Packing lunches for our school-aged children can sometimes feel like a delicate balancing act. We want them to have the healthiest foods in the world, but we also want them to feel confident opening up their lunchbox around their peers. I’ve been packing lunches for my daughters for nearly 5 years now, and I’ve found some favorite products and developed simple strategies for helping us all make the most of lunchboxes (see also 4 Must-Haves for Paleo Families and 4 Back-To-School Basics for Paleo Families).
First, it’s important for our children to understand why we make specific choices around food. My oldest knows that her behavior changes (in a manner similar to Bruce Banner when he gets angry) when she eats artificial dyes, and so she chooses not to eat foods with those ingredients. Both my daughters react poorly to gluten, and my youngest also reacts poorly to dairy, so we keep those foods off the menu too. To help legitimize these choices, we can offer our kids some super-cool jewelry, like the bracelets made by Lauren’s Hope, which list their specific sensitivities. Not only do these bracelets remind our kids that their health is real and important, but they look totally cool too!
Second, we can make sure our kids’ healthier lunches are packed up in stylish, fun containers that our little ones are proud to carry (see Lunchbox Ideas for Back-To-School). Some of my favorites are from LunchBots and Planet Box. My daughters have an amazing time picking these out and decorating them with stickers, and the bento containers make it easier to pack real foods, which might not come in convenient packaging.
Finally, creating a list of go-to lunch components our kids enjoy can be an absolute life saver. Each summer, my daughters and I sit down and create a list of their favorite foods for school lunches. Having this on hand makes grocery shopping easier, and since my kids don’t really care about variety, I save mental energy by creating the same meal every day!
Below are a few of my favorite products for easy Paleo school lunches.
This simple combination can take any form your kids enjoy. Mine like cucumbers, carrots and celery but yours may love radishes, olives or something else more exotic! I’ve found that bite-sized pieces are the best when it comes to fitting veggies into my kids’ lunches.
Pairing them with a fun dip like my Paleo Mayo and Ranch Dip or Guacamole can make cut veggies into an even more fun sensory experience. Plus, they’re an easy source of healthy fats! I usually include these dips in small containers so they don’t spill within their lunch boxes.
Fruit is a go-to source of carbohydrate for my kids. Children tend to burn a lot of energy and actually have higher carbohydrate requirements than adults (see Carbohydrate Recommendations For Kids), and fruit can help sustain them throughout the day! Easy, packable fruits are usually ones with their own skins. Think apples, oranges, bananas or grapes, although berries and pieces of melon also do well if packed in a container. If your children prefer smaller pieces, simply cut fruit and place in plastic baggies or their own containers. An ice pack goes a long way toward preventing browning, but you can also sprinkle fruit with lemon juice too.
What’s easier than an all-in-one lunch meat sandwich roll? Even though our Paleo kids are skipping bread, it’s important to present protein in a way that’s both fun and easy to eat. Enter lunch meat rolls! I simply roll up some clean lunch meat, like turkey, ham or salami from Applegate Naturals, and place it in my girls lunch box. Some kids love a little mustard or Primal Kitchen Mayo in the middle. You could also include lettuce on the inside or outside of the roll, or cucumber or pickle on the inside, and point them toward a little dipping sauce if you’re feeling fancy!
When our kids want an alternative to lunch meat wraps, a flat wrapper is a great option! My favorites are Pure Wraps, Paleo on the Go Tortillas (AIP friendly!), and Siete Foods’ Tortillas. All three options hold up very well as wraps in a lunch box, and make “sandwiches” less messy for little fingers. Both Pure Wraps and Siete offer tortillas in several flavors, and Siete’s tortillas in particular vary quite a bit in texture, so it might be worthwhile to see which flavors your kids like best.
Making our own trail mix is a fantastic way to control the healthy fats in our kids’ diets without any added junk. Plus, trail mix is just fun! I make my own with raw nuts, dark chocolate chips (I like the Equal Exchange bittersweet ones) and sometimes a little dried fruit or coconut. The key is to include something sweet, something salty, something chewy and something crunchy. Trail mix is all about contrast! This formula is totally customizable, too! If your children are in a nut-free classroom like mine, sunflower seeds, pepitas and Sacha Inchi seeds make an excellent alternative to nuts.
These bars are a simple mix of dates, nuts and egg white protein, making them a satisfying snack for kids and teens alike. I particularly like the idea of young athletes including these bars in a gym bag, because they’re a source of both protein and healthy carbohydrates. While RX Bars are a higher-sugar option, the sugar comes from dates and figs, making them a better whole-food source of carbohydrate. Plus, with flavors like Mint Chocolate, Maple Sea Salt and Pumpkin Pie, they’re just plain delicious! Note, these are a bit too chewy for some younger children.
Jerky can be an excellent source of quick, packable protein for our kids, but it’s not always appetizing. I love that The New Primal has created a line of Snack Mates sticks that are specifically aimed at kids! Their Beef and Turkey flavors are in smaller portions appropriate for kids, but still contain between 6 and 7 grams of protein. New Primal Snack Mates also make a fantastic after school snack.
My kids love the salmon and turkey flavors of Epic’s new strips, which also contain 7 grams of protein each. They’re a bit tough to open for those little hands, so my kids have to grab a pair of scissors to open the package at school for snack time (or ask an adult for help). Epic Bites definitely bypasses this issue as they’re packaged in a resealable pouch. I typically pack a few pieces into a a plastic bag; sometimes I add the bacon bites to homemade trail mix! As a bonus, the salmon flavor and bacon flavors are AIP-compliant, so for those of you with autoimmune disease in your family and a desire to keep your kids’ diets closer to the AIP, this is a great option!
Hard-boiled eggs are a simple protein that travels so well. I peel for my kids ahead of time, since they don’t have a ton of time during lunch to eat. And the growing availability of precooked organic eggs from stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s makes these an especially convenient and easy lunch protein. Want to make perfect hard-boiled eggs at home that are easy to peel? Use a steamer basket over boiling water and steam eggs for 15 minutes, then rinse under cold water before putting in the fridge. We routinely cook 12 at a time this way!
Siete Tortilla Chips and Guacamole
I love Siete’s tortillas, so I was super excited to see them release three NEW flavors of amazing grain-free tortilla chips! My kids were thrilled too, since corn tortilla chips are definitely a rare treat in our house. Siete’s chips are made from cassava and avocado oil, and they’re satisfyingly crunchy! They’d be a perfect addition to a lunch box when paired with my guacamole!
Paleo Angel Power Balls
For a sweet snack, Power Balls are a perfectly nutrient-dense option we can feel confident giving our kids. I love Power Balls because they taste like dessert (with flavors like Apple Pie, Lemon Cream and Chocolate, how could they not?!) but they’re packed with collagen peptides and coconut, and just lightly sweetened with honey. I don’t leave the house without a pack of these, so they’re an obvious addition to my kids’ lunch boxes as well.
Sometimes our kids just want a treat! I love keeping Sweet Apricity caramels on hand and dropping a couple into my daughters’ lunch boxes on special occasions. They’re a really fun candy because they taste like the caramels we grew up loving, but their ingredient list is sooooooo much cleaner. In fact, they are completely AIP! I feel good including these every once in a while in a school lunch, especially if I know my girls’ classes will be celebrating with another kind of candy they don’t eat. It’s a great solution!
There you have it: 12 ideas for school lunches that’ll make our kids happy and keep our mornings simple! And, I didn’t even talk about how wonderful leftovers are! My kids are perfectly happy with some cold steamed vegetables or leftover meat (especially chicken) in their lunches. Mix and match with your kids favorites for school lunches that’ll make our kids happy and keep our mornings simple.