4 Easy School Lunches (plus over 10 snack ideas!)

dona September 19, 2012

When I was a kid and going to school, one of my favorite times of the day was lunch and recess. Being able to sit with my friends, joke around, feast on something healthy and nutritious, and then run outside to my heart’s content made learning for a couple of more hours that much more feasible and enjoyable.  It always felt good to have that little reminder from home during the school day as well.

These days, though, we all know the state of school lunches: not good. And we also know the temptations that lurk when it comes to packing our kids’ school lunches: toss in a bag of some highly processed snack, or a Lunchables, or throw in several other processed foods like fake gelatin pudding, pre-made PB&J sandwiches, etc., into the bag and call it a day.

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When those foods become your staple lunch options, you’ll most likely notice a decrease in your child’s health and ability to pay attention and feel good the rest of the day.  Perhaps those types of snacks have made it into your child’s lunchbox before, and if so, forgive yourself and move on.  You no longer need to fret or feel any guilt when packing your child’s lunch when you can have these simple things to munch on! These go-to lunches may mimic the store-bought imposters and will likely include ingredients you might already have on hand.  There isn’t anything wrong with a little peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, or pudding in a lunch, but why not make it the real food way!

Here are 4 easy school lunches for the real-food conscious mom/dad/parent/guardian:

A Real, Hearty PB&J:

Make a yummy and nourishing homemade nut butter and jelly sandwich using real ingredients like the nut butter of your choice (peanut, almond, sunbutter) void of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or hydrogenated oils; sweetened with jelly (sweetened with real sugar or fruit juice as opposed to HFCS or Splenda); and sandwich it together with a more highly digestible sprouted or sourdough bread.  If such bread is not available to you or you haven’t started making your own yet, homemade bread, or the best version of whole wheat bread you can buy at the store without HFCS could suffice. The fat of the nut butter paired with the sweetness of the jelly and the easily digestible protein of the sprouted or sourdough bread make this option a lot easier on your child’s stomach.

Make your own “Lunchables” (gluten-free)

One of my favorite grab & go type lunches is also one of the simplest:

  • cut-up slices of deli or lunchmeat (nitrate- and preservative-free is best if available)
  • raw or whole milk cheese (skip the lowfat or reduced fat cheeses and opt for the full fat variety — it’ll keep your child full longer and they need those good fats for their developing brains!)
  • crackers (homemade or see Kate’s recipes, or the best variety you can find at the store with few ingredients – I really like Crunchmaster’s gluten free multigrain crackers)

Add some easy to grab fruit like grapes, blueberries, or create your own fruit salad and you have a well-rounded lunch!

Soup & Salad

Creamy Chicken & Thyme Soup

For just a second, allow your child to pretend he or she is dining at a cafe and pack a small serving of homemade soup like Kate’s Chicken Vegetable in a stainless steel container or thermos. Add a small sandwich packed with egg or chicken salad OR your favorite nitrate- and preservative-free lunchmeat, homemade mayo and some real cheese, and your child might think they’ve walked into a gourmet deli and not the school cafeteria.

Kefir or Yogurt-based Smoothie (grain-free)

Just like breakfast or dinner, lunches don’t always have to fit the same mold, so why not jazz things up a bit and while you’re making your morning smoothie, make an extra one for your child’s lunch?  Using kefir, yogurt or whole milk as the base, you can easily customize the smoothie by adding a nut butter, bananas, any several other add-ons to make it a yummy and healthy treat. For great smoothie ideas & recipes, see here or visit Nourished & Nurtured for GAPS-friendly smoothie recipes! If you’re like me, your child might crave something crunchy as well at lunch, so don’t forget to throw in some crunchy raw veggies like carrots or celery, or homemade trail mix (see below) to satisfy the craving.

Sides & Additional Snacks

Depending on the appetite of your child, these lunches by themselves may or may not be enough to fill them up. Make sure they’re not still hungry and begging their friend for their Cheetos by including any of the following snacks & sides:

Photo Source: somenametoforget on

Beverage Options

Lunchtime is always fun when you have a great drink to rely on as well. Besides the obvious choice of water or milk, you can mix up lunch by packing organic juice, water kefir soda, kombucha, or if you’re feeling generous, an Izze(my personal fav).

**This post has been entered in Frugal Days and Sustainable Ways.**

What are your favorite real-food lunches or snacks? How do you ensure your child stays “full and focused” without filling up on the fake foods?

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  1. No “Capri Suns” for lunch? Just kidding! I wonder how many years those were purchased … a lot! I miss having someone around to make those “sack lunches” for. Good ideas … wish I would have know some of this back then.


    • I could “taste the love” in those lunches even if it included a lot of “goodies” that probably weren’t so good (but we just didn’t know it yet)! 🙂 One thing I learned from you is that homemade almost always trumps store-bought, and a lot of our lunches were homemade and of course made with love. Thanks for setting that foundation!


  2. Great ideas, and…yum! I am definitely going to try making the real gelatin pudding!


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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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