Simple Ways to Pack a Healthy School Lunch

Posted on April 30, 2010 by Guest


The following is a guest post by Erin.  If you would like to guest post for, e-mail courtney at thegreenists dot com.

When volunteering at my daughter’s school, I’ve become increasingly disturbed by the contents of her classmates’ lunchboxes.   Recently, my kid was the ONLY child in her class to bring a veggie in her lunch, and one of only two children to bring water to drink.  Everyone else had an assortment of pre-packaged processed foods plus a “juice” box of some sort.  What gives?!?

I get it: we parents are a busy lot.  Family, work, school, extracurriculars, chores, etc. require more and more of a time commitment.  Healthy eating and sensible meal planning have taken a backseat, and the convenience of pre-packaged grocery store offerings is too much for many folks to resist.

The trouble with all of this convenience food is that while it may be fun and easy to serve, it is unhealthy for both our children and our planet.

An increasing number of items sold in supermarkets have questionable nutritional value.   The majority of pre-packaged foods are loaded with artificial colors/flavors, sodium, preservatives, processed sugar, etc.  Just because it is sold in a grocery store does not mean it should be served to your family!

The environmental impact of our society’s disposable, pre-packaged, fast-food way of life is as troubling as the obesity epidemic.  So much excess packaging surrounds items marketed towards busy parents, and we see only the convenience they offer.  The vast majority of this disposable packaging comes to rest in our landfills, which is shameful considering the abundance of reusable containers available.

Packing healthy lunches for our children doesn’t have to be complicated.  Here are some suggestions for improving the quality of kids’ lunches:

  • Solution #1: Keep it simple.  Kids don’t need fancy food!  In fact, most kids prefer food they can readily identify.   In my house we rotate cheese, hummus/pita bread or peanut butter and jelly (on whole grain bread) for protein; pretzels, crackers, or raisins for snack; and whatever fresh fruits/veggies we have on hand.  Add some water in a reusable bottle plus a small cloth napkin, and you’re good to go.
  • Solution #2:  Pack lunch boxes the night before.  Sure, sure, the last thing we want to do at day’s end is anything chore-like.  Mornings are hectic, and many parents resort to packing unhealthy foods because it’s quick and easy.   Once it becomes part of the routine, though, packing lunch in the evenings takes virtually no time at all.
  • Solution #3: Rather than rely on “cutesy” supermarket items, add a personal, creative touch to foods you prep yourself.  Cookie cutters make fun sandwich shapes; make “ants on a log” with celery, peanut butter and raisins, or try including a hand-written note to your child.  These things will make your child smile as much as any store-bought lunchbox offering.

Encouraging healthy eating in our children isn’t optional; it should be a top priority for all of us.  Establishing good nutritional habits now sends a clear message that respecting our bodies and the environment is well worth the investment.

Erin is wife to a self-employed stay-at-home dad and the mother of 2 well-fed children. She enjoys natural/vegetarian cooking and her courageousness in the kitchen is rivaled only by the size of her compost bin. Her fun, can-do attitude toward healthy foods is contagious, but in a good way!


  1. “Just because it is sold in a grocery store does not mean it should be served to your family” — GREAT advice! That is so, so true.

    Fantastic post, Erin! I hope some moms out there read this and get inspired to pack healthier things for their kids’ lunches. Watching a few episodes of “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” had made me depressed about kids’ nutrition, so I’m very glad there are moms like you out there to balance all the unhealthiness.

    April 30th, 2010 at 9:42 am
    Comment by courtney
  2. 100% agree. Same story at our little ones school.

    April 30th, 2010 at 3:38 pm
    Comment by Brent
  3. Excellent advice!!!!! As an educator, I think this is an incredibly important subject! Well done, Erin!

    April 30th, 2010 at 4:26 pm
    Comment by M.C.
  4. These are such great suggestions, Erin! I’m actually thinking it’s good advice for grown-up lunches too.

    April 30th, 2010 at 4:29 pm
    Comment by Allie
  5. I don’t have kids but I do pack a lunch for my husband every night. I do find it difficult to fit in veggies. He always wants Goldfish with his lunch.

    April 30th, 2010 at 6:18 pm
    Comment by Julie
  6. Very insightful and practical – all rolled into one! I also find that getting buy-in from the kids makes healthy food a bit more enticing. For example asking them if they either want to choose between two different, parent-provided options or if they’d rather be completely surprised by what’s in the lunchbox…. either way, they’re a bit more excited about the menu for the day.

    April 30th, 2010 at 8:40 pm
    Comment by scott
  7. I’ve been looking into healthy lunches for my unborn as well! I may be ahead of the game, but maybe I’m not! My husband and I have been trying to start researching the good habits we want to form right from the get go. It’s causing us to seriously evaluate what’s in our own cupboards. Time for us to grow up and eat like we want our children to!

    May 3rd, 2010 at 1:07 pm
    Comment by Christina
  8. I agree with y’all completely–it’s equally important for grown-ups to pack healthy lunches for ourselves.
    Julie: OK, now you’re just making the rest of us look bad. You’ve got to be the nicest wife on the planet!
    Christina: congrats to you and your hubby! It’s never to early to start thinking about good nutrition for your little guy. Check out Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron. It’s a great book!

    May 4th, 2010 at 9:44 am
    Comment by Erin
  9. “Establishing good nutritional habits now sends a clear message that respecting our bodies and the environment is well worth the investment.” Great summary at the end! We’ve been instilling healthy eating habits in our kids, and it’s definitely paying off. They know what a balanced meal is, and they don’t raid the lunch line for chocolate milk and ice cream when they do get a chance to buy at school. We’ve worked so hard on this, and share a lot of what we know on our site at Would love for you to stop by, check it out and pack an inspired lunch!

    May 6th, 2010 at 3:29 pm
    Comment by Scott

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