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125+ Healthy Lunch Box Ideas + Free Printable

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Whether you are packing lunches every day for your kids to take to school or you pack a lunch for your husband – or yourself – to take to work, these healthy lunch box ideas will help you eat well and get creative!

 125+ Healthy Lunch Box Ideas {a printable list} | A Virtuous Woman #lunchbox #backtoschool

How to Pack a Healthy Lunch Box

It’s so easy to get in a rut of making the same thing day after day, week after week and your brain just can’t think past the usual peanut butter and jelly sandwich, chips, and juice box. But, packing the same old food into that lunch box every day can get pretty boring!

Today I’m sharing lots of ideas for putting together a healthy lunch box and a free printable list of more than 125 healthy lunch box ideas so you never have to think too hard about what to pack.

I know when I was in elementary school my favorite sandwich was made with white bread, iceberg lettuce, and mayonnaise. Don’t ask me why! But I loved them. This is one sandwich I’ve never made for my own kids.

What does a healthy lunch box contain?

The first step in packing a healthy lunch box is figuring out what you should put inside. When putting together a healthy lunchbox, you want to make sure you have these categories present:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • A Protein Source
  • Dairy
  • Something Starchy such as bread
  • Water

By including each of these in your child’s lunch, you will not only make sure that they have a nutritious lunch but that they don’t end up hungry after they get back to class. 

Pack food that you know your children are going to eat. Even when you are creating a healthy lunch box, try to work within the parameters of what you know your children will eat first, and slowly incorporate new foods. 

For my kids, eating healthy is something we do every day at home, so they are more likely to eat healthy foods when they are away too. If your child is a picky eater, try adding new healthy foods into your diet on a regular basis and make it fun.

If you aren’t sure what your children like to eat, open up their lunch! The food that doesn’t get eaten will likely give you some insight into what your kids will and won’t eat.

Healthy Lunch Box Ideas @ AVirtuousWoman.org

7 Tips for Packing a Healthy Lunch Box

1. Plan ahead for lunches. When cooking dinner you can make extra and separate into lunch size portions for the freezer. This will save you hassle on days you are running late. This is also a great way to save money as well. Or, print my free weekly lunch box menu planner and schedule plan all of your lunch boxes ahead of time so you don’t have to think about it at the last minute!

2. Buy reusable containers. Separated containers are a great option but you can also use silicone cupcake molds in various sizes to make your own compartments for lunches. Reusable containers are great for keeping lunches fresh and preventing messes from spills. My two favorite style boxes are:

3. Save condiment packets when your family eats out to place into lunches for easy lunch packing. If you don’t collect packages while out you can fill small containers with condiments of school lunches. Or, alternatively, you can purchase condiment packets and make your life easier. For sandwiches you can put mustard between slices of deli slices and cheese to keep bread from getting soggy.

4. Use cookie cutters to give foods fun shapes without a lot of extra work. You can find bulk packs of cookie cutter for cheap and plenty of variety. Amazon has a large selection to choose from. You can make it really fun with new themes each day. Sandwiches, tortillas, baked goods, and fruits can all be shaped for a fun lunch in no time.

5. Create a basket filled with prepacked snacks and sides for lunches. These could be zip topped bags that you pre-fill with bulk purchases of chips or crackers. Or, you can save yourself time and buy an assortment of snacks ready to toss in the lunch box. Then you can just toss them into the lunch bag and be done. You can pre-make the refrigerated parts of lunches on Sunday afternoon, as well, so they are ready to go.

6. Freeze foods that freeze and thaw well so your child’s lunch can act as it’s own ice pack. Sandwiches, yogurts, and most main dishes can be frozen fully cooked and ready to go for school lunches. Freezing drinks is another easy idea to keep lunches cold. Or use the cold packs that come with the Rubbermaid Lunch Bloxes – they work really well.

7. Plan balanced meals by ensuring your lunches each have a protein, grain, fruit or veggie, and dairy. Most schools have requirements on what must be in a packed lunch so if this is your first year call and check. Better to ask then find out when you get a bill for a meal they gave your child because they did not approve of yours.

