How to Pack a Healthy Lunch that You Feel Good About and Your Children Actually Eat!

adapted from my monthly column on

Camp season is upon us and,
if you are anythinglike me, I tend to fall into rut when I am packing my children’s camp lunches! Camp lunches are such a tricky thing…on one hand all of the children are comparing what they got in their lunchboxes (and do you really want them to be the ones with the lame lunch?). And, on the other hand, you want to send them off with something nutritious to fuel them through their day that you feel good about and that they will eat! If this is your conundrum, read on!

My 3 Lunchbox Criteria are that the lunch must:

1) Be quick and easy to pack (who wants to spend time packing lunches when we can be at the beach, playing tennis or just chilling out with a good book!)

2) Be healthy and include fruits and/or vegetables and

3) Contain foods my kids will actually eat (give some time with this- they won’t switch their eating habits overnight)!

Some Healthful Hints to Improve the “Lunch Box Battles.”

1) Get your kids involved in the shopping and/or preparation and ask what they like.
Take them somewhere like Whole Foods or your local healthy grocery shop and let them pick out some healthy options for their lunchboxes. Spend some time in the produce section and let them experiment with some different fruits. If your child normally only eats apples, try the cherries if they are in season! Buy a few mangos, a box of strawberries or some clementines. These make healthy, delicious lunchbox additions as well! Encourage them to make their own decisions on what they want to try- whether it is a new type of drink or treat. They will be much more likely to embrace it if they have chosen it. Do not and I repeat do not take them to a big grocery store where the aisles are lined with potato chips and cheese puffs!

2) Buy a lunchbox that is easy to use and that your child likes!
My children use the Lands End ones but there are many other fun ones to choose from these days! One of my favorite companies is Laptop Lunches, which has fun bento box style lunchboxes and also a wide variety of fantastic lunchbox ideas!

3) Include multiple colors & textures into their lunches.
When we are at a restaurant, we like a variety of colors and textures on our plates and kids are like that too! Pack a soft sandwich, crunchy carrot sticks and creamy yogurt for a satisfying combo. For nursery age children, cut their sandwiches into shapes and make fun things like ‘ants on a log’ (celery filled with cream cheese topped with raisons.)

4) Include condiments in their lunchboxes!
Condiments are not just for grown-ups, and children love, love, love to squirt and dip things. You could include hummus or ranch dressing to dip carrots into, ketchup for a tofu dog, or even maple syrup to dip a grilled almond butter and jelly sandwich into- yum!

5) Leftovers are great for lunch!
Get out of the ‘grilled cheese and pb&j thinking’ and be experimental with what you include. Did you have grilled salmon the night before? Then wrap up the salmon in a wrap! Have pasta the night before? Include that too! You will be surprised how much more your children will enjoy their lunches, and eat them! Lunch boxes don’t have to- and shouldn’t- contain the usual sandwich every day! If you do pack a sandwich, vary the bread- serve it on whole wheat one day, a wrap the next, a pita the next and try to add vegetables such as lettuce and tomato when you can.

6) Last, but certainly not least, remember to always pack a treat!
When your child opens their lunchbox you don’t want them to be the only one without something to look forward to! So, make sure when you are at the grocery store with them that they pick out something that is delicious but not high in sugar, high fructose corn syrup and saturated fat! I keep a variety on hand and just vary which one I throw in their lunchboxes.

Below are some specific ideas for you. Good luck and good packing!

“The Cheat Sheet”

Main Course (choose one):

PB&J with a twist- use almond butter & banana grilled on a whole wheat served with a side of honey

Smart Dogs- in a bun or rolled up with cheese in a tortilla

Pizza Munchees (Health is Wealth)- delicious pizza pockets!

Hard-boiled eggs (make a batch the night before and use for the lunchbox the next day)

Cheese Quesadillas on corn tortillas with a side of salsa

“Perfectly Healthy” Veggie Pancakes (recipe below)- cook it the night before & serve at dinner, then heat it up in the morning and pack it the next day (these also freeze well)

Avocado & tomato sandwich

“Mexican Sushi” (see recipe below)

Tofu or chicken nuggets (Health is Wealth) with ketchup for dipping

Snacks (choose one):

Fruit- bananas, apples, oranges, clementines, cherries, or grapes

Yogurt- Stoneyfield Squeeze yogurts, Brown Cow, Emmi, Fage, or Skyrs that comes with its own spoon and is my daughter’s favorite! (choose one high in acidophilis and low in sugar)

Carrots sticks with hummus or ranch dressing for dipping

Celery sticks filled with cream cheese (or, even better, Tofutti)

Dried fruits (no-sugar)- raisons, apricots, bananas, papaya or mango

Trail mix (no-sugar)- try one with Goji berries for iron and Vitamin C

Annies Cheddar Bunny Snack Packs (healthier version of goldfish)

Pirate or Veggie Booty (Roberts American Gourmet)

Spelt Pretzels

Treats (every lunchbox must have a treat, right!?!)

Snackimals Cookies Packs- come in ‘Snickerdoodle’, ‘Chocolate Chip’, or ‘Wheat-Frees’

Newman’s Own “oreo” cookies

Kashi TLC dark chocolate chip cookies (these are delicious!)

Late July peanut butter or cheese crackers

Drinks (choose one):
If they are going to sports camp, always pack them a big bottle of water as well and encourage them to drink it throughout the day! Opt out of the sports drink route, unless you find some without added sugar!

Honest Kids- (fun squeeze packs) comes in Tropical Tango, Goodness Grapeness or Berry, Berry Good Lemonade
Apple & Eve All-Natural Apple Juice (box)
Vruit Carrot Apple Juice (box)
R.W. Kudsens Spritzers- Lemonade, Red Rasberry or Grape (can- they think it is soda!)
Vita Coco Coconut Water (box)
Good, Old-Fashioned Water!

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