Kids need good fuel to get them through the day. That means their school lunches should be made up of real fresh foods that are nutrient dense, rich in protein and healthy fats, and low in processed sugar for even energy levels throughout the day and better focus during class.
Every year when the school year starts, moms and dads face the daily challenge of coming up with varied, balanced and quick lunch box meals for their little ones. This can be particularly hard for parents trying to feed their kids a diet free of processed foods, grains, gluten or dairy. Whatever your choice of eating, things can get tricky if you’re not prepared! To help things out, we’ve gathered a few of our favourite healthy whole food lunches to get you inspired.
All recipes are paleo/primal, gluten free, and nut free to make sure that kids can bring them to school. We know that for many parents school mornings are busy – so we’ve got some ideas for foods you can prepare in advance to make getting out the door in the mornings faster. We’ve also chosen foods that are easy to pack and will travel well.
Healthy lunch box basics
1. Main lunch item
2. Nutritious snack
3. A piece of fresh seasonal fruit
4. Drink – always include a water bottle
1. Optional – add an extra snack for active and fast growing kids
While the HKA advocate including grains and dairy, for those following a paleo diet this might mean protein, healthy fats and vegetables – the basic principle of the Core 4 + 1 is a good starting point when making your child’s lunch, just adjust the foods to meet your diet.
Which lunch box?
Before we get into the foods, let’s talk lunch boxes. We try to avoid storing food in plastic containers and instead opt for glass at home, or at least pick BPA-free options. But it’s not very practical to send your little one off to school with a heavy glass container. A stainless steel lunch box is the perfect solution – they are lightweight, unbreakable and don’t leach chemicals like plastic.
To keep foods cool, pack the lunch box in an insulated lunch bag along with an ice pack. To keep hot foods like soups or stews warm, use an insulated thermal container. LunchBots and PlanetBox have a great range of stainless steel lunch boxes, including bento style and insulated containers in all shapes and sizes, water bottles, and lunch bags. In Australia, check out Shop Naturally website for sustainable lunch box options. Lunch Bots has an international resellers list as well. It’s also a good idea to have a few little containers to pack things like sauces, dips and foods that need to be kept separate.
MAIN LUNCH ITEMS
Meal in a muffin
A muffin shaped meal made of any combination of veggies and protein (like meat, fish or egg) is a perfect sandwich replacement for the lunch box. They transport well and taste good cold. You can prepare a big batch at the start of the week to save time in the mornings. They will keep in the fridge for a few days, and some you can even freeze. The combinations really are endless, but here are some recipes we think your kids will love:
• Egg muffins from Show Me The Yummy
• Spicy tuna cakes from Nom Nom Paleo (adjust the spice depending on your child’s preference)
• Meat muffins from The Healthy Foodie
• Meat loaf muffins from Paleo Comfort Foods as featured on Nom Nom Paleo
Meatballs, burgers and meatloaf slices
A serve of meaty goodness combined with some cherry tomatoes and celery sticks make a great main lunch item. You can make a large batch of your child’s favourite and keep in the freezer ready to pop in their lunch box in the morning. A tasty, high protein, budget friendly and quick option. For some inspiration check out these 20 Awesome Paleo Burger Recipes, 10 Mouthwatering Paleo Meatball Recipes, and these 40 Paleo Meatloaf Recipes.
Good old nourishing eggs
Hard boiled eggs are perfectly portable making them a great option for taking to school. Combined with some veggies, lettuce wraps, or a small salad, eggs make a perfect meal full of protein, fats, and nutrients for busy kids. A batch of hard boiled eggs will keep in the fridge for up to one week – another time saver on school mornings. And then of course, you can make devilled eggs – check out my three ways to make tasty devilled eggs here – or mayo curried egg salad in small cupcake casings.
For something a little more elaborate, check out my caramelised onion and carrot omelette roll up, which I think kids will love, or do it in reverse and wrap some egg omelette pancakes inside turkey or ham slices.
Bake a loaf of grain free, nut free bread and keep it pre-sliced in the freezer so you can grab a serve when you need it. My Jalapeno Coconut Bread is a great option because it is totally nut free. It’s not too spicy but if your little one isn’t into the spice from the jalapeños, you can leave them out or replace them with some additional grated veggies or green olives. For more paleo bread ideas see our list of The Best Paleo Bread Recipes, which includes some nut free recipes.
Other main meal ideas
- Turkey meat rolls ups with cooked egg, avocado, lettuce or other vegetables, check out the turkey wraps All Things G&D.
- Pan-fried diced sausage, roasted squares of sweet potato and cooked cauliflower.
- Fish cakes with roasted honey carrots and boiled green beans; or you can use my sweet potato and salmon cakes recipe to make smaller pancake size bites for kids.
- Egg crepe roll ups with shredded chicken or ham and avocado, Spanish olives and diced cucumber.
- Roasted chicken, chicken meatballs or these nut-free chicken fingers from Lexi’s Clean Kitchen.
- Pulled pork in baby cos lettuce cups.
- Crab cakes, fish fingers, or cooked prawns.
- Mini sweet potato or zucchini rosti pieces, you can get a basic sweet potato rosti in this recipe.
- Savoury paleo pancakes such as my broccoli pancakes.
- Sushi rolls made with seaweed, cooked salmon, avocado, pickles or with cooked tuna, a little mayonnaise, lettuce and avocado, such as these guys from the Grass Fed Girl.
- Savoury nut free muffins such as my zucchini & sun-dried tomato muffins.
- Paleo teriyaki chicken and pineapple skewers from My Natural Family.
- Replace sugary yogurt snacks with a little pot of chia pudding made with coconut milk or a serve of coconut or plain full fat yogurt if you are ok with including dairy. Top those up with some berries and seeds.
- A mix of raw veggies – try cherry tomatoes, crunchy beans and snow peas, baby carrots or sticks of carrot, celery, cucumber, radishes and capsicum and a side serving of paleo friendly dips such as cauliflower hummus, guacamole, baba ganush, beetroot, egg and so on.
- Left over roasted veggies are also great – try chunks of pumpkin or sweet potato, roasted carrots, even some roasted white potato.
- For nut free paleo crackers, try our tahini and wholegrain mustard crackers.
- Homemade muesli bars are lunch box friendly – here are some of our favourite paleo granola bars here. You can make most of these recipes nut-free by replacing the nuts with seeds. Check out these nut-free carrot cake lara bars, which also have a few hidden veggies inside.
- Bliss balls and power balls such as these nut-free, paleo power bites from Lexi’s Clean Kitchen or these coconut snowballs from The Kitchn
- Toasted coconut flakes, dried apples, baked sweet potato, beetroot and carrot chips, kale chips. Check out my maple sesame apple crisps
- Gelatin fruit gummies such as these sour watermelon gummies from Meatified or these strawberry and cream gummies from The Holistic Squid.
- For a little treat you can try out nut-free chocolate banana cookies, coconut rough slice, these paleo and nut free peach muffins and these ginger cookies which are also egg free.
Want more inspiration?
If you need more inspiration for Paleo and Primal lunch box ideas check out these awesome sites and Instagram accounts:
- Nom Nom Paleo – Michelle has a series of fantastic lunchbox round ups that are sure to get you drooling
- Joshua’s Primal Lunchbox – Joshua’s mother Kathryn has documented a month of her sons lunches and also created an e-book full of ideas and inspiration
- Paleo Parents also have a great post Packing a Paleo Lunch is Easier Than You Think
- And if you’re on Instagram, check out @inchbyinchitsacinch and @thepaleoforryfamily
We’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions! Leave a comment or head on over to EDP Facebook page.