I know my timing might seem weird regarding what to pack in a healthy and waste-free school lunch (yeah, we could have done this in September), but I just never got around to it. because pretty soon I’ll be reviewing a Planet Box. I’ve been a little leery of Planet Box, and other like-minded lunch boxes, because it’s tray style. Since I want to make sure all the usual stuff we pack fits in this lunch box, I figured now is a good time to go over the best types of healthy and green foods to pack.
Before we look at food, let’s take a look back at how to pack a greener school lunch…
- First of all, you should send a lunch unless your school cafeteria happens to serve up healthy fare. Most school lunches are crammed with gross ingredients, fat and salt. You can afford healthy organic lunches, even on a budget.
- Eco-Friendly DIY Waste-Free Packed Lunch Supplies
- How to choose a waste-free lunch box for back-to-school
- DIY Green Project: Make a reusable waste-free lunch kit!
- 12 Reusable Waste-Free Lunch Kit Choices
I’m lucky in that my nine-year-old Cedar is actually a fan of healthy food. Like most kids he likes cookies or candy sometimes, but most of the time he chooses to eat healthy.
That said, even if you have healthy eating battles, it’s smart to aim for the healthiest and greenest lunches you can. If you continue to serve healthy organic foods, your kid will eat them. Seriously, I’ve never met a kid who will officially starve themselves if you cut potato chips and soda from their diet.
I’m unlucky in that Cedar, while healthy, is also fairly picky. He’s not the biggest fan of PB&Js and he won’t eat most meat, so things like turkey sandwiches are out. He only recently decided that typical kid foods like mac n cheese and pizza are okay. With this in mind, here are some healthy and eco-friendly school lunch choices that Cedar actually approves of. Hopefully, you’ll find some good picks on this list for your own child.
How many serving of each food type to send:
Food servings vary by person and taste. At my house we aim for most of the plate to be covered with fruits and veggies, grains secondly and stuff like poultry, dairy or higher fat stuff (pasta) makes up the least amount of food on the plate. That’s how I pack lunches too. The majority of Cedar lunches are produce and grains, but your child may be different. Check out MyPyramid for personalized eating plans or take a look at this build a healthy lunch box pdf.
Healthy foods for packed lunches:
Veggies: The most popular raw organic veggies with Cedar are red bell peppers, carrots, cucumbers, peas in the pod and broccoli. You can also try spreading organic peanut butter on celery, or include a low-fat organic veggie dip too. Once in a while, I’ll send steamed veggies to school, but Cedar has access to a microwave at his school. If your child doesn’t have a microwave, I’d skip steamed veggies as they don’t taste as good cold. If your little one has a microwave at school, baked potatoes work great in a lunch box too.
Olivia’s Organics, a company offering special fresh organic salad mixes in Whole Foods stores across New England, NY and various locations on the East Coast has tons of recipes posted at their website. Most will work perfectly in a healthy packed lunch, such as…
- Baby Spinach and Strawberry Salad (pdf)
- Spring Mix Roasted Pear Gorgonzola and Pecan Salad (pdf)
- Asian Salad with Ginger Dressing (pdf)
Fresh fruit: Not all fruit holds up well in packed lunches. Especially since Cedar likes his fruit cut into slices or pieces. For no worry, no leak fruit I’ll send organic grapes, sliced apples or pears, a banana or whole strawberries. I have a few super leak-proof containers and in these I’ll send cut organic melon, pineapple or frozen organic blueberries or raspberries. I don’t love to send drippy fruit, because usually it makes a mess, but sometimes I will.
Grains that Cedar will eat in his lunch include…
- Bagel with or without organic cream cheese. Cedar likes whole grain wheat or cinnamon raisin bagels, but there are tons of choices available. If your child hates cream cheese try organic jam or butter or just plain bagels instead.
- PB&J on whole wheat.
- Leftover pancakes.
