Packing Lunch…Healthy Ideas to Keep your Kids Crash Free

**UPDATE**

It's back to school time!!!  Let's face it.  Packing school lunches can be a tough chore sometimes!  When your kiddos are living a Primal lifestyle, it can take lunch packing to another level.  What do you mean...no PB&J???  Over the last few years, we have found a few tools, and some great websites, to help make packing school lunches a little easier.  If you are struggling to find healthy options for your kids that don't make them feel weird or awkward among a classroom full of shiny packages of chips, doughnuts, cookies, sandwiches, and juice boxes, we've got some ideas for you.

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Seriously...No Sandwiches?

So, I think these kids are pretty cute.  They're mine, so I guess I have to think this.  However, they are kids.  I love them dearly, but they ask one million questions, and they want to know why they can't have everything their friends have.  We are starting fourth grade and second grade at L.E.A.D. Academy this year.  It never fails...the question comes up every few months.  "Mom, can I please just have a sandwich?  Everyone else does.  And, they get Oreos."  I'm pretty sure they throw in the Oreo line just to twist the knife in my stomach about how we are awful parents because we choose not to send sandwiches {or Oreos} to school.  So...why not?

We have many reasons, but if we believe that we should be living a primal lifestyle, eating real food, and avoiding processed junk, we think our kids should too.  See, these hyper-palatable "kid" foods that make up most lunch boxes often set our kids up for a crash just after lunch.  If you look around any school, most lunches are loaded with sugar, dyes, and very few nutrients to keep kids full and satisfied for the rest of the afternoon.  

How do you feel after eating a lunch full of sugar?  We are talking sandwiches, chips, doughnuts, cookies, muffins, and possibly a banana....and, oh yeah, a juice box.  Can you really perform and focus at work?  Are you really full and satisfied?  Can you focus?  I'm guessing the answer is probably no.  We know that we couldn't perform off of these foods...or at least our performance after eating these foods is not optimal, and we find ourselves running for the coffee station at 3:00 pm for an afternoon jolt.  However, we give our kids these sugar packed lunches and then expect them to sit still, learn, and actually focus in class (and they don't even have the option of coffee).

So, how do you get your kids to eat foods that are good for them when they are in a sea of beautiful wrappers, junk food, and sugar packed drinks?  It can be done...it might just take some creativity on your part.

But..."My kid won't eat real food."

Here's one question, well more of a comment, that I get ALL. THE. TIME.  "But, my kid won't eat that.  He or she only eats 'kid' food."  

We are obviously big proponents of serving real, whole, unprocessed foods to our kids. We have pretty normal kiddos. Maybe a little crazy, but they are pretty average elementary school kids. We hear every single day that kids just won't eat anything but frozen chicken nuggets, gold fish, chips, cookies, snack cakes, pizza, etc. 

Here's a news flash...yes, they will. Here's the catch...if you have "kid food" in the house, they will go for that just about every time over the real food. 

Get it out of the house.

Let's be honest here. If you are looking at lunch choices, and you've got an Oatmeal Creme Pie or some fruit and carrot sticks, let me guess which one an 8 year old is going to pick. But, if you put good, whole, nourishing foods in front of them day in and day out, you will see that they begin to enjoy good foods.

The beginning can be tough.  You might hear complaining, you might see that your kid brings home a lunch that has barely been touched for a few days.  Keep pushing.  Your child, his or her teacher, and even you will benefit from a lunch packed with nutrients instead of processed junk.

Our Lunch Template

Let's go ahead and be honest for a minute.  My kids don't eat a perfect diet.  They eat a well balanced diet, and we do the best we can to make sure they eat real food, but we also know they are kids.  And, we also know that we are busy parents.  This means that sometimes they get literally whatever I can find at the back of the pantry because I didn't make it to the grocery store.  While sandwiches very RARELY make an appearance, every once in a while, I might throw one in due to a field trip or the fact that for some reason, we ended up with some bread in our house.

