The Ultimate Guide to Packed Lunch

Packed Lunch

Packed lunch is a great option for adults and children alike as it can help to save on expensive work lunches (often wrapped in plastic). It’s also helpful when your kids aren’t too fond of what the school has to offer or you have concerns over the quality of foods being served at school.

Let’s face it, schools and supermarket or cafeteria meal deals don’t have the best reputation when it comes to quality ingredients. With schools, this has hopefully improved since Jamie Oliver waged war on unhealthy school dinners, but might not be the case globally.

Then of course if your family has dietary restrictions or food allergies, packing lunches is a must.

The key to packed lunches for kids or adults is to find things that your family loves and enjoys eating. Getting your family involved in lunch decisions is a great start. It might not always be the easiest option, especially if you have a grumpy teen in the house!  

Getting Buy-in from the Whole Family

Start by talking to your family about what they want in their packed lunch box. Depending on the age of your kids, you could put them in charge of making their lunches.

Younger children can also help to pack lunches, it will teach them about food from an early age. Even your kindergartener can wash grapes and put them into a container, or pick a snack for their lunch box. Get in the habit of making lunches together the night before. 

Even though the point is to encourage healthy eating habits through packed lunches, insisting on all healthy, organic food options all the time may not be your best strategy. Strike a balance and make compromises. If your kids pack and eat a healthy wrap or salad, let them have a small treat for dessert.

Teach them to make good choices, but don’t get upset out if they decide to pack some Cheetos in their lunchbox.

Your goal is to get them to eat fairly healthy and make smart food choices, not to restrict all access to junk food, causing them to trade with friends for forbidden treats at school. 

Tips to get Organised for Packed Lunch

There is nothing worse than running late in the morning and then desperately trying to figure out something you can put in your lunch boxes. We have created a guide to healthy meal planning that might help you tremendously in the process. But here are our tips to get organised and save time when packing lunches:

1. Start With a List of Lunches for the Week

Sit down with your family and come up with a list of packed lunches they like. This could include sandwiches and wraps, or even homemade lunch-ables, but it doesn’t have to stop there. If you add a thermos like like this or like this to the mix. You can suddenly pack reheated leftovers, homemade soup and the likes. The key is to find lunch foods and snacks that your family will eat that are also easy to pack. 

2. Pre-Prep What you Can

If you’ve created a list of packed lunches for the week, identify any items that will need pre-prepping and do that ahead of time.

3. Pack Lunches the Night Before 

Mornings are busy and not always the perfect time to have to worry about packing lunches. Try making them the night before. Get the kids involved straight after dinner and have them help with lunch prep and clean-up after. 

4. Clean Out Lunch Boxes in Advance

To make lunch prep even easier, get the kids into the habit of cleaning out their lunch boxes as soon as they get back from school. Even the youngest can help with this. Have them toss any uneaten food and bring the containers to the sink to be washed. Older children can easily clean their containers, while you’ll probably have to do the washing for your youngest.

Ideas for Packing Delicious Lunches

Salads, wraps, and cold sandwiches are great late summer options, but when the temperatures start to drop, a hot dish in their lunch box can be more appealing.

Packed Lunch Beyond The Sandwich

We’re not advocates of sandwiches for lunch, these are best used as an emergency option as sandwiches can be nutritionally poor if you’re not careful.

Think about the humble ham and cheese sandwich – there’s not much in terms of vitamins in there! Yes, sometimes that can be the only thing your kids may want to eat, so you’ll have to pick your battles. But a Nutella or ham and cheese sandwich is not a healthy lunch option so it’s best to use as a last resort.

Fill a Wrap Instead of a Sandwich

A quick and easy alternative to a sandwich is a wrap, whole grain if you can sneak that in. Wraps are also great for adding lots of lettuce and extra veggies. Hummus and cucumbers make a delicious vegetarian lunch option. 

When you’re done adding your toppings, roll it up like a burrito and if desired, cut it in half. The wrap is good as is, or you can pack a small serving of salad dressing to dip. 

