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Lunchbox and Sack Lunch Ideas

Packing a lunchbox or sack lunch gives parents more control over what their children eat, allows them to respect dietary restrictions and allergies, and can help children learn about healthy food and feel in touch with home while they are at school. Read on for healthy lunch ideas.

As more doctors and parents become concerned with the unhealthy diets of American children, many parents are looking for ways to make their children’s lunchboxes or sack lunches healthier. Kids need a healthy lunch to learn and behave well at school and at home. Providing children with a lunchbox or sack lunch can also be a way to save money.

Parents who are packing their children’s lunches should follow these basic dietary guidelines, unless otherwise instructed by their child’s doctor:

  • Most kids get too much sodium, sugar, and saturated and trans fats in their diets. Read food labels so you can reduce these in your children’s foods. Also try to limit artificial colors and sweeteners.
  • School-age children often don’t get enough calcium, which can be found in low fat dairy products like milk, cheese, yogurt, and in some fresh fruits and vegetables and enriched grain products. Look for products that also include vitamin D.
  • Kids need good sources of protein at every meal, such as low fat dairy products, low fat meats, beans and peas, nuts, seeds, peanuts and peanut butter, and whole grains. Nuts, seeds, and fish also provide unsaturated fats, which are healthy in limited amounts.
  • Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, and most kids should eat more of these. The less processed these are the better. This means that a fresh apple is better than applesauce, and unsweetened applesauce is better than apple juice.
  • Whole grains are better than refined grains because they provide more fiber and protein, and they provide more long-lasting energy and a feeling of fullness, especially when eaten with other proteins.
  • Some schools have restrictions on food because of food allergies. Peanuts and peanut butter are the most commonly banned foods. There are some good substitutes for peanut butter, including almond butter, sunflower seed butter, and soy butter.

While preparing a healthy lunch for your children, it’s also important to make sure they will eat the foods you include. You can encourage your children to eat healthy food by talking to them about the importance of choosing healthy foods and by setting a good example. You can also let kids choose which healthy foods they would like to eat.

It’s okay for kids to have some fun foods or treats, and may help them to eat the healthy foods too. If you make eating healthy food into a fight, kids are more likely to sneak junk food and develop eating disorders. Some healthier fun foods that are easy to pack in lunches include:

  • Low fat string cheese
  • Yogurt, which can be eaten alone or with granola, fruit slices, or graham crackers
  • Whole grain crackers, plain or with low-fat cheese slices, peanut butter, or low fat cream cheese
  • Reduced sugar granola bars
  • Veggie sticks with low fat dip
  • Baked chips, plain or with low fat sour cream, bean dip, or salsa
  • Trail mix
  • Low fat oatmeal cookies
  • Celery with peanut butter or peanut butter substitute
  • Low fat muffins
  • Unsweetened applesauce or canned fruit packed in fruit juice instead of syrup.
  • Air popped, lightly salted popcorn
  • Juice or milk instead of soda

The cost of packing a lunchbox or brown bag varies depending on where you live and what you put in the lunch. Lunchbox or sack lunches in general are about the same price as school lunches. Sack lunches can be much more expensive than school lunches, and less healthy, if you include lots of packaged items. They can also be more expensive if you choose to use organic foods, but this may give you peace of mind if it fits better with your lifestyle. Some ways to make healthy school lunches cheaper include:

  • Make as much of the lunch as possible yourself. Homemade items from scratch are usually cheaper and healthier than store bought items. Look online for easy recipes for granola, trail mix, and low fat muffins and cookies.
  • Buy the fresh fruits or vegetables that are on sale - these are usually the ones that are in season, which means they will taste best and have the most nutritional value.
  • Buying in bulk usually saves you money, but make sure you’re really getting a better deal by checking how much foods cost per ounce or per pound (some stores include this information on the price label on the shelf). Also make sure you can use all of what you buy before the expiration date. If your kids are shopping with you, let them help you find the best deal so they get to see math in a real life situation.
  • If you are buying items like granola or chips it’s usually cheaper to get a big bag and put servings into baggies instead of buying the snack-sized bags.
  • Get a reusable lunchbox and food containers or reuse lunch sacks and plastic bags. Plastic bags and containers should be washed out before reusing.
  • Start a lunchbox co-op with other parents. If you get four other parents involved, then one day of the week you make lunches for each family, and the rest of the week the other parents each take a turn. This saves you money and time.

Always remember when packing lunches to keep food safe by washing your hands and keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Insulated lunchboxes can help with this, as can thermoses and cold packs.


KidsHealth from Nemours, School Lunches [online]

Jane Weaver, Health Editor,, “Secrets of healthy school lunches” [online]

Rebecca Thomas,, “PCH gives 5 tips for packing healthy school lunches” [online]