Getting Ready for School: lunches, snacks, and beyond!

August 5, 2013 in Categories: , , by

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My oldest daughter starts first grade on Wednesday.  Boy, did the summer ever go by quickly!  She’s super excited though.  She loved kindergarten and has missed school pretty much since the afternoon it ended back in May.  I keep hearing how first grade will be different  and much more challenging, but I have a sneaky suspicion that the increased structure and more intense academics will be right up my daughter’s alley and she will continue to thrive in school.

Preparing for first grade is much easier than preparing for kindergarten was.  I’m not worried about how my daughter will handle the super structured environment nor am I worried about the social atmosphere of school.  I’m not trying to talk her through school rules this year, because she already knows to raise her hand before speaking and not to run in the halls.  We are still working on some autonomy issues (shoe tying,  jacket zippers etc.) and of course, we are starting to talk about lunch and snack foods that can go to school with her.

Kindergarten FoodLast year, before school started, we sat down and my daughter wrote out all the foods that she liked that would be easy to pack.  The list wasn’t that long and her lunches didn’t change much over the year.  But, having the list (on the refrigerator) was a great tool for both of us throughout the year.  I could point to the list and say “but raw spinach is on the list” and that would diffuse any complaining about green things being packed for lunch.  This year, we sat down and made a list together and to my surprise, there’s probably twice as many different foods on the list compared to last year.  It’s a wonderful and tangible way to show how much success we’ve had over the last year getting my daughter to eat more variety.

What’s on the list this year?  Here are the “my kid”-approved foods that I’m allowed to pack for lunches and snacks:


  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Steamed Green Beans
  • Steamed Broccoli
  • Raw Spinach
  • Sweet Potato Chips


  • Apple
  • Grapes
  • Pear
  • Asian Pear
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries  (pitted)
  • Blackberries
  • Mango
  • Banana


IMG_4846Last year, we didn’t include a treat category when we made our list.  This year though, we added it since it became a big part of our discussion.  A few foods were hotly debated as whether or not they counted as fats or fruits versus treats (freeze dried mango was the closest call).  She’ll get something off the treat list in either her lunch or her snack probably every day, most often the lowest sugar stuff like my homemade baked goods but also Larabars and Clif Kit bars (at least until I’m done the book).  My daughter is really good about eating her other foods before her treat and seems to thrive both emotionally and physically when these foods are included in her diet.  We’re going to continue to use the easy lunches boxes we used last year.  After a year of use, they are still going strong and they’re a great size for my daughter.  I pack them in an insulated lunch box with a reusable ice pack and it works really well.

I’ve been on the hunt for a stainless steel water bottle with either a straw or spout that doesn’t leak, that’s easy to open, that isn’t huge, and that doesn’t make weird noises when my daughter drinks from it.  We’re tried three different brands over the last year and haven’t been happy with any of them (one leaked, one was too hard to open, and one make a whistling noise when she drank which irritated everyone).  I’m ordering a Klean Kanteen bottle (after it coming very highly recommended from one of my newsletter subscribers and after a thorough read-through of all the reviews) and I’ll keep you posted on what we think of it.

IMG_4873I won’t know until later in the week if my daughter will be in a nut-free classroom or not.  The school is not nut-free and only those classrooms where children have severe allergies are nut-free environments.  If we have to be nut-free this year, that will probably only affect snacks and not lunches, since those are eaten in the cafeteria, which is not a nut-free area.  I’m going forward assuming that Larabars, Clif Kit bars and Steve’s PaleoKrunch bars will still be okay to pack (I’ve relied more heavily on these convenience foods over the last six months of book craziness).  I’m also assuming that I’ll be able to continue to make my homemade date squares with walnuts and cashews (although my kids love them with pepitas and sunflower seeds if I have to do a nut-free version).   I guess if snacks do need to be nut-free, muffins will become more of a staple for us (my standard recipe is nut-free and I actually have some in the freezer saved for the first week or two of school).  If I do have to pack nut-free snacks, it will be a little annoying, but I have such a wealth of nut-free paleo recipes now, that I’m not worried about it.

Last year, we got in the habit of finishing any leftover lunch for afternoon snack.  If my daughter was still hungry after that, she typically ate a piece of fruit.  I think we’ll continue on with that for now, but I have a suspicion that I’ll need to start planning afternoon snacks since my daughter has been eating us out of house and home lately.  I think it’s unlikely there will be any leftover lunch this year!  That’s usually when we pull out the apple slices dipped in almond butter, veggies with homemade dip, or kale chips since these are all a bit too messy to send to school.