- Homemade cornbread or muffins. We usually make blueberry or poppy seed muffins. You can add flax to make them healthier and should always use reusable muffin liners or simply grease a pan. Paper liners aren’t eco-friendly.
- Whole grain pita bread with hummus or PB&J.
- Whole wheat cereals and crackers to munch on. You can buy organic in a box, or to be more eco-friendly look for bulk crackers (less packaging).
- Cooked noodles or noodle soup (best if your child has access to a microwave).
- Slice of homemade bread.
- Organic brown rice. Cedar will eat his rice plain, but most kids will appreciate some spice or veggies or almonds mixed in.
- Granola bars. Sometimes we’re lazy and buy organic granola bars. If I’m on my game, I’ll avoid packaging by making homemade granola or homemade fruit bars.
- Tortilla with peanut butter and jam.
Organic dairy and protein for packed lunches…
- Hard boiled organic eggs. Cedar’s on a major egg kick lately.
- Cubes of organic cheese. I rarely send cheese. Cedar doesn’t eat it. Most kids will though.
- Yogurt. Lately our store has had almost zero varieties of organic yogurt, which sucks. Sometimes I’ll buy a big tub of vanilla and we’ll add fruit. Cedar loves weird flavors like lime and lemon which are hard to find in bulk though so lately we buy small containers and recycle them. You can make homemade yogurt, to avoid packaging, although it seems time intensive to me. We used to buy organic yogurt tubes, but the packaging made me nuts so we don’t anymore.
- Smoothies, like the organic Halloween smoothie, are good in a lunch, if you have a stay cold, non-leaking container. I rarely send smoothies though, because Cedar likes his very icy.
Desserts, little treats and munchies for packed lunches…
- Cedar is allergic to oranges, but can have other citrus. He likes raw slices of lemons and limes, which sounds odd, but lots of kids like them and they make a good dessert.
Santa Cruz Organic Fruit Sauces, other organic applesauce or homemade applesauce.
- Almonds or organic soynuts.
- Pumpkin or sunflower seeds.
- Homemade organic pudding.
- Homemade organic fruit snacks. We used to buy Stretch Island products, which are healthier than other commercial fruit snacks, but the packaging sucks so we quit. Usually we skip fruit snacks because they’re more work and not as good as whole fruit.
- Slice of homemade organic pumpkin pie.
- Homemade organic caramel apple slices.
- Organic homemade or store bought cookies – Cedar won’t eat many sweets but he likes lemon cookies or Newman’s Own Organics Newman O’s, (Original) Creme Filled Chocolate Cookies
which unlike real Oreos have zero Partially Hydrogenated Oils and Trans-Fatty Acids. The greenest cookies are homemade (no packaging) but sometimes we buy.
- Panda All Natural Licorice Chews Raspberry.
Cedar always takes a big bottle of water. I don’t usually send other drinks. If you do, make sure you consider packaging (no little drink boxes) and make sure it’s organic and healthy, such as organic juice or milk.
Here are some extra items Cedar won’t eat, but that are still good in a packed lunch for other kids…
- Organic cottage cheese.
- Mixed dishes like a veggie and rice stir fry or pasta and veggies. Cedar hates mixed dishes. He’ll eat rice and veggies alone, but not mixed. Many kids love mixed dishes though, and if you get a good cookbook, you’ll have plenty of choices.
- Mac n cheese – homemade is best and of course organic.
- Leftover homemade organic pizza. Other leftovers work as well, such as lasagna.
- Cooked cubes or slices of yams.
Excellent healthy & green school lunch recipes:
- Apricot Graham Snackers – creamy fruit dip and organic graham crackers (shown above)
- 40 Healthy School Lunch Recipes to Make for Your Kids
- Crunchy Chicken Fingers with Tangy Sauce
- Lunch Box Pasta Salad – make sure everything in this is organic.
- Maple oat cookies
- Spring Rolls with Eggs and Fresh Herbs
- Deli Spirals and Rolls
- Lots of cool recipes at the Organically Raised website.
- Adorable bento style lunch ideas.