Packing Soups

Tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich can be a great veggie lunch option. Who doesn’t love soup and a hot sandwich for lunch on a cool, crisp, fall day? All it takes is a small thermos like this and ideally or an insulated tiered lunch box like this. Both these options are durable and should last a long time, unless it gets lost of course.

Make the soup the day before from scratch or even better batch cook a few portions, defrost overnight and reheat in the morning. Get it piping hot, and if possible, run some hot or even boiling water in the thermos first to get everything as warm as possible. 

Pour the soup in the thermos. Don’t forget to pack a spoon! Lastly, make the hot sandwich or any type of Panini. Keep the sandwich in the insulated lunch box and everything should stay toasty warm for hours. Mix and match the soup and sandwich combos for endless portable lunch possibilities. 

Chilli, Stew and Leftovers

Batch cooking chilli, stews or saving leftovers are great ideas for hot packed lunches. In fact, leftovers are our lunch of choice at home as it’s super easy to double cook the night before. You can also use your leftovers as a sandwich or wrap filler. 

When it comes to nutrition this is a sensible option, especially if you focus on a majority plant-based diet. You’ll quickly help your family to eat more than their five a day if you pack a few portions of veg in a stew for lunch. Keeping your body and immune system as strong as it can be.

If your kids and family have access to a microwave, you can pack just about any leftover that can then be heated. 

What about Snack Foods?

I have yet to meet a child that doesn’t love Lunch-ables. But these aren’t the healthiest option as they are highly processed and can contain lots of hidden sugar and preservatives. And should especially be avoided if your family are looking to lose weight in any way. 

You can make your own snack foods for lunch. Add some fresh raw veggies like sliced cucumber, cherry tomatoes, and baby carrots. Throw in some fresh or dried fruit and you have a delicious, healthy, homemade version. Homemade popcorn or trail mix can be a great addition to a lunch box as well.

Get Creative With Bento Lunch Boxes 

Bento is a traditional way for the Japanese to pack meals they can take with them to work or school. They often consist of rice, fish or meat, and cooked or pickled vegetables. Japanese parents can get very creative with Bento boxes, often turning it into a competition with other parents. But you don’t have to go to those extreme lengths of cutting food items into perfect shapes and caricatures like the Instagrammer below.

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2020/08/06 こどもべんとく *2種のくまおにきり(しお・おかか) *アジの香草焼き *海苔入り卵焼き *人参とかハムとかケチャップで炒めたやつ *ブロッコリーとプチトマト . 今日も今日とてお弁当ですぅ。 今日は茶色いくまさんとしろくまさん。 息子に ??「ちゃいろいこは やきおにぎりだね?」 と言われましたが、おかかです。 今週末でうちの息子が通う園も、いよいよしばらく夏休み? それに伴って、わたしの仕事もしばしおやすみ、、、 明日でお弁当、一旦休憩だ???✨!!!! ……と思うと、今日はちょっとかわいいの作ってやろー、という気になれました。笑 おかげで電車一本遅れた!!!(どんだけ余裕ないねん) それでは、本日も暑すぎますが、 皆さま頑張りましょう……?

A post shared by あさひ/Asahi (@morningsun3480) on

Bento lunch boxes are packed in stainless steel like this, which is great for eco-conscious parents as they are toxin-free and will last – unless they get lost of course. 

If you are ready to get even more creative, do a quick search online for bento lunch ideas. You’ll find ideas from gourmet food to fun and quirky kid-friendly lunch ideas. Who knew that you could shape rice and make it look like an adorable panda? Here is a Pinterest board with a few ideas to get you started or visit this Instagram tag for inspiration.

Of course, there’s no need to go all out as mentioned above. You can make delicious and eye-pleasing bento lunches by taking just a little care. What we like best about bento lunches is that it allows you to pack several small, snack-like items into one lunch.

Your kids will have fun picking and choosing for lunch and you know he will still get a healthy meal and they will have fun eating the colourful shapes in their box. Heck, you may even convince your picky eaters to try new fruits, veggies, cheeses and the likes if you cut them into cute little shapes. 

Bento boxes aren’t just for kids! You can pack a delicious lunch for the adults in the house and save a lot of money on meal deal sandwiches or expensive bought lunches!

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