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8 Tips for Lunch Packing Like a Boss

Sending your kiddos back to school means life is about to get busy again. To make sure that your children are at their best, a healthy lunch is a must.

It’s the age-old question, what’s for lunch? And deciding how to fill that empty lunch box day after day can be a challenge, especially with allergies and dietary restrictions in the mix.

To help making school lunch packing a little easier, (and dare we say it, fun!) we turned to three local dietician-nutritionists who chimed in with some tips: Erin Winterhalter Caroulis, owner of Eat With Erin; Ashvini Mashru, MA, RD, LDN; and Stefanie Williams of Family Food, LLC.

1. Start with this basic formula for packed lunches.

Write this basic formula on a Post-it Note and put it wherever you make lunch: 1 protein + 1 starch + 1 veggie + 1 fruit + 1 dairy.

Additionally, Erin Winterhalter Caroulis offers this chart for healthy choice guidelines:

  • Protein: chicken, turkey, eggs, beans, nuts, seeds
  • Grains: whole grain bread, wraps, pita, crackers, cold pasta, popcorn, pretzels
  • Veggies: fresh and raw
  • Fruit: fresh or to-go packs, packed in unsweetened juice
  • Dairy: milk, yogurt, and string cheese

2. Keep it cold using an insulated lunch bag and ice packs. 

Ashvini Mashru uses two products to keep lunches cold: ThermaFreeze Ice Sheets and U-Konserve Recycled Sweat-Free Ice Packs. ThermaFreeze are thin and flexible, store flat, and are reusable. U-Konserve Ice Packs are non-toxic ice packs that slip into a reusable cover made from recycled plastic bottles, perfect for putting at the bottom of a lunch bag.

3. Keep it warm in an insulated food jar.

Pack something warm and delicious in a Thermos or other insulated food jar. For best results, warm the jar before while preparing your hot food inside by filling with hot water (boiling from the stove or just hot from your faucet), seal, and let sit for five minutes. 

4. Use rotisserie chicken for a quick and easy protein. 

Mashru offers nut-free and a gluten-free menu options for rotisserie chicken.

Nut-free menu:Whole wheat pasta tossed with olive oil or salad dressing + pea pods + rotisserie chicken + grapes.

Gluten-free menu: Cold pasta salad (made with gluten-free noodles) with zucchini, tomatoes, and sweet peppers mixed with gluten-free Italian dressing + rotisserie chicken + strawberries and blackberries.

5. For a nut-free lunch, exchange soy nut or sunflower butter for nut butter.

Stefanie Williams recommends putting soy nut butter spread on celery sticks, then packing whole grain crackers, grapes, and a yogurt cup for a complete meal.

6. Dairy free? Try dairy-free milk alternative beverages in cute, on-the-go size boxes.

Try this dairy-free lunch by Williams: a soymilk drink box, apple-nut-butter wrap (one whole wheat wrap, spread with 1 ½ tablespoons of peanut or almond butter, then top with apple slices), and celery or cucumber strips.

7. Freeze juice boxes or sports bottles.

Packing frozen beverages will help keep the food cold and when lunch time rolls around, the beverage will be defrosted, ice cold, and ready to drink.

8. Make Whole Foods your gluten-free shopping destination. 

Many chains offer lists of the gluten-free foods they carry, but Whole Foods takes it one step further. By selecting your local store, you can pull up a list of their gluten-free offerings for that location, so you plan your shopping list accordingly. With gluten-free staples like turkey, crackers, granola, hummus, and applesauce, you can throw together a lunch in no time.

One of Williams’ favorite gluten-free lunches: turkey breast wrapped around reduced fat cheese slices, rice or whole grain crackers, baby carrot sticks, and an unsweetened applesauce cup.

Caroulis suggests a yogurt parfait as a gluten-free options: low fat or nonfat Greek yogurt topped with berries and gluten free granola (e.g. KIND’s Healthy Grain Granola Clusters or Udi’s Natural Artesian Granola), baby carrots with hummus, and Pop Chips.

Those are your tips from the experts themselves, now let’s get lunch packing!

Bucks County Parent Writer and Editor Christine Wolkin contributed to this article.

Feature Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

Founder & CEO, Family Focus Media | Creator for Main Line Parent, Philadelphia Family, & Bucks County Parent | @sarahbondffm | sarah@familyfocus.org.

  • Marianne December 3, 2023

    thanks my kid doesn’t eat packed lunches though