Healthy Lunch Ideas for Kids: How to Pack a Brown Bag Lunch

by Ann Marie Michaels on February 13, 2009

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healthy lunch ideas for kids

Mothers are always looking for healthy lunch ideas. So I thought I’d share some kids lunch ideas with you.

I pack breakfast, lunch and a snack in my daughter’s diaper bag when she goes to “school”. We call it school but it’s really daycare — she’s not quite two years-old. It’s hard enough to come up with healthy recipes for kids — much less recipes for portable meals that can go in a lunch box or lunch sack.

Plus, most toddlers are picky eaters. You want to pack something they will actually eat — not leave sitting in their lunch box while they fill up on other kids’ Doritos and Oreos.

Here are a few tips on how to pack lunches for kids, with a list of ideas for healthy lunch ideas and lunch menus.

Tip # 1: Use stainless steel Thermos containers.
It’s important when you pack a lunch to make sure that the cold food stays cold and the hot food stays hot. You can use an insulated lunch bag. But if you don’t have one, any old lunch box or lunch sack will do. Whatever you choose for a lunch bag, what I really love, are stainless steel Thermos containers (pictured above).

These are wide mouth Thermos jars, so they’re easy to fill and clean. And the women at the daycare tell me that they are impressed that the food stays hot until lunch time. I really think a hot lunch is so much more satisfying than a cold one. And since my daughter is allergic to wheat and must stay gluten-free, we’re not really big on sandwiches.

I usually pack scrambled eggs or soaked oatmeal with butter and cream for my daughter for breakfast, and for lunch she often gets leftovers — rice and beans, risotto, chili, soup, stew, or what-have-you.

Tip # 2: Make sure they get enough fat.
Kids, especially toddlers need a lot of fat in their diet. Particularly saturated fat. This is what helps them feel full and nourished, and feeds their brains. According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, a toddler needs about 6 tablespoons of fat per day. (Source)

I have noticed that when my toddler doesn’t get enough fat, she is much more cranky and prone to meltdowns. A little butter or homemade ice cream and she’s back to her old self again.

I believe that when kids don’t get enough fat, that is when they really crave sugar and carbohydrates — like chips and cookies and juice. Pack a lunch laden with the healthy fat they need and they won’t be sneaking junk from their neighbor’s tray.

Here are some quick and easy ways to add fat to a school lunch:

  • Butter the bread and add homemade mayonnaise to sandwiches (I don’t recommend storebought mayonnaise because it is made with soybean or canola oil which are not healthy choices — better to make your own with real olive oil).
  • While you’re at it, add some avocado slices or bacon or cheese.
  • Use homemade mayonnaise for tunafish sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches, or chicken salad sandwiches.
  • If you do use peanut butter, make sure it’s organic and choose the one with added palm oil. Palm oil is a healthy, nourishing fat. You can find this variety at Whole Foods.
  • I have also found organic tater tots at Whole Foods made with palm oil. These could be easily warmed in the oven and added to a Thermos jar.
  • Add cream (preferably raw grass-fed cream) to soups and stews.
  • Homemade macaroni and cheese is a wonderfully satisfying dish that is extremely healthy if you use all natural, real ingredients like real grass-fed cheese, cream, and butter. (I recommend the rice pasta, since it’s lower in phytic acid.)
  • Risotto is one of my daughter’s favorite lunches. It’s full of butter, cream and cheese — and whatever else you add (she loves bacon or prosciutto).

Tip # 3: Don’t push vegetables unless your kids like them.
Sally Fallon Morell says that vegetables are a wonderful vehicle for good fats. People tend to get hung up on serving vegetables to kids because we’re told they are healthier.

But vegetables are not the most nutrient-dense foods. Most of the nutrients we really need come from fat soluble vitamins in meat, dairy and fish. I like to think of meat and dairy as concentrated vegetables.

Tip # 4: Skip the juice.
Juice is way too high in sugar and really shouldn’t be given to children. I always pack raw milk in my daughter’s sippy cup. Kefir is another good choice, or diluted kombucha or kefir soda pop.

Tip # 5: For something sweet, try fruit.
Most toddlers I know are crazy about raisins. Organic raisins make a great addition to a school lunch. Bananas are yummy, too, as are apples, pears, blueberries, and other fruits. My daughter loves dates rolled in grated coconut. Another good idea is whole milk yogurt with a little added maple syrup (I also like to add extra cream).

Healthy Lunch Ideas for Kids:

Sandwiches (Use sprouted bread; it’s more nutritious)
Egg salad (with homemade mayonnaise — never storebought!)
Tuna fish (with homemade mayonnaise)
Liverwurst or Braunschweiger on sprouted bread (with butter or homemade mayonnaise)
Bacon, lettuce & tomato on sprouted bread (with homemade mayonnaise)
Organic peanut butter with palm oil

Pasta (Use rice pasta or homemade sprouted flour pasta)
Homemade macaroni and cheese (baked in the oven, and then warmed in the morning)
Pasta with grass-fed meat sauce
Tuna casserole

Soups, Stews and Rice Dishes Made with Homemade Broth
Any soups made with homemade broth
Chili made with grass-fed beef, and topped with cheese and sour cream
White bean chili with chicken and cheese
Mexican rice & beans (cooked in broth)
Risotto

Other Ideas
Baked beans made with homemade broth and maple syrup
Organic tater tots with palm oil
Organic whole milk yogurt with added cream and maple syrup
Bananas fried in lard or bacon fat or coconut oil
Coconut flour blueberry muffins

Still need more inspiration? Here’s a great post from Kelly the Kitchen Kop with more healthy lunch ideas for kids: School Lunches – Healthy Alternatives.

Please share your ideas for healthy lunch ideas and tips in the comments below.

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