Packing Healthy Lunches (for kids and adults)
By Joanne Aponte, ND • September 4, 2018
With a little extra planning and prep-time, it can be simple to pack healthy lunches for yourself and your family. Here are some tips and recipes to help guide and inspire you!
Choose a food from each of the below groups:
Protein: poultry or meat (diced chicken, sliced turkey, turkey stick), cooked beans (black beans, chickpeas, refried beans), hummus, tofu, nuts and seeds, nut butters (almond butter, sunflower butter), lentil or bean soups and chili (stored in a thermos), hard boiled eggs, canned salmon or sardines, yogurt and cheese in moderation.
Whole grain: quinoa, brown or wild rice, millet, oats, granola, whole grain or gluten free wraps, noodles, homemade muffins.* Kids lunches should include a grain. For adults on lower carbohydrate diets, this food group can be excluded.
Vegetables – ANY. Raw veggies are quick and easy for lunch – salad greens, collard green or lettuce wraps, carrot sticks, celery sticks, cucumber slices, sugar snap peas, cabbage, radishes, green beans, cooked winter squash or sweet potatoes, cherry tomatoes, avocados, bell peppers.
A meal is complete with a fat source. Be sure to include one of the following: olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, nuts/seeds, avocado, olives
For children’s lunch boxes, also include a serving of fruit.
Tips for packing lunches:
- Prep lunches and get your ingredients out the evening before while you prepare dinner.
- Prep on Sundays – chop veggies and put them in individual bags or containers, roast veggies in advance. (No time to chop? Buy precut veggies at the store. I almost always buy precut butternut squash to add to soups and chilis – so much faster than doing it myself!!)
- Bento boxes and “graze trays” are great ideas, especially for kids. Have fun with these, Pinterest has a lot of good ideas. These yum boxes look great! Another option is to buy small containers to place in a larger lunch container – silicon cupcake holders would work great. Fill the small containers with foods from each group listed above – nuts/seeds, mini sandwiches/wraps, serving of fruit, granola, yogurt or cubed cheese, dates etc.
- Have your child play an active role –they can fill up the portion containers in a bento box or spread nut butter on their sandwich.
- Leftovers from dinner are great options for lunch – I often take my dinner meal for lunch the next day and fill a wrap with it or serve over a bed of greens.
- Cook extra ingredients at dinner to be used for lunch.
- Cook extra quinoa and make a “Lunch Bowl”. Mix together quinoa, corn, black beans, frozen spinach, cumin and salsa OR try mixing quinoa with smoked salmon, avocado, tomato and cucumber.
- Cook extra chicken to be chopped up and turned into a chicken salad or as the protein on your salad
- Homemade salad dressings work great for lunches. Make one dressing each week and use for salads or mix with leftover meat, beans or quinoa that you made for dinner. Click here for recipes.
- If you’re going to eat lunch out, just be smart. Choose healthier options such as Mexican (skip the chips and cheese), Thai or Asian food, Mediterranean, restaurants like Grass Roots Salad Company, Chipotle or Beans and Barley. The deli at your local grocery store may have good options – marinated chicken breasts and sides such as roasted butternut squash or kale salad would be healthy options.
- PLANNING IS KEY – Make a list of all the lunch options and recipes that you like. Each week look at this list and choose 3 things to prepare. Eat each lunch 2 days in a row. For the 7th meal of the week, eat leftovers from dinner, choose a healthy dining out option or throw together a simple salad.
Quick and Easy Lunch Ideas:
- Click here for Quick and Easy lunch recipes
- Sandwiches and wraps filled with the ingredients above. Click here for some yummy ideas.
- Easy Salmon Salad – simply mix a can of wild salmon with olive oil, lemon and salt. Serve over a bed of greens or in a wrap.
- Sliced Turkey, avocado and shredded carrots with salad greens or rolled up into a wrap
- Yogurt and granola with ground flax or chia seeds.
- Black bean and quinoa salad (toss together quinoa, corn, black beans, frozen spinach, cumin and salsa)
- Avocado in a wrap or on sandwich – add bean sprouts, avocado slices and tomato.
- Pre-made salmon or turkey burgers – fry them up the night before. (available in freezer sections)
- Hummus with rice crackers and pre-cut veggies
- Almond butter wraps – for kids try adding a little honey or some cut up fruit like bananas or strawberries.
More Recipes and Inspiration
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.