5 Secrets to Healthy Packed Lunch Success!

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These are my 5 Secrets to Healthy Packed Lunch Success! With the school year already upon us, here are some lunchbox recipes filled with vegetables, fruits, deli meat, cheese, and more! Pack your kids some easy and healthy lunches that they will still love.

packed lunch ideas in lunch boxes
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Easy Lunchbox Ideas for the School Year

It’s so easy to fall into a lunch rut isn’t it?! It seems like I get into the habit of making the same three or four things and before you know it we are all sick of what I’m serving.

Today I’m sharing some fun ideas for lunches, specifically packed lunches. This is great if you plan on making lunches for your kids for school in the fall, to take to the park to enjoy on a sunny afternoon, for the kids headed to day camp, or even for your spouse if they work out of the house and takes a lunch.

Long live the sack lunch!

5 Secrets to Healthy Packed Lunch Success

1. Divide and conquer:

Stop thinking of lunch as one big meal and think of it in four little sections: protein, whole grains, fruit, vegetable. I like to keep a list of ideas for each of these categories on the fridge and then the kids or I can simply pick something that falls into each category (often depending on what the Fridge Gods have to offer at the time).

Here are some serving suggestions for each category:


  • Peanut Butter/Nut Butters
  • Lunch Meats like turkey and ham (find a nitrate-free brand if you can)
  • Hard Salami
  • Cheese
  • Hummus
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Hard Boiled Eggs
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Yogurt

Whole Grains:


  • Oranges
  • Grapes
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Keep fruit seasonal, watermelon is just meant to be enjoyed in the summer months isn’t it?
  • Don’t forget the occasional treat like freeze dried fruit, homemade dried apple slices, and fruit leather.
  • Smoothies


Optional Dessert:

cutting fruit leather on cutting board.

Examples of Some Healthy Lunch Combos:

1. Homemade “Lunchables” – hard salami + provolone cheese + whole grain crackers, veggies, frozen organic strawberries + cherries

2. The Classic – whole grain bread + peanut butter + honey, chocolate covered assorted nuts (cupcake wrappers make easy dividers), veggies, cottage cheese + pineapple

3. Chips and Salsa – chips + salsa + pinto beans, apple sandwich, Greek yogurt

Don’t forget that things can be all mixed up too like a slice of cold homemade pizza, cold pasta salad, or a very veggie wrap, salad, or sandwich that might have the meat and cheese in the mix.

apple and peanut butter sandwhich.

How to Make a Fruit Sandwich:

The ever popular apple sandwich. Just slice an apple like you would to make apple chips. I used big the end of a metal icing tip to cut out the center. Add some peanut butter (or other nut butter), honey if you’d like, and a dash of cinnamon (again, optional), and top with another slice of apple. We love this.

Sometimes the kids will pick different things from each category and I think the combination is a little weird, but that doesn’t really matter. If they are going to eat it and their bodies will be well fed, who cares if it’s not a totally “normal” meal. That leads me to my next point…

2. It’s all about that box

Your lunch box and containers are important. If you are going to the effort to prepare a lunch, it needs to show up in great condition and stay that way until it’s time to eat. How are you going to keep food cold? Can the kids open what you are sending them without adult help? Do they leak in transit? Can you reuse them?

We’ve been using EasyLunchBoxes for the better part of a decade and still love them. There’s lots of variety out there so find what your family loves!

packed and stacked lunch boxes.

3. Let the Littles Take Charge

Our little people have opinions, let’s be the listeners now and again. I highly recommend sitting down on the weekend and planning out their school lunches a week at a time.

They can pick what they want (again, this is why that list above is so helpful), you can shop accordingly, and when it comes time to make and prep you both know what to expect.

My kids don’t take a lunch every day, they enjoy the hot lunch at school and that’s ok with me. We sit down with the lunch menu once a month and decide what days they want to pack a lunch and what days they are going to eat at school. This works great for us.

little boy eating a prep ahead lunch

4. Surprises are worth their weight in gold

Pinterest is plum full of cute lunch box “surprise” ideas. My favorites are the banana secret message, all things printable jokes (what kid doesn’t love a corny joke?!), and the ever classic love note on a napkin. Nothing fancy, but letting your kids know you are thinking about them in the middle of the day can only be a good thing.

Nothing says love like a little dessert 😉

healthy lunch box desserts

Not many of us have time to handcraft Disney characters out of salami for our kids in the morning, but pulling out a cookie cutter now and then really is fun.

Who doesn’t love a simple heart or dog bone shaped sandwich!? Without being over the top, cookie cutters can really make things fun. My kids also like carrot rounds and cucumbers cut in little shapes too, and the best part: they can do this themselves one afternoon and prep their cute veggies for the whole week.

cookie cutter cutting up heart shapped cucumbers.

I hope these little tips save you some time and make lunch awesome for everyone in the house.

About Melissa

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  1. Mary Beth|Cupcakes and Crinoline says:

    Great ideas and those containers are awesome!

  2. jenniferppriest says:

    Those are awesome. Good to know they are BPA free.

    1. Melissa says:

      Agreed! It’s always something to check on!

  3. Melanie says:

    I’m always looking for new lunchbox ideas!

  4. AnnaBanana says:

    This is the best kids’ school lunch post I have ever read. THANK YOU!!! I appreciate how you broke everything down, gave a list of ideas for each part, and especially the organization aspects of sitting down to choose hot lunches once a month and planning the week’s lunch menu with them before grocery shopping. Love! Love! Love!

  5. Jasmyn Nehring says:

    Pinned it! Thanks for some great ideas, Melissa. 🙂 I’ve already been thinking about how lunches will go with Hannah packing her own and a newborn…this will help tremendously!

  6. Beka says:

    In the one day class my kids go to, the lunches are all kind of tossed into a tote. Do you think they’d stay snapped together with other things being tossed on top?

    1. Melissa says:

      They snap pretty tight but you might want to tie a cloth napkin of something round them. I think jostled in a bag they would come apart and then not stay cold… or you could make them their own little bag to go in the bigger bag! You’re a ninja like that!

    2. Beka says:

      LOL! I like your confidence in me 😀