  1. I found your link on Frugally Sustainable. My daughter’s new school has a zero-waste lunch policy so i am up for the challenge! I have lots of eco-friendly reusable lunch supplies and I make most of my daughter’s food for school. I hadn’t seen the silicone tubes, so thank you, now I don’t have to buy disposable yogurt tubes anymore. I did some research last year for non-toxic lunch supplies. if you want to read it here: http://www.chicshadesofgreen.com/lunchbox-blues/. It is so important to me to eliminate as many toxic foods as possible. I enjoyed reading your post.

    • I’m glad I was able to help with those reusable yogurt tubes, my kids have been happy with them so far and I hope your daughter likes them too. I am going to check out your link about non toxic lunch supplies, thanks for the info.

      • Hi Jen,

        Thanks. Did you find a that the tubes had a strange taste to them? Some reviews said they did. I hope you found my link either useful or enjoyable. I will check out some of your other posts. I’d like to slowly get away from grains for my daughter and it looks like you have lots of things on here.

        • Lyza,

          When we first got the tubes they did have a bit of an odor/taste to them that one of my kids found unacceptable. After a few washings and a soak in white vinegar, the smell/taste has faded and now my son will happily eat from it.

          I checked out your lunch post and I loved that you are wanting the same Planet Box that I have had my eye on. Like you said, when you break down the price and health benefits it is not THAT expensive – BUT – when you are looking to pack lunches for 2 kids you are suddenly looking at a big initial expense. I recently won a giveaway (from LunchBots and Whole9) and the prize was a set of 3 different LunchBots. I will start using them for my kids lunches and then post a review here in the next week or so.

          • Hi Jen,

            Thanks for the tip on the tubes, I will try that when I get them. I don’t know if you saw my response to you on my page. I do really like the planet box, but it wasn’t my daughter’s favorite. I had thought that one container where she could see everything would make it easier for her. I bought the whole shabang and there were definitely things I didn’t like. The case only fits the planet box so if I wanted to give my daughter something warm for lunch it had to be an added thermos to her bag. The dipper containers can only work with the container or you have to use an elastic band and then my daughter had trouble opening the dippers because they don’t screw on and off they lift off. Maybe you could try one and see how your kids like them— or do they need to have everything the same?

          • Hi Lyza,
            I did see your response on your site and I made another comment there too :). I know what you mean about the lift off type lids vs. screw top lids, I found that when my kids were smaller it was much harder for them to handle the lift off lids. Now that they are older, they can reliably get into those types of containers but they don’t always re-cap them properly so if there is leftover food in them, sometimes it all spills out in the lunch bag. I guess there is no perfect solution!

            Today was the first time I packed lunches in the Lunchbots containers that I won in their giveaway. I will add pictures of those lunches to my gallery of School Lunch Ideas (http://www.jensnaturalkitchen.com/school-lunchbox-ideas/) so you can see how they compare to my previous plastic Lock & Lock rectangle containers.

  2. I’m stopping over from Fat Tuesday. Love the great tips!

    I recently launched a new real food blog carnival called Fill Those Jars Friday. I’d love to have you come stop by and share this on it: http://toomanyjarsinmykitchen.com/2012/08/23/fill-those-jars-friday-august-24-2012/

    See you there!
    Mindy

  3. Pingback: Sunday Snippets: August 26, 2012

  4. Thank you for your submission on Nourishing Treasures’ Make Your Own! Monday link-up.

    Check back tomorrow when the new link-up is running to see if you were one of the top 3 featured posts! :)

  5. My kids are just getting to the school age, but we haven’t hit lunch time at school yet (half day kindergarten). These are great ideas though! I think the silicone liners probably make lunch time fun!

  6. Thanks for linking up at The Prudent Pantry!

    I love these ideas for school lunches–especially the silicone tubes for yogurt. Thanks for sharing!

  7. This is such a thought-provoking post. I always preferred to send homemade things instead of pre-packaged ones in school lunches when my son was little. There are some great storage container suggestions here too.

  8. Your readers might like the idea I read somewhere – to keep an apple from browning in a lunch, after slicing slip a rubber band around the entire apple, including the core. This will hold it in its original shape and not allow the air to get to the apple flesh.

    Often kids don’t like to bite into an apple – this gives them slices, while eliminating the need for an airtight container.

  9. Jen, you are a Fit Feature on Amee’s Savory Dish this week! Congrats! I love your healthy lunch tips!!

  10. Stopping by from the Barn Hop. I love your lunchbox ideas – especially using the silicone cups as dividers. Brilliant.

    I do want to remind your readers, though, to always remember what a blessing it is to have the financial freedom to CHOOSE to send you kids to school with a healthy lunch.

    I work for an urban school district where 80% of our student body is low income enough to qualify for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program. Right now we’re contemplating building a commmisary where lunches for approximately 80,000 students will be pre-made, packaged and shipped out to schools from a central location. Now our kids won’t even see “lunch ladies” making their meals!

    And you can imagine the level of processing that will go into this “food”. Teachers of wee ones have complained that it takes the 4-5 year olds so long to unopen all the packaging that they don’t even have time to finish eating!

    It’s heartbreaking! And the fact that our government funds these “lunches” for the neediest of our children should make us all mad!

    • Jill,
      Thanks for visiting :). It is so sad that school lunches are such a missed opportunity for so many children! It is no secret that children grow and learn better when they eat whole, natural foods yet so much of school cafeteria foods are highly processed and virtually devoid of nutrition. I do consider myself fortunate to be able to offer my own kids better food, and I sincerely wish that the School Districts across the country would come to their senses on this vitally important issue.

  11. Timely tips for the start of school :-) … I’d like to invite you to share this post with us at Scratch Cookin’ Tuesday.

  12. These are great tips! Especially the silicone cupcake liners for dividers. Thanks for sharing at Must Try Monday.

  13. Pingback: school time: lunch box ideas | Frugal Local Kitchen

  14. great ideas Jen!
    I’ll be featuring you this week @ Inspire Me Fridays, thank you for linking up!

  15. Love the yogurt idea! I’d love for you to link this up today (or anytime this weekend) at One Creative Weekend (http://onecreativemommy.com/category/linky-parties-and-buttons/one-creative-weekend/)on OneCreativeMommy.com.

  16. I’m so glad you linked this up at One Creative Weekend! I love it! I’d love for you to join the party again on Friday.

  17. Pingback: Lunchbots Product Review

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