In many ways, I’m looking forward to school too.  It’s been hard to carve out the time I need this summer to work on the book, which has been both stressful and lead to lots of mommy-guilt.  I think getting through this last hectic month will be easier with my kids in school (my youngest will be at a Mommy’s Morning Out Program four days a week for the last half of August).  In many ways, I’m also not ready.  Not ready for 6am and rushing out the door in the morning.  Not ready for how much I will miss my daughters during the day.  Not ready for how exhausted they will be in the afternoons.  Not ready to say good-bye to the summer.  But I am looking forward to the relative calm after the book is done, the extra time I will get to spend with my family, and cool-weather activities that are always my family’s favorites.



Excellent post! We are doing the exact same thing — down to making the list so they demonstrate “buy-in” at the start of the year. My kids are going into 4th, 3rd and K. I think we are also going to start handling lunch the night before — too much stress in the morning. We are also fans of Easy Lunchboxes. TFS!

I love to see these type of lunches. I have middle school age kids who use these amazing stainless steel lunch boxes from They have sizes of lunch boxes that work great for both young kids and older who may need more food to take. You can throw them in the dishwasher and they clean up so easily. Also, I have seen them sold at Pottery Barn. A bit pricey but worth it!

I enjoy your blog, thank you for the great ideas! I am the mother of a highly food allergic child including nuts. I understand you may be “annoyed” by a nut ban in the classroom, but want you to know how much the parents of food allergic children appreciate the cooperation and flexibility from their community. Just last week a 13 year old girl from our town died after accidentally taking a single bite of a nut filled treat despite getting 3 epipens administered by her father who is a doctor. While banning nuts may feel extreme and annoying when you are already following a modified eating plan, please know if the ban is in place, it is protecting a child’s lufe, and helping his or her mommy to sleep at night!
I wish your daughter a healthy, happy first grade year.

I didn’t mean to imply that I would be annoyed at having to accommodate someone’s severe allergy. I completely understand how serious tree nut allergies can be and would never want to intentionally jeopardize anyone’s health just because it would be more work! Plus, I ask for plenty of accommodations with gluten exposure myself so I’m very sympathetic. I just meant that it would be more work for me since nuts are such a staple for us, not that I felt that work would be unreasonable if it’s required.

I am having this issue to – we have a complete ban on peanuts and nuts at my son’s school. While eating Paleo(ish), my husband and I have reduced appetites, but our kids seem to be hungrier for some reason! I find it very challenging to provide enough in their lunches to keep them satiated. It is usually melt-down city at the end of the school day, as if they’re starving, even though they get tonnes of food. Nut butters were an easy way to provide higher-energy snacks. Yeah, those lunch examples I see above, that wouldn’t nearly cut it. Any suggestions? Tahini is only okay in moderation and sunflower butter is a no-go for us.

Yeah, I have girls age 3 and 6, so I know this is a different story with both older kids and with boys. Does your school allow coconut? (it’s usually allowed in nut-free environments). Pumpkin seeds are a favorite of ours for lunches. You can get little packs of guacamole that could work as a veggie dip and add good fats and energy to lunches. Egg muffins filled with sausage, bacon and veggies travel well. You could also think about adding some dense carbs like plantain chips or sweet potato chips (it’s easier to find plantain chips fried in a good fat).

Thanks! I know it’s a matter of just switching the way I think – my older son switched schools this year and nut allergies were not an issue before. Last year knew what he would eat, and this year, it’s a whole new challenge.

While we understand the need for a nut ban, it is also a challenge for us. My son can’t eat gluten or dairy, and he has sensory issue that make him resistant to eating meat. As a result, nuts are my son’s main source of protein (not ideal, but that is the way it is). Nicole, depending on how strictly you keep your kids paleo, you might be able to make some protein bars that they’d eat. We took a PB/oats/raisin bar recipe and subbed sunbutter. It doesn’t have a lot of protein (just what comes from the sunbutter and eggs) but he EATS it, and that helps him from completely losing it before we make it home. My daughter will eat hard boiled eggs and deviled eggs, which are fairly portable. And Enjoy Life brand makes a nut-free trail mix that they are slowly coming to like. Hope that helps.

