Packed Lunches Made Easy

As much as we may be looking forward to the return of school, the idea of another 10 months of packed lunches can seem daunting. But it doesn’t have to be.

A Few Quick Tips:

  • If your child doesn’t eat this food at home, don’t pack it in their lunch. This is not the time to try new foods.
  • Some repetition is ok. If kids love a chicken sandwich, you can give them a chicken sandwich quite regularly. Just try to avoid the exact same meal 5 days in a row week after week.
  • Don’t panic if it appears that your child survives on air during the day. See my post on Skimpy School Time Eating
  • Whatever they miss out on, try to supplement at breakfast or dinner. If you find your child never touches their veggies or fruit in their packed lunch, try adding more to the menu before or after school. Fruit smoothies in the morning are a great way to pack in a couple servings of fruit and raw veggies with hummus or guacamole is a great after-school snack.
  • For picky or light eaters focus on nutrient dense homemade bars or muffins like the sugarless pumpkin muffins or blueberry power bars (recipes below).

Filling the Lunch Box

Let’s first look at what should (ideally) go into a lunch box. Remember that the contents of the lunch box will contribute about 1/3rd of your child’s daily diet for 5 out of 7 days a week, assuming it is eaten. That’s a lot of food, so in a perfect world we want to fill it with foods that pack a nutritional punch.

2-3 Fruits & VegetablesChildren need a minimum of 5 servings of fruit and veg a day in order to obtain all their nutrient needs, including vitamin C, potassium, folic acid and fibre. Fibre is filling and slows the absorption of sugar, particularly from fruit. Keep it simple- raw crunchy veggies:
Sugar snap peas
Bell peppers
Cherry tomatoes
Sugar snap peas
Cooked in a thermos: · carrots, peas, corn, cauliflower with butter and new potatoes
Easy to pack fruits:
Mandarin oranges
Add chopped fruits & veggies to whole grain salads.
1-2 Whole Grains / Starchy VegetablesChoosing whole grain products will not only provide more nutrients, but will keep your children satisfied for longer due to the added fibre and protein contained in whole grains.Whole grain breads, pitas and wraps are always an option for sandwich style lunches but also try:
Quinoa salad with black beans, corn and tomatoes
Try to avoid sugar-laden refined flour products like store bought muffins, cookies or sweet breads which will spike their blood sugar and leave your children tired and hungry during afternoon classes.Wild rice salad with apple, celery and raisins
Roasted yams with kale (warm in thermos)
Beef and barley stew
Whole grain crackers: Nairn Oat Cakes, Mary’s Gone Crackers with pumpkin seed butter or hummus
1 Protein FoodKids need between 1-3 servings of protein rich food a day depending upon their age and size. Protein satisfies the appetite and keeps blood sugar steady. It’s not just meat! Plant protein is a wonderful choice as it is high in both protein and fibre-rich carbohydrates. Black beans with corn, salsa and melted cheese
Chick peas with cucumber, feta and peppers
Thermos of lentil soup
Container of edamame
Pitas filled with canned salmon, sardines, or fresh shrimp.
Flax wraps filled with egg salad, slices of turkey, nitrate-free ham, lean beef, or pork tenderloin
1 Calcium FoodChildren need between 2-4 servings of calcium-rich foods a day depending on age. Drinking cow, soy, or almond milk with meals is an easy way to reach this goal. These products provide calcium and vitamin D for growing bones. Be aware that not all milk alternatives are fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Be sure to read the label.

Other great non-dairy sources of calcium include tinned salmon with bones, edamame, white beans, almonds (not at school), broccoli, sesame seeds, leafy greens like kale and collard.
With dairy or dairy alternatives choose sugar free options as much as possible:
Milk, soy milk, cottage cheese, babybel, unsweetened yogurt
Healthy FatsHealthy fats optimize brain development and function particularly in children. They also add flavour to foods. Nuts are not allowed in elementary schools but seeds & their butters are – pumpkin, sunflower, flax and sesame – combine with raisins for school-safe trail mix
Olive oil based salad dressing
Hummus & bean dips with tahini
Fatty fish: canned salmon, mackerel & sardines

Whole fruits, vegetables, protein and whole grains are satiating and slowly absorbed. Having the bulk of the lunchbox filled with these natural, unprocessed foods will not only help children meet their nutritional needs, but also allow them to concentrate and thrive in the classroom.

For more ideas watch CTV Morning Live on Monday September 6th where I’ll be presenting some other fresh ideas for Back to School Lunches.


PUMPKIN BANANA MUFFINS (gluten, dairy and sugar-free!)


  • 1 ¼ cups chickpea flour (for kids allowed nuts or weekend treats, ground almonds work well)
  • ¼ cup ground flax seeds
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (combination of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 large ripe banana, mashed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line muffin pan with paper liners or use coconut oil to grease pan.

In a large bowl mix together chickpea flour, ground flax seeds, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, and salt.  Set aside.

In a small bowl whisk together eggs, pumpkin, banana, and vanilla extract. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix to combine.

Scoop batter into prepared muffin pan cups filling ¾ full. Bake muffins for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden.

Makes 12 muffins.

Tip: If your kids balk at the lack of sweetness, I sometimes use the trick of adding one small piece of 85% chocolate on top of each muffin. It is the first bite they take and that tends to seal the deal.


blueberry bars croppedIngredients

  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • ¼ cup pumpkin seeds
  • ¼ cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 tablespoon flaxseeds
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 cup unsweetened whole-grain puffed cereal (Kashi or Brown Rice Krispies)
  • ½ cup dried blueberries
  • ½ cup chopped dried apricots
  • 3/4 cup creamy unsweetened school-safe seed butter (pumpkin, sunflower or soybean)
  • 3 Tablespoons honey
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt


Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat an 8-inch-square pan with cooking spray.

Spread oats, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds and chia seeds on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the oats are lightly toasted and the nuts are fragrant, shaking the pan halfway through, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Add cereal, dried blueberries and apricots; toss to combine.

Combine seed butter, honey, vanilla and salt in a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low, stirring frequently, until the mixture bubbles lightly, 2 to 5 minutes.

Immediately pour the seed butter & honey mixture over the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon or spatula until no dry spots remain. Transfer to the prepared pan. Lightly coat your hands with cooking spray and press the mixture down firmly to make an even layer (wait until the mixture cools slightly if necessary). Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes; cut into 8 bars.

See other great recipes for the lunch box on my recipe pages:


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