How to Pack a Healthy Lunchbox

October 29, 2016

in Ask Dr Lisa, Family Health

Do you prefer a paid school lunch or healthy packed lunchbox?

Me? I prefer a healthy packed lunch any day and so do my three boys.

Allow me to share with you why it is so very important today to send in healthy packed lunches for our children. And if you are wondering if your child’s packed lunches are healthy, keep reading to find out.

For starters, school lunch gathers more food waste than you would imagine.

According to a study published in 2013 in Public Health Nutrition, 899 lunch trays in Colorado elementary and middles schools were evaluated for food waste. Among those 899 school lunch trays, “they found that elementary aged students wasted more than a third of grain, vegetable and fruit menu items and only 45% selected a vegetable in the lunch line. Middle schoolers left almost 50% of fresh fruit, nearly a third of vegetables, and 37% of canned fruit. Only 34% of middle schoolers selected a vegetable in the lunch line.” (Public Health Nutrition 2103 taken from Super Healthy Kids).

The amount of food wasted in this study is disappointing, however, I find the children thinking fruits and vegetables are not important food choices to be very concerning. It is clear these children have not learned the amazing health benefits of fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, they have not been exposed to how fun and crazy good fruits and veggies can be that they opt to toss them or avoid them all together.

Although school waste is upsetting, the low nutrient content in school lunches is more troublesome.

Even if our children choose fruits and veggies, most schools provide fruits and veggies that are usually frozen, canned, preserved, in sugar liquids and from sources laden with GMOs, unhealthy chemicals and pesticides. They also are not being cooked or presented in any fun or healthy fashion, so it is no wonder they are tossed out.

School foods are also highly processed foods. They lack nutrients such as real vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients, omegas and all the good stuff raw fruits and veggies have. The meats are also poor quality meats that are laden with antibiotics, growth hormones and harmful ingredients. You want to stay clear of low quality foods because these types of foods are typical boxed and canned foods, foods injected and/or laden with fillers, arterial coloring and flavorings, preservatives and genetically modified organisms.

In other words, school lunches are what I call lab foods. They have so many harmful manmade chemicals in them that they are so far removed from Mother Nature foods that we grow, pick and eat as real food.

I call them brain drainers.

I call them gut leakers because many create a storm in the gut, creating a leaky gut and havoc on the body, especially skin, thyroid, joints and brain.

Is Your Child’s Packed Lunch a Healthier Choice?

Before we get packing, let’s take a look at what the average American moms and dads are already packing up as school lunches to send off to school with a child. You will find this information super helpful.

The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior in 2014, reported a study in Virginia where researchers compared information on 1,314 packed and school lunches from pre-kindergarten and kindergarten over 5 days. They discovered fat, saturated fat, and sugar were higher and protein, fiber, vitamin A and calcium were lower for packed lunches than school lunches.

Likewise, the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics published a study done in November 2015 that looked at 607 preschool children in Texas and reported that “more than 80% did not provide or consume the recommended amount of vegetables, about 70% did not pack or eat enough whole grain, seafood and plant proteins, and 60% to 70% of the packed and consumed meals included higher than the recommended amounts of refined grains, sodium, and saturated fats. Fifty percent of packed and consumed lunches included the recommended amounts of dairy and protein, and 70% of packed meals included the recommended amounts of total and whole fruits. Amazingly, almost half of the packed meals did not include any whole grains or vegetables.” (The Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics sourced from Super Healthy Kids).

Are you now just baffled as to how school lunches which are so highly processed and low in quality can be more nutritious than a homemade packed lunch from mom and dad?

I will share you the answer as to how this can be.

Many moms and dads are not packing healthy food choices. It is that simple.

Be not mistaken. Sending in junk packed lunches in no better.

Packed lunches that are low in nutrients, vitamins, minerals, antioxidant and phytonutrients and laden with harmful manmade chemicals, GMOs, additives, preservatives, artificial coloring and flavoring is a brain drainer, just like the school lunch.

 How to Pack a Super Healthy School Lunch

Packing lunches and preparing ahead of time can be made easier when you purchase a few healthy items to do so.

Let’s Use…

Plastic –plastic containers have certain numbers on the bottom of the container. Each number represents safety. Some containers use unsafe ingredients that can create estrogen displacement or health problems. Some great choices are Bento or Rubbermaid or Easy Lunchboxes containers.

