Tips for Making Healthier Lunchboxes

Are you trying to ditch overly processed ingredients and make healthier school lunches but don’t know where to start? With some of the easy swaps in this post, you’ll be able to add better ingredients to your lunchboxes. Plus, today I’m going to introduce to you my young kitchen helper.

healthy school lunches made fresh MOMables

If there is something that I’ve learned is that the world “healthy” is relative to what your goal might be in particular. What I consider healthy and what you might consider healthy might be two entirely different things.

Although, I bet we can both agree that using less processed and better ingredients, reducing sugar, and getting our kids to eat more fresh fruit and veggies are all pretty important and on the top of any parent’s priority list. In today’s post, you’ll see some of the easy swaps you can do to your existing ingredients to upgrade the quality of the food that goes in the lunchbox.

ham and cheese quiches process momables

One of my personal goals this year is to teach my children basic kitchen skills. If  I can do that while they learn how to make easy recipes… it’s a win-win.

Since school lunches have to be packed every day around here, I use the MOMables recipes from our meal plan as a guide. Sofia is 8. She can do many of the recipes -including today’s ham and cheese mini quiches.

filling baking pan with ham and cheese mini quiches

When I go to the store, I focus on buying the best quality ingredients I can afford. I’m not looking for the “organic” label on the package; I’m looking for quality ingredients in my food.

I always purchase nitrate-free meats. My girl’s lips break out with artificial preservatives and some phosphates, so this is a must for us. I’ve been buying Applegate since she was a toddler and for us, it’s a household staple. I like to purchase minimally processed meats, with no fillers, msg, nitrates, artificial colors and chemical preservatives. You’ll be surprised at what you find hidden in the labels when you start to pay attention.

I always include some type of “veggie” in each lunchbox. Yes, even if I know it will come back uneaten. It took 8 years, but the girl now eats broccoli like a champ! My son is a little tougher to crack, but he’ll get there.

ranch dressing is always a hit to eat more veggies

If you have to add a little ranch dressing to get your kids to eat veggies, then so be it. It’s important to make veggies more appealing (carrots dipped in chocolate are not that great by the way). If you are not making your own, look for brands without artificial flavors, synthetic colors, preservatives, or msg. If you haven’t tried Annie’s Cowgirl Ranch you are missing out Sofia said. I only wish they sold it in bulk.

Placing the baby carrots or pre-cut veggies inside the lunchbox is another task kids can help with.  She is also the ranch dressing designated filler. On Sundays, we fill a few mini leak-proof containers with ranch dressing and they are ready for the week’s lunches.

filling containers with berries

Fresh fruit is a must. Kids can help in the process of washing the fruit. Last year, I taught her how to use a pairing knife and now she is fully capable of helping me chop fresh strawberries.

healthy school lunch ingredients

Alex is my “sandwich” kid. He doesn’t like the rubbery texture of eggs so instead of ham and cheese quiches he takes a ham and cheese sandwich. Luckily, my girl also loves to make sandwiches, especially open faced with melted cheese in the toaster oven! She is my designated weekend sandwich maker (we don’t toast them for school although I do grill them).

Store-bought bread ingredients can vary a lot by brand. I purchase Rudi’s gluten-free bread (only the girl eats the regular version) so I look for brands that are made with whole grains, no high fructose corn syrup, and are corn free (and GMO free). I also check the label for the highest fiber possible. If you are buying white bread because your kids don’t like whole wheat, aim for 2-3 grams of fiber per slice.

filling water bottles sub zero fridge

I love that she is tall enough to help me fill the water bottles! Sending fresh water is another great way to reduce sugar. I steer clear of those flavoring packets since they contain lots of artificial ingredients. Swapping those flavoring packets is easy. If your kids like juice or flavored water, you can cut down the sugar by doing a 1:4 juice to water ratio. If you start out with lower-sugar brands like Honest Kids to begin with, the sugar impact is very low.

At this point you might be wondering: what about treats? Do you give your kids cookies, crackers, or gummies? Of course I do, on occasion. I try to buy products that fit all of our dietary needs so you’ll often find a box of Annie’s Gluten Free Snickerdoodle Bunnies or Annie’s Fruit Snacks. While some kids ask for “fish” my youngest asks for bunnies (Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies). As you can tell, we are pretty big on Annie’s products.

As a busy mom, once I find a brand that fits a lot of our needs that has quality ingredients, I stick with it. I learn the ingredient list once and I’m good to go. You can also find half of Applegate’s meat selection in my fridge.

lunches are ready to pack in the fridge

Once everything is packed inside the lunchboxes, all you have to do is close the lids and store them in the fridge. Most of the time, I prep lunches ahead of time in the afternoon when homework is done or after dinner. I store everything  inside the fridge so in the morning it’s an easy grab-and-go!

Grab the ham and cheese mini quiche recipe pictured in this post from MOMables.

Do you make healthy school lunches and love sharing them on social media? 

9 thoughts on “Tips for Making Healthier Lunchboxes”

  1. Kris says:

    Hi Laura, I love that your little one helps you. I would like to start doing simple tasks like that (she is 7). Do they eat the little quiches at room temp? Our school doesn’t allow heat ups. Do you have any ideas on how to get them to eat at room temp? My little one is so picky -its frustrating me. I can’t even make a list anymore. A lot of sensory type and taste aversions–as in I won’t try it, texture different, etc. I can’t even get her to try chicken noodle soup. sigh.. Thanks for your help.

    1. Laura Fuentes says:

      Kris, my kids do eat these at room temperature. However, if this is a problem; why not send them in a thermos? heat them up and now they are warm. A few years ago, I stopped catering as much to my texture sensitive son and things have improved. while he still doesn’t eat eggs, he eats meat. this has been huge. keep at it.

  2. Sarah says:

    Hi Laura! I love your stuff – I listen to th podcast, subscribe to a meal plan and I bought your book. ;). Quick question- can u recommend some specific brands to send dip in? I am having trouble finding containers short enough. I use the now-discontinued Ziploc brand 3 in 1 (very similar to Easy Lunchboxes). Thanks!

    1. Laura Fuentes says:

      Hi Sarah! Thanks so much for your support! These should fit your zip-lock containers.

    2. EasyLunchboxes Mini Dippers should work too! They’re designed to fit inside an EasyLunchbox

  3. I do “Treat Fridays” for the little sometimes-treats, like fruit snacks. Occasionally I’ll include a treat other times in the week, but generally not. I also try and limit treats to a mini muffin cup sized serving. Treats are accepted in smaller servings if the container/section/dish looks full, so I use smaller containers to make them more appealing. Think a scoop of ice cream on a cone versus in a cereal bowl. One of those is satisfying, the other has you asking where the rest of your ice cream went! Lol!

    1. Laura Fuentes says:

      Great idea!

  4. Tiffany says:

    Cam you tell me what brand of bread you use please? I am having a hard time locating something like that where I have looked.

    1. Laura Fuentes says:

      Tiffany, I use Rudi’s gluten free. I cut out nearly all bread a month ago and I only buy gluten free now. They make a regular version (and one with extra fiber I think). I buy mine in the freezer inside Target 🙂

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