Lunch Box Hacks Every Mom Needs

  1. Freeze peanut butter sandwiches and let them thaw in the lunch box. You can make your own version of Uncrustables or make my fun twist on an Uncrustable here.
  2. Freeze a wet sponge inside a zip top baggie to make your own ice pack that you can reuse.
  3. Use drinks as ice packs. Capri Sun brand works great! Or, fill a water bottle 1/3 full and freeze. Remove from freezer and fill with water to top and pack ice cold water in the lunch box.
  4. Use an apple slicer to pre-cut apples and the wrap the apple in plastic wrap to keep the cut apple intact to prevent browning.
  5. Make your own single serving packs to save money. Buy a large back of chips, pretzels, or other snack and divide the contents up into individual baggies.
  6. Make your own fruit cups with a plastic container and canned fruit.
  7. Use Easy Lunch Boxes to make your own version of the more expensive Lunchables in the grocery store.
  8. Pack a week’s worth of lunches on Sunday afternoon or create a lunch box prep station.
  9. Wrap sandwiches in wax paper or freezer paper to make a place mat when the paper is opened.
  10. Preheat your Thermos to keep hot foods warm longer. All you need to do is pour boiling water in the Thermos and let it sit for a few minutes. Pour out the water and add your hot food.
  11. Slice a kiwi in half, wrap in plastic wrap, and pack it in the lunch box with a spoon.
  12. Send tomato slices for sandwiches in a plastic baggie to be added to the sandwich at lunch time.
  13. Save plastic take out containers for disposable lunch boxes when your child needs to take a lunch on a field trip.
  14. Make your own Go-Gurts by filling reusable pouches with yogurt. You could also fill them with applesauce.
  15. Buy fun napkins and straws at the Dollar Tree to give your child’s lunch box a little happy feel.

How to make lunch more fun

Lunches don’t have to be boring and there are a few ways you can make a packed lunch just as fun as something from the cafeteria! Start by thinking outside the box when it comes to packing your child’s lunch box food.

Ideas for letting your child pack their own lunch

1. If you want your kids to be responsible for packing their own lunch, the first thing you need to do is make it easy for them.

2. Create bins in the pantry and fridge or create a lunchbox station so they know exactly how much and what type of food to put in their lunchbox.

3. You may have to walk it through with them a few times, but it will make a huge difference!

4. Label each bin and include how many of each item they should put in to make sure they know exactly what to do.

5. You can print my How to Pack a Lunch Box guide here.

Choosing the best lunch box

Choosing a lunchbox can be just as difficult as a backpack. Here are a few tips to make it easier!

  1. First, start by choosing something neutral. If you don’t want to have to fuss over who gets what lunchbox, this is going to be the best option. You want it to be neutral so you don’t have to replace your lunchbox every time a new trend comes out.
  2. Next, you want something durable. Remember this is going with children to school, not to your work cubicle. Find something sturdy that can hold their lunch in place, if possible, find ones that allow you to put an ice pack at the bottom.

My Favorite Lunch Box Gear

  1. Easy Lunch Boxes
  2. Sunee Bento Box
  3. Silicone Liners 
  4. Slim Lunch Ice Packs
  5. Thermos 

125 Healthy Lunch Box Ideas

These are foods my own children love! I believe in exposing children to a wide variety of tastes and textures. Lunch time can be difficult. It’s easy to get in a rut. I homeschool my children, and I have found that if I “pack” their lunches the night before or first thing in the morning that I save time during our school day.

I hope this list helps you in your menu planning.

125+ Printable Healthy Lunch Box Ideas @ AVirtuousWoman.org

related: Easy Lunch Box Ideas for the Whole Family

Healthy Lunch Box Ideas

Proteins

  1. Hummus
  2. Hard Boiled Eggs
  3. Cheese
  4. Deli Meats
  5. Stonewall’s Jerky
  6. Tofu Jerky
  7. Southern Fried Tofu
  8. Leftover Meatloaf
  9. Chickpea Salad
  10. Leftover Falafels
  11. Quesadillas
  12. {Make Ahead} Bean Burritos
  13. English Muffin Pizza
  14. Cream Cheese Pinwheel Sandwich
  15. Peanut Butter or Other Nut Butter
  16. Mixed Nuts
  17. Hot Dog or Hamburger Patty
  18. Veggie Nuggets
  19. Black Bean and Corn Salad
  20. Leftover Meatballs
  21. Raw Tacos
  22. Deviled Eggs
  23. Egg Salad

Print this handy list here.