Over the years, I have learned that variety is the key for one of my kids, and the other kid freaks if he has something completely new and unexpected in his lunch.  So, I make different variations for one, and the other literally gets the same thing every single day.  Boring by my standards, but that is what he likes.

For everyday lunch, I pretty much follow the same basic template.  I try to make sure each kid gets a protein, a veggie, a fruit, a fat, and some sort of "treat".  This is easy for one kid (the one that loves any raw veggie) and a fight for the other.  Here are some examples from each category.

Protein

For protein, we go with meat and cheese.  For the meat, I typically tear up deli meat.  In the rare case that I do a sandwich or a wrap, I try to buy fermented sourdough bread or the BFree wraps from Publix.  The cheese also provides a good bit of fat as long as you buy full fat cheese.

  • Deli Meat - Turkey, Ham, Salami, Pepperoni - I do try to buy quality meat.  My favorite brands include Boar's Head, Applegate, and Plainville.
  • Rotisserie Chicken - This one is easy.  Grab a chicken, pull it, and stick it in the lunch box.
  • Leftover Meat - If you had burgers, sausage, roast beef, or any other meat for dinner, don't think you can't put it in the lunch box.  Our kids will usually eat leftover meat cold, but some classrooms do have the option of microwaving food.
  • Jerky - Watch this one.  Some of the jerky at the store is full of additives.  We like the Epic brand as well as Steve's Paleo Goods and a few others that we find on sale at Thrive Market.
  • Chicken Salad or Tuna Salad - Make a quick chicken salad using left over or rotisserie chicken.  Here is a recipe we like.
  • Cheese - We almost always include cheese.  We love the Kerrygold brand cheese, but I also send whole milk string cheese in lunches as well.  
  • Boiled Eggs
Fat

Fat keeps us full.  It is nutritious, and healthy.  While we love good fats, it's really important to watch out for partially hydrogenated fats as well as trans fats.  Here are a few of our favorites to throw into lunch for the kids.

  • Nuts - Macadamias, Pistachios, Cashews, Pecans - These are usually my go to for the kids.
  • Nut Butter - This one can get a little messy, but I use a small LunchBots container with a scoop of almond butter or peanut butter.  You can also find the Justin's brand in travel packets.  If I don't pack any sweets in the lunch, I will sometimes drizzle a little local honey in as well.
  • Avocado - Slice it and add some salt and pepper.  Yum!
Fruit and Veggies

This one is pretty easy.  My kids love fruit, and one loves veggies.  Here are our favorites...and ones that I try to sneak in for my non veggie lover.

  • Berries - Strawberries, Blueberries, Blackberries, Raspberries
  • Grapes
  • Apples
  • Carrots (with a side of Dump Ranch for Blaise)
  • Spinach Leaves
  • Pickles
  • Mini Peppers
  • Left over veggies - Green beans, zucchini, squash
Treats

I try not to send tons of "snack" foods, but it has been helpful for us to have some sort of "treat" in the lunch.  I have learned that the tiniest amount of dark chocolate (I'm talking 6 chips) goes a long way mixed with some nuts and raisins.  All of a sudden, I have become a rock star mom because I stuck some Enjoy Life dark chocolate chips in the homemade trail mix.  Find something that makes lunch feel a little special, and a little more like their classmates, and you'll find less push back.  This has helped us avoid some of the complaints about what Johnny's mom always packs in his lunch...because, she's so cool.

  • Handful of dark chocolate chips mixed with nuts
  • Simple Mills crackers
  • Jackson's Honest or Siete Brand chips
  • Epic Pork Rinds
  • GoGo Squeeze or Unsweetened applesauce
  • Larabar bites - some sort of chocolate bite...you can also make a homemade version
  • Kind bites
  • Raisins - in the box
Leftovers 

Leftovers can often go over well.  If your kid has access to a microwave, or you made something that he or she likes cold, send some leftovers in a container. This can not only add variety, but you know they like the food since they just ate it for dinner.  It also opens up your options if you are running low on lunch meat or anything else you normally put into lunch.

