Nutritious Lunches – And Some Clever Ways to Pack Them

A multi-ethnic group of elementary age children are sitting at their desks and are eating their healthy lunches.

Kids tired of the same old sandwiches? Complaining they get hungry after lunch?

Here are some ways to pack more oomph into your kids’ lunches… using some handy modern packaging to help preserve nutritional content and freshness.

(NOTE: Always check food packaging to find out what foods need to remain cold until eaten.)

Bento Boxes

The American take on this Japanese tradition has spawned clever new ways to keep a variety of foods separate in a lunch container. Sealed plastic compartments can keep your sushi separated from your salad. They’re great for those of us obsessed with order! Bento boxes can be a great example of…

Portion Control Containers

Concern over kids’ health has many parents focusing on portion control and nutritional variety in meals. The multiple sized compartments in these plastic, typically sealable containers help kids and parents remember to pack a range of nutritious foods in reasonable quantities (it’s really hard to pack half a cake in these containers!).

Reusable Ice Packs

Want to keep your grapes or cheese cubes chilled? Reusable plastic ice packs of many sizes can easily slip into a lunch box/reusable lunch bag/bento box to help keep foods colder/fresher.

Freezable Lunch Bags

Take the ice pack one step further with durable, reusable lunch bags. Made from plastic fabrics with fun colors and patterns, they’re stored in the freezer overnight to chill the built-in ice packs, which helps lunch stay colder longer… without getting soggy. (Some bento boxes and multiple compartment containers also have built-in ice packs.)


The sushi craze has reached kids lunches. Help retain the freshness of your sushi rolls by wrapping them in a small amount of plastic cling wrap to provide a barrier against air, or use bento boxes with snap-on lids.

Fruity Hydration

Newfangled plastic beverage containers can hold fruit in a separate section, allowing water to be lightly flavored by the juice and zest of the fruit, a tasty way to keep kids hydrated.

Protein boost

Want to serve more protein? Many nutritionists are encouraging kids (and adults!) to boost the amount of protein in their diets (they say it also can fight off afternoon hunger). Here are some ideas to punch up and pack in the protein:

  • Milk in a “Juice” Box: Multi layer boxes (plastic film/aluminum foil/paperboard) allow protein-rich milk to be stored in a pantry at home without refrigeration. Some kids totally don’t mind room temperature milk—those who object will want to use an ice pack or a thermos.
  • Deli Cuts: Today’s supermarket delis provide enough variety—from roast turkey to lean chicken breast to honey ham—to please just about any picky eater. Use snack size zipper bags to protect the deli slices, and squeeze out almost all the air from the bag to keep things as fresh as possible.
  • Cheese: Also high in protein and a kid favorite, many types of cheese today are sold in thin, easy to peel, single serve plastic wrappers. Or slice a cheese chunk into cubes and slide them into a zipper bag. They go great with the deli slices and fresh fruit.
  • Greek Yogurt: This type of yogurt is much higher in protein than regular yogurt. It’s available in freezable on-the-go tubes and even re-sealable plastic pouches (plus lower sugar varieties). Or start with some regular flavor yogurt, add something yummy (such as fruit), and pack it into a re-sealable plastic container.
  • Hardboiled Eggs: A large egg contains 6 grams of protein! Hard-boiled eggs are easy to pack (they essentially come with their own packaging), and deviled eggs are a perennial favorite of kids—just wrap the egg halves in plastic cling wrap to keep them fresh and intact.
  • Hummus: Chickpeas in hummus provide the protein—tahini and other ingredients provide the yum. A small re-sealable plastic container makes a great dipping bowl, coupled with fresh cut veggies such as celery, carrots, or snap peas packaged in a zipper bag.
  • Nuts: Many types of nuts contain plentiful protein, and many nutritionists sing their praises. Single serve pouches from the supermarket are one option for lunches, but bulk nuts can be packed many ways, from zipper bags to small re-sealable plastic containers.
  • Quinoa Mixes: Often called a super food, this ancient quinoa grain crop grown for its seed is packed with protein. It plays nice with all sorts of ingredients, from salad fixins to grilled shrimp or chicken. Place ingredients in a re-sealable plastic bowl/container, add some dressing, give it a shake, and voila: a nutritious entree.
  • Lentils: See: quinoa—everything written above about quinoa applies to lentils. With the right mix of ingredients, it’s amazing how easy it is to make kids crave a really nutritious food like lentils.

Recycled Plastics

And finally, remember: more and more kitchen supplies these days contain recycled plastics. When looking for school lunch supplies, seek out those that contain recycled plastics—you can help these valuable materials live another life.