I know this is an old post. But never too late for more suggestions, right? Have you checked out Go Raw products? I know you said that sunflower seeds are a no go, what about sesame seeds? They have “super cookies” made out of sprouted organic sesame seeds, the sweetener is organic dates. There are also a ton of coconut flour based recipes out there that you could make sweet or savory items from. Go Raw also has sprouted pumpkin seeds that are delicious (my 9 year old loves them).

Great post! I’m an elementary teacher, so I appreciate the literacy and decision-making involved in creating the food list! 🙂 I also appreciate the food ideas, because while I frequently eat leftovers for lunch, I’m always looking for ideas for quick breakfasts and snacks, especially since I am NOT a fan of eating breakfast–period. I’d much rather drink a chai tea latte from Starbucks, but I’m trying to be healthier. Trying. Trying… 🙂 Thanks for the great post and working with your little one at home on all these important things–teachers appreciate parents like you!

Have you tried the Thermos brand (called “Funtainer”) mugs? They have kid themed ones in a smaller size and adult size in a variety of colors. I found mine at Target. You call pull them completely apart for washing…I’m a little crazy about this detail! They snap shut and lock for no leaks. Easy for kids to open and close.
Thanks for the excellent suggestions on a difficult and stressful topic!

My 2 boys have these thermoses as well. After much searching & several failed purchases. My oldest has DA but he has no problems opening & closing it on his own. The only time but leaked was when I didn’t re-assemble properly after washing!

We love Contigo’s kids stainless steel water bottle. It is the only “leakproof” bottle my son has not been able to defeat. Any ideas for getting kids to like meat? We were vegetarian when our kids were born but they were 2 and 4 when we started eating meat after discovering my wife’s intolerances to gluten, corn, soy, and dairy. We eat paleo but the kids are still (3 years later) really uninterested in meat. My son (the younger) actually gags on most meat.

bone/meat stocks. either as straight up hot drinks, daily soups, or cooking broth for veggies or whatever starches you might eat. Animal-based gelatin snacks. These may or may not inspire interest in eating actual meat but will give your children the nutrients from animals that are so highly recommended in paleo eating.

My daughter was the same way at age 7 when we started GAPS Diet. She would eat organic (but still too much junk in it) lunch meats, canned chicken soup, and roasted chicken. That was about it and she was becoming even more of a picky eater. Then we went on GAPS and there were no other options but to eat meat and what I was making. It took a few weeks initially plus trial and error of learning how to cook in this GAPS/PALEO/WAPF manner. But now at age 9, she eats a huge variety of foods, likes chicken home made chicken soup (which she did not want to eat when we first started GAPS) and she loves stews and pulled beef and pork. Like every person, she has some things she still dislikes, but the list of things she likes (and will eat) is far longer than the list of foods she doesn’t like. In fact, she is probably a better eater than me at this point!

Hi Sarah, this is great stuff! I am a nutritionist in Jacksonville and would love to post some of your recipe pictures with a link to your site. I will not postt he actual recipe only a link to your site. You have amazing resources I would love my clients to enjoy!

Great ideas! Thanks so much for putting it together. One thing I thought you and the readers might want to know, though, is that LaraBars were bought out by General Mills. LB themselves don’t have GMOs, but their parent company supports them.

Yeah, I know. I try and make homemade ones as much as possible, but it’s been so hard these days with the book and my kids love them (more than Kit bars) and they’re so easy. Sigh.

I wish those KIT Bars were soaked or sprouted! Having the actual digestive issues of a GAPS family, we only do soaked or sprouted nuts. Bummer!

Thanks a lot, you have made my task a lot simpler. I always keep wondering what healthy snacks I can stuff into my kids’ lunch boxes and you ideas are a blessing in disguise. I have to make sure I don’t let my busy schedule get in the way of readying all the stuff.

I bought Klean Kanteens for my kids last year. While they don’t leak, they do sweat and are messy. 🙁 They don’t use them. I may try the one from Flylady website mentioned above.

I love your list of paleo foods for kids. We use a lot of these but our school has a ban on all nuts! In fact I was surprised to see nuts on your list because every school in our area has a ban on nuts. I just assumed it was standard practice now. They have also banned coconut and pine nuts which aren’t even nuts! We find it almost impossible to send our son to school with a completely paleo lunch. Even Lara bars all have some kind of nut in them. Do you have any “nut” bar recipes with no nuts?

Many thanks to you for sharing this information, it is vital to those of us that need to know. I appreciate how much work it is, to be a mom, and feed your family the right things. But on top of all that, a book! I cant wait to get it, read it and have a “go to” reference for me and my families health. Thank you for all that you have done.

