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How to Pack a Healthy Lunch that You Feel Good About and Your Children Actually Eat!

How to Pack a Healthy Lunch that You Feel Good About and Your Children Actually Eat!

Lunches are such a tricky thing: on one hand all of the children are comparing what they got in their lunchboxes (and do you really want them to be the ones with the sprout-sandwich for lunch?) and on the other hand, you want to send them off with something nutritious to fuel them through their day that you feel good about and that they will eat!

If this is your conundrum, and it is for most parents of school aged kiddies, read on!

Most Mom’s Lunchbox Criteria are that the lunch must:

1)         Be quick and easy to pack.

2)         Be healthy and include fruits and/or vegetables.

3)         Contain foods kids will actually eat.

First of all – the lunchbox matters. We’ve seen our kids eat certain lunches from one box and not another. We love this lunchbox which makes everything easily organized and pretty. The PlanetBox lunchboxes are complete winners and worth every penny. There are no comparable products.

Best Kids Lunchboxes, Planet Box
Planet Box’s are amazing

Some Healthful Hints to Improve the “Lunch Box Battles.”

1)         Get your kids involved in the shopping and/or preparation and ask what they like. Take them somewhere like Whole Foods or your local healthy grocery shop and let them pick out some healthy options for their lunchboxes. Spend some time in the produce section and let them experiment with some different fruits. If your child normally only eats apples, try the cherries if they are in season! Buy a few mangos, a box of strawberries or some clementines. These make healthy, delicious lunchbox additions as well! Encourage them to make their own decisions on what they want to try- whether it is a new type of drink or treat. They will be much more likely to embrace it if they have chosen it. Do not and I repeat do not take them to a big grocery store where the aisles are lined with potato chips and cheese puffs!

2)         Buy a lunchbox that is easy to use and that your child likes!
My children use the Lands End ones but there are many other fun ones to choose from these days! One of my favorite companies is Laptop Lunches, which has fun bento box style lunchboxes and also a wide variety of fantastic lunchbox ideas!

3)         Include multiple colors & textures into their lunches.
When we are at a restaurant, we like a variety of colors and textures on our plates and kids are like that too! Pack a soft sandwich, crunchy carrot sticks and creamy non-dairy yogurt (we love Anita’s) for a satisfying combo. For nursery age children, cut their sandwiches into shapes and make fun things like ‘ants on a log’ (celery filled with vegan cream cheese or peanut butter topped with raisins.)

4)         Include condiments in their lunchboxes!
Condiments are not just for grown-ups, and children love, love, love to squirt and dip things. You could include hummus or ranch dressing to dip carrots into, ketchup for a tofu dog, or even maple syrup to dip a grilled almond butter and jelly sandwich into- yum!

5)         Leftovers are great for lunch!
Get out of the ‘grilled daiya cheese and pb&j thinking’ and be experimental with what you include. Did you have grilled tofu the night before? Then wrap up the tofu in a wrap! Have pasta the night before? Include that too! You will be surprised how much more your children will enjoy their lunches, and eat them!   Lunch boxes don’t have to- and shouldn’t- contain the usual sandwich every day! If you do pack a sandwich, vary the bread- serve it on whole wheat one day, a wrap the next, a pita the next and try to add vegetables such as lettuce and tomato when you can.

6)         Last, but certainly not least, remember to always pack a treat!
When your child opens their lunchbox you don’t want them to be the only one without something to look forward to! So, make sure when you are at the grocery store with them that they pick out something that is delicious but not high in sugar, high fructose corn syrup and saturated fat! I keep a variety on hand and just vary which one I throw in their lunchboxes.

Below are some specific ideas for you. Good luck and good packing!

“The Cheat Sheet”

Main Course (choose one):

  • PB&J with a twist: use almond butter & banana grilled on a whole wheat served with a side of agave. I sometimes sneak some chiffonade (tiny cut up slices) of greens into this in the center where they can’t taste it)
  • Smart Dogs- in a bun or rolled up  with vegan cheese in a tortilla
  • Vegan Cheese Quesadillas on corn tortillas with a side of salsa
  • “Perfectly Healthy” Veggie Pancakes (recipe below)- cook it the night before & serve at dinner, then heat it up in the morning and pack it the next day (these also freeze well)
  • Avocado & tomato sandwich
  • “Mexican Sushi” (see recipe below)
  • Vegan chicken nuggets with organic ketchup for dipping

Snacks (choose one):

  • Fruit- bananas, apples, oranges, clementines, cherries, or grapes
  • Vegan Yogurt-   (choose one high in acidophilis and low in sugar)
  • Carrots sticks with hummus for dipping
  • Celery sticks filled with vegan cream cheese
  • Dried fruits (no-sugar)- raisins, apricots, bananas, papaya or mango
  • Trail mix (no-sugar)- try one with Goji berries for iron and Vitamin C
  • Veggie Booty (Roberts American Gourmet)
  • Spelt Pretzels
  • Organic “Cheese” Crackers by Eco-Planet

Treats (every lunchbox must have a treat, right!?!)

  • Organic animal crackers
  • Newman’s Own “oreo” cookies
  • Late July peanut butter crackers

Drinks (choose one):
Always pack them a big bottle of water in a bottle of their choosing as well and encourage them to drink it throughout the day! Opt out of the sports drink route, unless you find some without added sugar!

See Also

  • Honest Kids- (fun squeeze packs) comes in Tropical Tango, Goodness Grapeness or Berry, Berry Good Lemonade
  • Apple & Eve All-Natural Apple Juice (box)
  • Vruit Carrot Apple Juice   (box)
  • R.W. Kudsens Spritzers- Lemonade, Red Rasberry or Grape (can- they think it is soda!)
  • Vita Coco Coconut Water (box)
  • Good, Old-Fashioned Water!


Perfectly Healthy Pancakes

  • Vegan pancake and waffle mix
  • Egg replacer
  • Rice (or almond/ hemp/ soy/ oat/ coconut) milk
  • Butternut squash (can also use zucchini)
  • Walnuts- chopped (optional)
  • Olive oil (to coat pan)
  • Flax seed oil
  • Maple syrup

Puree whatever vegetable or fruit you are using (this can be done ahead of time and frozen in tupperware to defrost later). In a bowl mix the pancake mixture, egg replacer, vegan milk, puree, and flax seed (again, this can be done the night before and kept in the fridge if your mornings are as rushed as mine!) Coat a nonstick skillet (or if making “waffles”, a waffle iron) with olive oil and cook.  Serve warm with maple syrup, vegan yogurt or fruit (however your crew likes it!)

Mexican Sushi Wrap

  • tomatos and/or avocados
  • Cream cheese (use Tofutti or Follow Your Heart brand)
  • Tortilla Wrap (preferably whole wheat or sprouted tortillas)

Liberally spread the vegan cream cheese over the tortilla and layer with tomatos and/or avocados .  Roll up the wrap “sushi style” and cut into ¼ inch slices, and you’re done! You can also fill the wraps with other veggies, vegan meats, and/ or grill up some vegan sausages and throw in some sprouts.

Need more recipe ideas?   Pick up a copy of “Vegan Lunch Box Around the World: 125 Easy, International Lunches Kids and Grown-Ups Will Love!” by Jennifer McCann.

Diet and lifestyle coach, writer, raw food chef and teacher Katherine Pennington from Be in Balance is a Mother of two in NYC.


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