Tips for Packing Better School Lunches (Plus 150+ Healthy Lunch Recipes & Ideas!)

Do you get overwhelmed just thinking about packing lunch? I know I'm not the only parent who puts off lunch packing for the last minute and then ends up sending my kid off with a PB&J, an apple and some baby carrots. While there isn't anything wrong with having that for lunch, if I'm not prepared, I run the risk of doing it everyday.

I don't just want my kid to have any lunch, I want it to be healthy, too! When I say "healthy," I mean low-toxin, high nutrition food. To do this, we need to pack food with as few processed ingredients (like corn syrup) as possible and use non toxic food packaging as well. 

Here are my favorite lunch packing tips and tricks, recipes and products you can use to pack healthy, low toxin lunches for your kiddos.

Tip #1: Make Food Ahead
Making your lunches ahead of time will save you from the early AM, gotta-get-the-kids-out-the-door-5-minutes-ago scramble. The further ahead you make your lunches the less you have to stress. How this works for every family will be different but making lunch ahead could look like making an extra big dinner the night before and packing the leftovers into bento boxes. It could mean making sandwiches for the week on Sunday night or the really adventurous might even try doing more than a week worth of lunches! 

Need a primer? Check this out:
How to freeze and defrost recipes for school lunches from 100 Days of Real Food

Need Make Ahead Food Ideas? Try these!
from 100 Days of Real Food

Tip #2: Get Your Kids Involved
Trust me, I know that many times it is easier and way faster to do something yourself. I have a three year old who loves to cook. Trust me. I KNOW. But involving your kids in both the shopping and creation of lunch not only makes them more likely to eat it once they get to school but also teaches them life skills and keeps them from being dependent on you (or their future spouse. or a fast food restaurant) for lunch for the rest of their lives.

Have more than one kid? Make it a family affair. Do a school lunch assembly line on sunday night and get everyone's lunch made for the week so they can just grab it and go.

Tip #3: Leave a Note
Leaving notes in their lunches helps you stay connected with your kiddos even if you're apart for long periods of time. Writers block? There are lots of great printables available from jokes to quick affirmations. 

Here are some of my favorites lunch box printable notes:

Encouraging Lunch Notes
from The Country Chic Cottage

"Chatty Lunches" Love Notes
from Seven Thirty Three

from Rook No. 17

from Capturing Joy

from Capturing Joy

Tip #4: Use Non-Toxic Packaging

While I am so glad that BPA has gotten the nasty press it deserves, the truth is that BPA is not the only ooky thing we need to look out for in kids lunch boxes, plastic bags and tupperware. In fact, sometime the chemicals companies use so they can say they are "BPA free" is even more toxic than BPA. Yuck!

Things to Avoid:
  • BPA
  • Phthalates (look for "phthalate free" labels. Since BPA is a phthalate, "phthalate free" will also mean it is BPA free)
  • PVC (look for "PVC free" labels)
  • Microban (it is suspected to contain triclosan. Read more here. Don't buy items that brag about Microban being used in the product)
  • Lead (look for "lead free" labels)--> this is an issue mostly with lunchboxes and backpacks.
Products I Love:
These are some of the products I use personally in my own home and love. Please note that I am an amazon affiliate and may receive a small return for any items purchased after clicking through my links.

1. Lunchboxes from Crocodile Creek- These lunch boxes are PVC and phthalate free. They are also well designed, durable and fun! They come in many many different designs and my son loves his robot lunchbox. 

2. Water Bottles from Crocodile Creek - These water bottles are made from stainless steel and come in lots of different designs to complement the Crocodile Creek lunchboxes. They do not contain BPA or phthalates. The bottle is easy for kids to drink from either by using the pop-up top or by unscrewing the lid and drinking from the side.
3. RePac Reusable Food and Gear Bags
 - I cannot say enough good things about these bags. We have an assortment of bags in every size. They are great for everything from sandwiches to crackers to juicy fruits. I even use the big ones to help hold medicine or organize my bag while traveling. The bags are BPA and phthalate free and wash really easily in your dishwasher (turn it inside out and stand it up on the top rack). They close with a durable zipper that is easy for little hands to open and come with a warranty for workmanship (but not for dogs chewing on them. Not that I've had that problem or anything.).
4. Pyrex Storage Containers & Lids - When we got rid of all of our plastic tupperware, this is what we switched to. They come in graduated sizes so they nest and don't take up a ton of room in your cabinet. They are glass so you can put hot leftovers straight into them after dinner without worrying about leaching. They are also rather durable and I have not had a broken one yet even though we've dropped them or treated them more roughly than we should at times.

Need more help picking out healthy food storage containers? Check out the Safer Food Storage Guide on The Soft Landing.

I hope you found something here that will help make lunches easier for you and your kids this school year! If you have a great tip for how you make lunches healthy in your home, please leave it in the comments!

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  1. Thanks for sharing my chatty lunches lunch notes! Great round-up. :)

  2. Awesome ideas Carissa! Pinning now :)

  3. What a wonderful, helpful post! I love your idea of putting a note in the lunch box! SO SWEET! And thank you so much for including my post on tips for healthy lunches kids love. Happy back-to-school, Kelly

  4. Very useful roundup. We love our crocodile creek lunch box (and backpack) too!

  5. Thanks for including my post on Healthy Lunches from "Smartter" Each Day! This is a great resource!

  6. I got a little teary eye about leaving a note. Great tips. I also love getting children involved. Then they "own" their lunch and eating healthier.


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