Simple, Whole Food Pack Ahead Lunch Ideas for Kids

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Simple, Whole Food Pack Ahead Lunch Ideas for Kids

I shared in my recent Daily Rhythm blog post that I made it part of my morning routine this year to assemble lunch for all of the kids in their bento boxes before our day gets started. This has been a game-changer for me, as having their lunches already made makes it simple to grab them right in the middle of lessons! Since sharing that on Instagram and in the blog post I have gotten a flood of requests for lunch ideas.

I have a few prerequisites for lunch foods for my weekday bento box plan. The foods need to be:

Whole Foods

Our diet at home consists of roughly 95% whole foods, meaning food that has been processed or refined as little as possible and is free from artificial ingredients. When we go off of this standard, it is usually grabbing treats at a cafe or having pizza night a couple times a month, not through the foods we eat at home.

Balanced

I try to offer my children a variety of macronutrients throughout the day, ensuring they get plenty of protein, carbs, and fats and minimal-no refined sugars. When filling their lunch boxes, I try to keep this in mind when possible.

Easy

I don’t go through too much trouble to prep weekday lunch foods for my kids. Could I get creative and try new things every week? Sure. But they really don’t care if the same foods are in their lunch boxes over and over and I try to keep this area of our lives SIMPLE. They also need to be able to be eaten at room temp or cold.

Enjoyable

Lunch time in the middle of lessons is NOT the time I want to attempt to get my kids to try new foods or fight with them over eating something they don’t like. Everything I pack in their lunchboxes are things I know they enjoy and will eat gladly. Each child’s lunch is slightly different each morning because I know what each child will eat.

Another note about this plan: I fill their boxes up really full, much more than most children need for one meal. Each day they get their boxes around 11-11:30am for lunch. They usually munch on it during lessons and the rest goes in the fridge for later. The rule is that they may not eat anything else that day until their lunch box is empty. This usually means that I don’t have to think so much about afternoon snacks either!

These are the bento boxes we are using. I love that they are stainless steel, large enough for plenty of food, and that they have silicone covers to help me assign them to each child more easily. I also really like the little containers that they come with for spillable things like hummus or guacamole. Often, I use these silicone muffin cups for more small item separation. They obviously wouldn’t hold anything in place if the box got turned sideways, but for days at home when the lunchboxes are just going from the counter to the table, that works just fine.

So now for what goes in the box!

When I meal plan, I just buy things from all of these categories to have on hand and assemble their lunches each day without any further planning or thought. I usually pick an entree and 1-2 items from each of the other categories.

Main Dish

  • Rolled up nitrate-free deli meat (ham, turkey, salami) with an organic cheese stick
  • Hard boiled eggs, cut in half and sprinkled with pink salt
  • Grass-fed beef jerky sticks and organic cheese stick
  • Peanut butter and jelly (or honey) - We use sprouted bread, all-natural peanut butter, no sugar added jelly, and raw honey
  • Chicken and cheese wraps - We use shredded organic chicken, raw cheese, and organic tortillas
  • Peanut butter and cream cheese sandwich - We use sprouted bread, all-natural peanut butter, and organic cream cheese
  • Sprouted crackers and raw cheese chunks or slices
  • Sliced fully-cooked chicken sausage - We like the Chicken Apple flavor by Aidell’s and they don’t mind eating it cold

Fruit

My kids eat all kinds of fruit, but here are our usual go-tos

  • Apples, sliced and eaten alone or dipped in peanut butter
  • Bananas
  • Oranges, little peelable mandarins or sliced
  • Grapes
  • Pears
  • Berries, all kids
  • Dried fruit, like raisins, dried blueberries, freeze-dried apples, all-fruit strips (I buy unsweetened)
  • Applesauce pouches

Raw Veggies

My kids can be picky about raw veggies, but I offer the ones they do like in their boxes

  • Grape tomatoes
  • Red, yellow, and orange peppers, sliced and dipped in hummus, guacamole, or homemade ranch dressing
  • Sliced cucumbers
  • Baby carrots, sliced and dipped in hummus, guacamole, or homemade ranch dressing

Starchy Food

If they had a sandwich for their entree, I may not add this portion

  • Air-popped popcorn - I use organic popcorn kernels and an air popper similar to this one and pop a bunch at a time and store it in large zipper bags.
  • Ezekiel cinnamon raisin bread - My kids LOVE this bread toasted with butter or peanut butter and it is so healthy, so I may put this in their boxes and when it is time to eat, pop them in the toaster real quick for them.
  • Leftover roasted sweet potato "fries"- I make these for dinner a lot and they don't mind eating them room temperature.
  • A leftover homemade healthy pancake or waffle
  • Sweet potato chips, tortilla chips, pretzels, veggie straws, etc - I try to limit these foods because I buy them high-quality (organic or at the least no nasty oils, etc) so they are expensive. I usually buy them at Whole Foods or Thrive Market.

Dips and Sauces

As mentioned above, I like to use the small container that is in their lunchbox for dips and sauces for their fruits and veggies.

  • Guacamole - they dip tortilla chips, carrots, and peppers
  • Homemade ranch dressing - they dip peppers and carrots
  • Hummus - they dip peppers and carrots
  • Peanut butter - they dip carrots and apples

Other

Here are a few other things that find their way into my kids boxes often.

  • A few dark chocolate chips
  • Raw nuts - my kids like almonds, pistachios, cashews, and pecans
  • A homemade healthy cookie or muffin
  • Fruit & nut bar - All dates, dried fruits, and nuts, Like Larabar or the similar version from Aldi

If you are a homeschool mom and haven’t jumped on the prep-ahead lunch train, you should really try it! It has made our days much smoother and has reduced my time in the kitchen in the middle of the craziest part of our day. Not to mention, less dishes! I've created Pinterest graphics below so you can easily screenshot to your phone or save to your Pinterest board for quick reference. Hope this is helpful!