Get Out of the Lunch Rut with These Healthy Lunchbox Ideas - Real Food Whole Life

Get Out of the Lunch Rut with These Healthy Lunchbox Ideas

September 15, 2015 (Updated on August 5, 2021)

Need some inspiration to make packing lunches easy? Read on for my go-to tips and tricks for packing a real food lunchbox.


1 | Lunch in Fours

Think about packing a lunch in four groups: veggies, fruits, whole grains, and protein & healthy fats.

Then make sure you pack at least one item from each group and feel free to double up on fruits and veggies.

If you’re family doesn’t do grains, skip that group and double up on the others. 

2 | Create a Master Grocery List

Sit down with your child and brainstorm his or her favorite foods in each four groups.

Then, create a master list of his or her favorite fruits, veggies, whole grains, and proteins & healthy fats.

Keep and reference the list during grocery shopping trips and while packing lunches. Use the grocery list printable at the bottom of this post as a jumping off point, adding your favorites to the list.

Use the Lunch Box Cheat Sheet at the end of this post to plan!


3 | Stock Up

Use your Master Grocery List to stock up on lunch staples at the grocery store.

Stocking your pantry and fridge with staples will ensure you have food on hand to make lunches quickly and easily.

4 | Grocery Shop Together

Prior to or after writing the Master Grocery List, take your child grocery shopping.

Particularly in the produce aisle, allow your child to pick out his or her favorite fruits and veggies, then add them to the list.


5 | Institute a 30-Minute Lunch Prep

Once a week set aside 30 minutes for lunch prep.

Boil a dozen eggs, chop veggies, and pre-pack pantry items. A small amount of time once a week will save valuable minutes on school and lunch days.

6 | Check your Nut and Seed Policy

Every school and classroom is different when it comes to its nut and seed policy. Check first before packing nuts or nut butters.

Seeds and seed butter like sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame are usually okay, but be sure to check first.

7 | Don’t Be Afraid to Repeat

When it comes to healthy school lunches don’t feel like you need to pack an entirely unique lunch each day. I certainly don’t! 

If you’re creatively challenged in the lunch department, try following the one-week rule.

Help your child select one or two items from each category on the Master Grocery List, then pack those items each day for one week. Repeat the process weekly.


8 | Keep Lunch Items Together

Store lunch ingredients together in the fridge and pantry. When it’s time to pack lunch everything will be in one place so you’ll be able to grab and pack easily.

9 | Pack at Night

Add lunch packing into your evening routine so you don’t forget and run out of time in the morning.

We like to pack right after dinner when the kitchen’s still a mess. That way we only have to clean up once.

10 | Pack Right

This four section metal bento box is our current favorite for preschool lunches.

We also like the larger version for older children or adults.

These leak proof condiment and dip containers are great for sauces and hummus.

Larger leak proof stainless steel containers for apple sauce, yogurt, and anything else that might leak.

Thermal stainless steel containers keep food warm if your child prefers something heated. Simply fill the container with very hot water, dump the water, then add warmed food, soup or stew and everything should stay warm until lunch.

Pack the items into an insulated lunchbox to keep things cold and reduce the chance of lids coming off.

We love these for younger children as they are durable and can go through the washing machine when spills happen.

We also use this larger size for older children and grownup lunches.

Finally, pop in a small ice pack to keep everything cool until lunch, a few utensils, and you’re good to go.

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0 comments to " Get Out of the Lunch Rut with These Healthy Lunchbox Ideas "

  • annie

    9. LOVE. We realized that a year or so ago. We’d clean everything up and THEN pack and THEN clean again!

  • Kate

    Hello! Love this post and these great tips! Can you kindly share what kind of insulated lunch box you use with the 4 section bento box and ice pack. I am in the process of looking for something big enough, sturdy enough, yet still kid-friendly. Thanks so much!!

    • Robyn Downs

      Kate, so happy you enjoyed the post! I’ve loved the Skip Hop Lunch Bags for the kids sized 4-section bento box and ice pack. They are super cute and durable (and can go through the dishwasher). Here’s a link:

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