Carbs

  1. Crackers
  2. Muffins
  3. Goldfish Crackers
  4. Sliced Bread
  5. Pasta Salad
  6. Macaroni and Cheese
  7. Dry Cereal
  8. Sesame Sticks
  9. Pretzels
  10. Bagel
  11. Pita Bread
  12. Leftover Mini Pancakes
  13. Hot Dog or Hamburger Buns
  14. Kim Bap (Korean Sushi Rolls)
  15. Couscous
  16. Granola or Cereal Bars
  17. Leftover Spaghetti or Lasagna
  18. Potato Salad
  19. Chips
  20. Green Bean Chips
  21. Leftover Fried Rice
  22. Banana Bread or other Quick Breads
  23. Leftover Dinner Rolls or Garlic Toast
  24. French or Italian Bread
  25. Sub Sandwich
  26. Stuffed Grape Leaves
  27. ChoBap (Korean Rice Stuffed Bean Curd)
  28. Rice

Print this handy list here.

Dairy

  1. Yogurt
  2. Cheese Cubes or Slices
  3. String Cheese
  4. Cottage Cheese
  5. Cream Cheese
  6. Laughing Cow Cheese Wedges
  7. Sour Cream or Yogurt Dip
  8. Babybel Cheese
  9. Soy or Almond Milk

Fruits

{pair with sliced cheddar cheese or peanut butter}

  1. Canned Peaches or Apricots
  2. Canned Mandarin Oranges
  3. Fruit Cocktail
  4. Grapes
  5. Strawberries
  6. Banana
  7. Clementines or Orange Slices
  8. Canned Mango
  9. Pineapple Wedges
  10. Blueberries
  11. Raspberries or Blackberries
  12. Apple
  13. Raisins or Dried Fruit
  14. Cherries
  15. Green or Black Olives
  16. Fruit Kabob

Print this handy list here.

Vegetables

{pair with hummus, ranch dip, thousand island dressing, or peanut butter}

  1. Carrot Sticks
  2. Raw Broccoli or Cauliflower
  3. Sliced Bell Pepper
  4. Avocado Half – Leave Pit in to Prevent Browning
  5. Grape Tomatoes
  6. Raw Snap Peas
  7. Celery Sticks
  8. Green Onion Tops
  9. Lettuce
  10. Alfalfa Sprouts
  11. Whole Kernel Corn
  12. Frozen Peas
  13. Coleslaw
  14. Tossed Salad
  15. Broccoli Salad
  16. Carrot Salad
  17. Pea, Olive, and Corn Salad

Thermos Soup

{pair with crackers, chips, goldfish crackers, oyster crackers, or cornbread, plus cheese and Greek peppers}

  1. Vegetable Soup
  2. Tomato Soup
  3. Cheese Soup
  4. Leftover Bean Soup
  5. Mushroom Soup
  6. Corn Chowder
  7. Pea Soup
  8. Lentil Soup
  9. Chili or Chili Mac

Leftovers

  1. Casseroles
  2. Soups
  3. Meatballs
  4. Lo Mein
  5. Stir Fry
  6. Pot Pie
  7. Pizza

Condiments

  1. Ranch Dip
  2. Thousand Island Dressing
  3. Peanut Butter
  4. Soy Sauce
  5. Ketchup
  6. Mustard
  7. Pickle Slices or Spears
  8. Hummus
  9. Salad Dressing
  10. Mayonnaise
  11. Fruit Dip
  12. Tahini Sauce

Desserts

  1. Gelatin Cup with Fruit
  2. Oatmeal Cookies
  3. Peanut Butter Cookies
  4. Yogurt Pretzels
  5. Tart Lemon Squares
  6. Rice Pudding

Print this handy list here.

Tips
1. When making sandwiches, place tomato, onions, and lettuce in separate baggie to prevent bread from becoming soggy.
2. Freeze juice boxes and place in lunch box to keep food cool.
3. Leftovers can often be turned into a tasty lunch.
4. Use a thermos to keep leftover macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, and soups warm.
5. Or, use a thermos to keep cold foods cold.
6. Use Easy Lunch Boxes or other Bento Style boxes to create your own homemade, healthy “Lunchables.”
7. If you homeschool, preparing your child’s lunch ahead of time will save you lots of time during the day!
8. Print my Easy Lunch Box Planner for easy planning by the week!

Printable Lunch Box Notes

Bed sure to visit my Lunch Box page on Pinterest for lots more ideas!

What do you like to pack in your child’s lunch? How do you make it special? Do you pack a lunch for your homeschooled children?

Here’s another image you can share on Pinterest or Facebook. Thanks!

125+ Healthy Lunch Box Ideas {a printable list} | A Virtuous Woman #lunchbox #backtoschool

 

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