How it Goes Down...Usually at 8:00 pm

I made this video a few months ago, but it has some really great tips to help you pack lunch for your kiddos or even for yourself.  Lunch packing for our family has to be at night.  So...this was real life.  It was 8:45 pm, and I was just getting dinner cleaned up and lunches packed for the next day.  I definitely do like to prep as much as possible.  This means, fruits and veggies are usually washed as soon as I get home from the grocery store so that I can easily throw them into the kids' lunch instead of dealing with washing and cutting strawberries when I really just want to go to bed.

Some Resources and Things to Avoid

Here is a list of a few products that are part of our typical lunch.

I buy many of these product online through Thrive Market.  I find that they are much less expensive than they are in the store, and shipping is always free if you spend $49.  Click here to save 25% on your first order, and get a free 30 day trial.

If you want more lunch ideas, check out this post from Robb Wolf.  It's got some great ideas to incorporate even more variety into lunch for your kids or even for yourself.  NomNom Paleo also has a great post with hundreds of lunch ideas.

Lunch Containers: LunchBots - I have had these containers for YEARS!  They hold up great, and they provide a perfect little compartment for everything.  You can get them here.

Meats: If I have leftover chicken, I will often add that for the meat.  If not, I use Boar's Head (from the deli), Applegate, Plainville, or Publix Greenwise deli meat.  We try to keep a good selection going from turkey, ham, salami, pepperoni, or chicken.  Watch out for meat full of added sugar and other scary additives.  I try to buy organic here.

Cheese: I always buy full fat cheese.  I buy organic when I can, but sometimes, it's plain old full fat string cheese.  I also cut up Havarti or a mild cheddar on many days.  Kerrygold is a great brand, and you can buy it cheap at Sam's.

Fruit: Anything goes here for us.  We buy mostly berries, but apples, grapes, and oranges are other go to fruits for us.  I do try to stay away from any dried fruit that contains added sugar.

Fat: Fat keeps us full, so there is always some sort of fat in the lunch box.  I usually use nuts, but cheese definitely packs some fat as well.  To make lunch feel a little more interesting, I sometimes throw some dark chocolate chips in with the nuts.  Nut butter packets are also good here.  The Justin's almond butter packets work well, and they don't carry a huge mess.  Granola and trail mix are good options, but watch the oils and dried fruits that are packed with sugar.

Chips and Crackers: I do give the kids chips.  They are kids, and I get the fact that they want some chips.  I do make sure to buy brands that are simply potatoes, olive or avocado oil, and sea salt.  Kettle Cooked and Jackson's Honest are our favorites.  I also pack pork rinds pretty often.  For the pork rinds, I go for the Epic brand.  When it comes to crackers, I stick to the Simple Mills brand.  They taste good, and they are made from almond flour.  Watch out for the crackers and chips that have nasty oils in them such as canola oil, vegetable oil, or partially hydrogenated oils.

Snacks: For snacks, it's usually some sort of bar.  Larabars (homemade or store bought), Kind Bars, or Epic bars are the brands that we buy.  The GoGo Squeeze pouches are actually pretty clean too, and the kids seem to like the delivery system.  I don't buy fruit snacks....fruit snacks = straight sugar for the most part.  However, Kind does have some great fruit and veggie snack packs out now that my kids really enjoy.

Healthy Lunch Box...Here you Come!

I hope this information helps inspire you to take five extra minutes to add real, nutrient dense foods to your kid's lunch.  Don't get me wrong...some days, stuff is just thrown in there, and it's not the best lunch on the planet. But my kids do survive.  I simply shoot to do the best that I can to set them up for success by putting some foods in their lunches that I know will help them avoid that 1:30 pm sugar crash.

Another note...Don't ever forget that your kids are watching you. Set the example. If they see you running through fast food for lunch, why would they want anything different?  If they see you taking the time to prepare and pack healthy foods for your lunch, they are much more likely to enjoy the healthy food you packed for them.

Cheers to all the moms and dads out there.  You are doing good work!  You've got a tough job, but you can do this!  

Happy Packing!

~KP

Kenzie Presnell

Loving life, enjoying the ride, and trying to live life as healthy as I can.

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