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A Well Packed Lunch

A Well Packed Lunch

Ah, the kid’s packed lunch. The embodiment of leading a horse to water. We can provide our kids with healthy food, but do they eat it when we’re not looking? That’s the question whose answer tells whether our good training is actually sticking. Either way, we keep at it.

Not My Job

This year I had an epiphany that is very late in coming: I don’t pack my kids’ lunches anymore. They do. My kids range in age from 5 to 10, and are fully capable of doing this. They pack it the night before.

Advantages to a Kid-Packed Lunch–

Saves me time.

They learn to pack a healthy lunch.

They decide what to take (to a certain extent) and can’t complain.

I am not a short order cook. (“I want a cheese sandwich with the cheese on the side.” “I want my apple in wedges, not in slices.” “I want crushed ice in my water bottle, with one cube.”)

Why do for kids what they can do for themselves?

The Chart

Now mind you, kid-packed-lunches are not a free-for-all. I made up this handy-dandy guideline chart, and I inspect the lunch after it’s packed. This particular chart is vegetarian in the whole theme of Meatless Monday.

Click here to download this chart.

A Well Packed Lunch

The idea here is healthy, but kid-friendly. My family isn’t vegetarian and so I have turkey and ham sandwich options as well. I’ve laminated mine and circle with a dry erase marker the items we actually have and then also write in extra options we happen to have.

kids using lunch chart. A Well Packed Lunch

Other Green Considerations

Non-disposable containers (love the bento boxes) or insulated Thermos food jars are a must. If we went disposable, we’d use around 2700 plastic baggies and 540 drink boxes/pouches/bottles and paper sacks in one school year. That’s a lot of trash!

kids lunch bento boxes. A Well Packed Lunch

Reusable water bottles. And I send water. Maybe with ice. We’re not fancy.

Kids Water Bottles. A Well Packed Lunch

Good sturdy lunch boxes. These are from L.L. Bean. Two of these are 3 years old.

kids lunch boxes. A Well Packed Lunch

A 3-point rant against school lunches:

They’re expensive. $2.50/day or $1350/year for my three. My homemade, mostly organic lunches cost less than $1/day.

They’re unhealthy. A fruit or veggie notwithstanding, the “main dish” is still highly processed and unnutritious.

They’re time-consuming. Standing in line cuts available eating time in half. I have slow eaters. They’d starve.

Customize It

Download the chart and then customize it and leave white space to write in extra items on hand. Here are some other ideas to add to your own chart:

Granola (homemade?) – with or without milk

Veggie Wrap

Egg Salad

Chicken Salad

Salmon Salad

Broccoli, blanched – my little one has a tough time with raw

Fresh or Frozen peas and corn – my kids prefer them frozen (weird, I know)

Fresh or Frozen mango or pineapple – (see above)





Melons – although the juice can soggify other lunch items

In the Thermos:

Oatmeal (why not?)



Rice & Beans

Baked Beans (homemade?)

Rice & Curry

Now I’m getting hungry! When’s lunch?

Further reading

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Ingebird says:

Happy to hear that you not only have your kids pack their own lunch but they actually bring their lunch to school. I read about so many parents complaining that the lunches their school serves are junk food and the school has no intention of changing the menu. If these parents sent their kids to school with a lunch from home, maybe the schools would pay attention. If my son was still a kid, he would be bring lunch from home. I also taught him to cook when he was tall enough to reach the stove and counter. His girlfriends are happy about that. The only way to teach kids about healthy food is to have them help prepare it and if possible, grow it in a garden.

Oriole Stine says:

I noticed Tofu Stir-fry on the list and was surprised that you still consider soy a quality food for children ? Especially considering its estrogenic effects?

Alot of new information out there indicating soy, as one of the 3 main agricultural govenment supported crops (wheat, soy, corn) is mostly GMO and besides that not even good digestible nutrition for the human body, and its appearance as a “health food” in the 70s was more marketing than anything else.

Lisa Bronner says:

I’m glad this is resonating!

Karen – The Peanut Butter Balls recipe is from my mom. I loved them growing up as do my kids. At home, they treat them like edible play-dough, making all sorts of creations before eating them. Here’s the recipe:

2 c. smooth peanut butter
1 c. dry milk
1/3 c. honey
1/3 c. molasses
3/4 c. flax meal

Mix together and roll. (I’ve tried almond butter and it’s not quite as tasty, but it works. You might need more flax meal or dry milk to absorb it. I haven’t tried sunflower seed butter or others. It’s worth a try.)

Adam Eidinger says:

My daughter almost never brings a lunch and instead enjoys the school lunch provided as its something social that nearly all the kids eat her eat a school provided lunch. However after ready this great piece, Im thinking I will suggest she pack a lunch more often. I’ve seen how excited she gets helping me cook meals around the home already. We started with French toast and cookies and recently we cooked organic chicken together. While she is only 10 years old, she really knows how to take care of herself if need be and that makes me proud. Parents help their kids its seems when they instruct instead doing something for a kid. Finding the balance isn’t always easy, but its worth challenging kids to reach their potential.

Paul LaBounty says:

I like your attitude on kids packing their own lunches. As long as they are eating healthy & don’t go hungry during the afternoon you are teaching them to be more self sufficient. A habit they will carry with them into their adult life. However, once in a while, can’t they pack a Twinkie once in a while? lol

Juliet says:

The chart with the pictures is great for kindergarten kids who are learning to read. I am glad to read you put peanut/almond butter on the menu. The school where my child attends doesn’t allow peanut butter. I also like the non disposable containers & water bottles. This is excellent to teach kids to recycle. Thank you so much for a cool menu. I will share it with my beautiful girl.

John L says:

Wish more people took the time to do this. My kids ( now adults ) did the same thing after I saw the garbage that was being served in school lunches. They have kept the habit to this day at work. They are actually appalled that all their co-workers hit a fast food joint every day for lunch. Teach them young and you will be surprised at the life lessons they pick up.

Karen says:

What are the “peanut butter balls”? Do you have a healthy, not-too-sweet recipe appropriate for lunch?

Karena says:

Both of my kids like their veggies frozen, too. We also like the plastic sandwich boxes – you can use them for more than just sandwiches (of course!), and they keep the wet stuff from “soggifying” the rest!

Janet says:

Great post, Lisa! And a brilliant idea too. Let the kids do the packing! How about adding raisins, dried cherries, dried cranberries, other dried fruits to the list? And roasted unsalted nuts [peanuts, almonds, pecans].

About Lisa Bronner

My grandfather was Dr. Bronner, my family makes soap, and I share ways to use it plus tips on greener living.

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