What do you suggest for a 13 year old girl who does CrossFit and volleyball 4x a week? She is extremely picky. We are a paleo family but she barely eats any veggies/fruits. I end up giving her pot pies or rice as fillers

It would be great to do whatever you can to encourage more fruit and veggie intake, but my kids do eat gluten-free, soy-free rice cakes or crackers from time to time since they both tolerate rice really well and it’s hard to beat the convenience. What has always worked well for my kids is to both provide the few veggies and fruits that they really like and always eat well while also encouraging them to always have a couple bites of whatever new or not as well liked ones are around.

Great info for adults as well! Thank you,

I am always curious about the nut free thing in schools… since most “nut” allergies seem to be with peanuts and they not a nut at all, but a legume. Curious.

I love this post. I am, in many ways, like a child when it comes to my pickiness when it comes to eating veggies. I long ago developed a dislike for many (well almost all) green and yellow veggies. The list of dislike is so long I will just list the few I like and in order of preference, white potatoes, tomatoes, corn, green beans, sweet potatoes, lettuce, carrots and that’s about it. I keep buying things to try but usually through them out when they get soft. So I eat what I can fit into the plan but it gets boring and a salad with a protein is a main staple.

Thanks for this idea! Buy in can go a long way and I like the tangible list. Regarding the stainless steel bottle – try the ones sells. I have 3 of them in both the 12 and 16 ounce sizes and they are the best! They are insulated as well, which is a must in the Texas heat.

Thank you for your post on lunches. I am having a hard time filling my boys lunches with enough without them defaulting to a sandwich as filler. They are in their teens, both over 6′, and very active with not an extra ounce of fat (no matter how much they eat!). I have seen many posts like this but they all focus on younger children’s lunches and I haven’t even found a paleo blog yet with teenage boys (although I have only just started looking). They eat white rice and I am trying to convert their other food to a more paleo lifestyle, but removing the gluten. They happily eat pretty much everything. Do you have any ideas for lunches which don’t require a fork/spoon for very hungry teenagers?

Including more fats like avocado, coconut, olives, fatty cuts of meat, or oils can help satiate them, as can adding more or less carbs depending on how many they’re eating (a lot of carbs can stimulate hunger, but too few can leave you hungry). – Christina, Sarah’s assistant

Hi Chipper. Not sure if you will see this post or not but I’m in the same position as you with a starving teenage boy trying to transition to a more paleo life. Have you found any good resources for older kids?

We pretty much have the same as you do, although adding in nori (seasnax makes a little snack size container), pickles and jerky. We are apparently in the minority camp of considering any fruit to be in the treat category 🙂
These replies definitely make me grateful for homeschooling and not having to plan around school’s food restrictions!

For some other “convenience food” lunch options, check out Northstar Bison (google their website). The do run kind of seasonal, so you might have to keep checking their website for availability. They have great “convenience food options” for beef, bison, and elk! I am so thankful for them. We have been on GAPS Diet for over 2 years (my daughter was 7 when we started and is now 9). There is one local farmer that uses Northstar as her butcher and I was so happy to get locally farmed hot dogs, summer sausage, ring bologna, snack sticks, and jerky that my daughter could eat, even on GAPS Diet. However, that farmer only has a few months of the year where she has any product available. So she told me where she gets the meat processed and I was so happy to find out I could continue to get items from Northstar (although it surprisingly costs a bit less buying from the other farmer). We also have some other local farmers that I’m lucky to be able to get great pastured pork sausage and lamb sausage too! Took me a long time to figure out where to source these foods. But they have really made a hug difference in life on GAPS Diet! Granted, most of the food I make is still home made. I allow my daughter to select just 1 package of the “convenience food” options rotate into the rest of the food each week. So it’s not like every meal is one of the convenience foods. Another fat/seed option that my daughter loves are the sprouted watermelon seeds from Go Raw. And their sprouted “super cookies”. For fats, we also pack guacamole. While I don’t love using plastic wrap, if you put just enough of it on to cover the top of the guacamole, it will not turn brown. I figure the tiny bit we use for that purpose a few times a month and the fact that we aren’t heating it, kind of alleviates my guilt over using it in the first place!

try the water bottles at There is nothing like it. Will keep ice all day even in a hot car, does not sweat or leak and easy twist off lid with cord to keep it attached. I search for ages and I cannot say enough good things about it. I love this bottle and buy them for everyone. Especially my crafter friends since they never sweat

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