Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect From the Start
How to pack a healthy lunchbox
Top 4 things to consider:
- Food safety
- Child’s food preferences
- How much time they have to eat
Not every lunchbox has to have all 5 major food groups represented, but I encourage you to aim for at least 3. It’s important to incorporate some source of protein, healthy fat, and/or fiber to provide the long-lasting energy that they’ll need.
Here’s my formula for packing a well-balanced lunchbox: Protein/fat + fruits/veggies + carbs
What about sweets?
While I believe it’s important to have a sweets policy in place, I haven’t been packing many “fun” foods in my son’s lunchbox at this time. That’s because his lunchtime is limited and his tummy is still tiny. I don’t want him to fill up on the not so nutritious foods.
He’s also perfectly happy with fruits so I’m using that to my advantage. As he continues to grow and becomes more aware, I will for sure come up with a game plan.
Again, not every lunchbox needs to be the gold standard in nutrition. Do what you can with the resources you have to fuel your child’s mind and body.
- Get an insulated, soft-sided lunch box and use at least 2 cold packs. You can also include a wrapped frozen water bottle
- Keep cold foods as cold as possible and hot foods hot as possible
- Prepare cooked food (e.g. chicken, vegetable, pasta) ahead of time so that they’re chilled in the refrigerator (make sure it’s set at 40°F or below)
- Keep cold foods as in the refrigerator until the last minute before packing
- If packing hot food, use an insulated container. Fill it with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty, and then put in the piping hot food
- Follow hygienic food preparation methods. Wash your hands before packing. Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, countertop, etc. with hot, soapy water to avoid cross-contamination
- Put the most perishable foods right next to the ice pack
- Don’t reuse disposable packaging, like sandwich bags. Better yet, opt for reusable bags and containers
- Toss any perishable leftovers. It feels so wrong to throw away food, but it’s not worth the risk
You can find more safety tips here.
My Personal Experience
- Is this too little or too much food?
- Will he eat ok without me?
- How will he do with having all his food cold since the school doesn’t warm up the food. At this point, the thought of packing a hot lunch seems overwhelming. And so I’m going to start with cold lunches first.
Here’s my current strategy:
- Make extra of whatever we’re having for dinner so I can pack the leftovers for his lunch the next day.
- Meal prep – have veggies and fruits cut up in advance
- Make the freezer my best friend – I have a lot of freezer-friendly and nutritious baked goods recipes here on my website as well as in my e-cookbooks, and I’ve been very intentional about building up my freezer stash. That way, I can simply pull them out of the freezer, thaw in the fridge, and add to his lunchbox!
- Make sure there’s always some type of protein and or fat along with colorful fruits/veggies for lasting energy. I’m hopeless when it comes to food art, but using cookie cutters to make veggies fun and exciting as you see here? That I can do!
So how much should you pack?
Left: chickpea pasta (eatbanza) with sesame oil + turkey beet meatballs + roasted kabocha + raw cucumber and cherry tomatoes + golden kiwi
Right: Egg veggie pancakes (with raw kale, grated carrots) + steam roasted cauliflower (with curry powder) and carrots (w/Italian seasoning) + pineapple + avocado
Left: leftover beef stroganoff (recipe in my 3rd ecookbook) + raw zucchini and red bell pepper + mandarin oranges
Right: vegan turmeric coconut couscous (recipe in my 3rd cookbook) + quartered grapes and cherry tomatoes
Left: Asian turkey rice meatballs + carrot lentil bars (from my free cookbook) + raw zucchini and red bell pepper, roasted sweet potatoes (with pumpkin spice)
Right: pumpkin bean muffin + hard-boiled egg + broccoli + tomatoes + avocado + golden kiwi
Left: pasta with nut-free broccoli white bean pesto + roasted carrots & parsnips (cooked them together with cumin) + apple slices
Check out part 2 of healthy toddler lunchbox ideas for more ideas!
How to freeze and thaw leftovers?
As I mentioned, my son goes to school just 2 days/week so I’m not doing any extra meal prepping/planning at this point. I’m just utilizing a lot of leftovers and my freezer stash. I bow to you all who pack lunches every day!
Most definitely check out my post on how to safely store leftovers.
For SIMPLE, REALISTIC tips and strategies for adding variety of veggies to your child’s diet, join my FREE email series! you’ll also receive a super handy Vegetable and Spice Pairing chart!