Stainless Steel– stainless steel containers are a safer option than plastic and since we can’t send in glass, it trumps glass going to school.  A great choice is Klean Kanteen. I love the Classic with the sports cap and their Loop cap with wide mouth top. 

“No-Foods Touch” Lunch Containers and Add Ons– these are great and come in safe plastics and stainless steel. They keep food choices separate so they stay fresh and don’t touch one another, which many kids proclaim to be a deal breaker. These can be fun, simple, creative, affordable or pricey- all depends on what you choose. Some fun ways to separate foods are using silicone cupcake holders or try Easy Lunchboxes mini dipper containers that fits in bigger containers nicely.

Reusable Lunch Totes– I love these just as much as the treat bags. I bought a bunch of these on sale in Target one year and had them for the past 6 years. Just threw them out due to they started to rip and I was worried about the plastic inside leaching who knows what. Again, what you choose and how safe you want the plastic to be will determine the price point. Try Lunchskins and Munch n’ Lunch plastic and ecofriendly totes.

Reusable Sandwich or Treat Bags- I love these because they cut down on plastic waste, but also keep my children’s foods from being exposed to the harmful chemicals found in plastic bags that can leach into their food by touch. These are reusable over and over, simply wash and reuse. Lunchskins have great choices.

Water bottles– stop sending in company store bought plastic water bottles such as Poland Springs or drinks high in dyes, sugars and harmful chemicals. Instead, buy a plastic safe or stainless steel reusable water bottle. It saves on water and your child’s health. Klean Kanteen and Rubbermaid have great choices.I love the Classic with the sports cap and their Loop cap with wide mouth top.  However, I personally use a glass water bottle with a silicone cover from LifeFactory – I love it.

If you need more information on what plastics are safe (they have numbers on the bottom of them), which are not and why avoiding these chemicals are so important, you can read my articles here and here. You many also want to learn how to make a healthy sports drink and stop drinking the toxic conventional kinds – they are loaded with harmful chemicals. I walk you through this topic here.

Let’s Pack

Healthy veggies and/or healthy fruits- pick one or two of your child’s favorite vegetable or fruit. This is a perfect opportunity to get two servings of fruits and veggies into your child’s meal. Wash, cut and make them easy finger food to eat. Place them in their own compartment or use silicone cupcake holders to keep from touching.

2 oz of a healthy protein- your child only needs 1-2 oz of a healthy protein at each meal. Try antibiotic and hormone free turkey or chicken lunch meat or left over dinner meat, organic yogurt fresh or frozen in silicone molds, homemade yogurt parfaits, edamame, avocado, nut butters, homemade protein balls and smoothies. Try companies such as Stonyfield yogurt, Greek yogurts and smoothies and Justin’s nut butters,

Filtered water, 100% organic fruit juice or certified organic milks- filtered water from home is the healthiest drink. Try infusing with your child’s favorite fruits such as lemon, orange, kiwi, berries or watermelon. Fruit juices should be 100% organic and possibly watered down. Also try coconut water or coconut, almond, goat or rice milk too. Try Simply Balance carrot and veggie juices, Rice Dream rice milk and Honest Kid juices.

One healthy snack if needed- snacks can be healthy. There is no need to reward a child with junk food. Explore healthy snack ideas such as fruit or veggie, homemade granola bars, trail mix, fruit snacks, puddings or jello instead of conventional store bought brands. Try organic versions of fruit snacks, applesauce, raisin or your child’s favorite junk food to remove harmful ingredients such as dyes. Annie’s organic fruit snacks, Late July organic crackers, and Simply Balanced fruit snacks.

Love Note– make sure your child knows you love him/her. Leave a funny joke or riddle, a smile or a simple hello. A little love note goes a long way especially in years ahead.

Most of all, get creative! You can take something as low in the nutritional value and high in harmful chemicals as Lunchables and create your very own healthy one. It’s really pretty simple to do and believe it or not, less expensive when you are making several lunches a day for several children. You also are being ever so kind to your child and the planet!

If you need some help on how to choose healthier food choices of your family favorites, download my free 15 page Kid’s Healthy Shopping List where I walk you through it. Also surf on over to Super Healthy Kids website, a tool I use in my home to create healthy family recipes, meals menus.

*Always read my disclaimer and photo credit goes to Dollar Photo. This page contains affiliate links meaning we earn a commission if you use those links. We only recommend brands we use and trust.


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