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How to Pack a Healthy School or Camp Lunch

As if parents were not tired enough of packing a lunch for their children every day during the school year, summertime does not offer much respite. Many summer camps also require children to bring a packed lunch. Therefore, I am offering some of my tips to help parents make this tedious task a bit more seamless.

  1. Use a lunch container with 3-5 compartments. Having a visual reminder to include a variety of food options in your child's lunch will make packing well-balanced lunches much easier. The separate compartments allow you to provide small portions of a variety of foods. For example, with five small compartments, you can offer a small serving of a fruit, vegetable, dairy/meat, healthy fat, and whole grain. For a 3-compartment container, be sure to include a sandwich or combination dish that provides more than one of these food groups.

  2. Choose shelf stable foods wisely. Considering many camps and schools do not refrigerate lunch boxes, it is important to provide foods that will not spoil quickly. Dried fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grain breads, nut butters, are all safe to eat at room temperature. My children really enjoy freeze dried fruits and vegetables, dried fruits like raisins, and crunchy snacks made from chickpeas, peas, peanuts, and sweet potatoes. Nut butter and Sunflower seed butter sandwiches are relatively safe to keep at room temperature as long as they are eaten the same day they are prepared.

  3. Keep food as cool as possible. Of course, not all foods are shelf stable so in order to keep foods like dairy, meat, and fresh cut fruits and vegetables safe to eat, I suggest sandwiching the lunch container between two ice packs and putting all three items in an insulated lunch box. Even better, store the insulated lunch box and lunch container in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, add the two ice packs to the inside. The chilled lunch box and container will provide additional cooling on hot summer days. Do not let your kids eat leftover lunch food items after school. The food is no longer safe to eat and should be thrown away.

  4. Pack lunches at night when you are making dinner. In order to save time packing lunches, double your efficiency by cutting up fruits and vegetables for lunches while your dinner is cooking on the stove. It makes no sense to dirty the cutting boards and knives twice. Better yet, use some of the same ingredients for dinner in your children's lunches. For example, if your making a salad for dinner, add some cucumbers, tomatoes, and carrots in your child's lunch container. Boiling noodles for dinner? Add a serving to your child's lunch box with olive oil, tomatoes, and shredded cheese. You will thank yourself in the morning when your child's lunch is all ready to go.

  5. Include a "fun food". While I do not encourage serving dessert with every meal, being away from home may be hard for your child so a sweet surprise in their lunch box may make meal time away from home a little more pleasurable. A couple chocolate chips or a small cookie can be part of a healthy lunch when combined with other nutritious foods.

Below are some recent lunch containers my children have enjoyed. Most are nut-free!

  1. Whole grain bread with hummus and turkey, dried seaweed, cantaloupe, cheese cubes, Unreal chocolate candies.

  2. Baguette, hummus, salami, manchego cheese, cucumber, carrots, Unreal chocolate candies.

  3. Mini bagel with cream cheese, Hippeas chickpea snacks, blueberries, red bell peppers, Peanut Butter cup.

  4. Whole grain bread with turkey and manchego cheese, cherries, pickle, cucumbers and carrots, chocolate square.

  5. Mini bagel with cream cheese, smoked salmon, grapes, dried apples, dried okra, Unreal chocolate candies.

  6. Whole grain bread with ham and cheddar cheese, dried banana, cantaloupe, dried pea snacks, Unreal chocolate candies.

  7. Whole grain bread with avocado and smoked salmon, dried seaweed, cucumber, raisins, cantaloupe, chocolate covered pretzels.

  8. Naan with hummus and salami, Hippeas chickpea snacks, cantaloupe, grapes, Unreal chocolate candies.

  9. Mini bagel with cream cheese and salami, dried pea snacks, mandarine orange, cucumber, Unreal chocolate candies.


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