Packing Healthy School Lunches: Part 2

August 25, 2017

Back to school season is right around the corner! Certified health coach and certified plant based cooking Instructor, Lora Downie, is sharing with us some tips and tricks to make packing healthy lunches easy this year. This week we’re taking a look into food categories! Check out “Packing Healthy School Lunches: Part 1” here.

Lora Downie

Today, let’s dive into the  food categories food categories I mentioned in “Packing Healthy School Lunches: Part 1″:

  1. Water
  2. Protein
  3. Grains
  4. Fruits
  5. Vegetables
  6. Healthy fats

The great news – many foods fall into a couple of categories so it’s easy to cover your bases. The key is to just start adding things here and there, and slowly the packaged foods begin to decrease their real estate in the lunch box.


Yes, it gets it’s own category because it is that important. Most humans actually push through the day dehydrated. Children need to have water accessible at all times and should sip throughout the day. Have a little water bottle in their backpack and let them know they should drink at any point they want throughout the day. Also, many fruits and some veggies have high water content!

Proteins & Grains (it’s hard to talk about them separately!)


Grains actually span two food groups by offering a good source of protein! Try to keep the grains whole when possible – they will give your kids vitamins, nutrients, fiber and a load of sustainable energy to get through the day. Of course the first food that comes to mind when we mention grains is bread, but there is an entire world waiting for us in the bulk grain aisle. Bread is fine, but whole grains are better, such as rice, millet, quinoa, bulgur, farro and buckwheat. These whole grains make great cold salads (or are wonderful in soups). Also, oats and oatmeal are great for snacks (muesli, granola, and granola bars). There are TONS of great recipes using these grains online.

Cooked grains keep very well. You can prepare larger quantities of grains and simply reheat with a little oil or water later in the week. I like to make a double or triple batch and eat it in different ways for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Each time you go to the store buy a new grain and experiment.

Cans Of Beans


Beans contain a more complete set of amino acids than other plant foods. Use dried beans (or canned are fine) that are a smaller, like split peas, chickpeas, mung and black bean – they cook faster. To make them easier to digest, soak dried beans overnight prior to cooking. Great in cold salads, soups or pureed/mashed for sandwiches/dips.


Soybeans are the most difficult beans to digest. People traditionally eat baby soybeans known as edamame because they are tender, tofu, or ferment the soybeans and make tempeh, miso and tamari so the body doesn’t have to work so hard to break it down.

Edamame makes a great quick snack and can be purchased frozen in the organic section. For a twist, roast it with some olive oil, salt and your child’s favorite seasoning or simply steam and sprinkle with sea salt.


Nuts and seeds provide a great source of protein and healthy fats because they contain vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Experiment with adding a small handful of walnuts, pecans, almonds, sunflower or pumpkin seeds in each lunch, or throw together a quick trail mix with shredded coconut and different dried fruits.


Leafy greens

I can see the eye rolls now…but it can be done! 😉 Broccoli, spinach, kale, collard greens, bok choy, romaine lettuce, and watercress all contain some protein. Leafy greens are the one food highly associated with longevity because they contain major sources of magnesium, iron and calcium. They are also packed with Quercetin, a bioflavonoid with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties. Talk about super foods! What better way to get As on that report card? 😉

Try to incorporate them into lunch a couple times a week. Maybe a small side salad, finely chopped spinach in a quiche or make a green smoothie and pour it in a thermos.


Chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, buffalo, so many different kinds. Try different kinds to discover what works best for you and your child. If making meat for dinner, reserve a small portion for lunches. Sprinkle over salads or include in wraps.


Quick, practical, inexpensive protein source. Make a batch of hard boiled eggs on Sunday and use them for breakfast, snacks, lunches during the week. Or make a frittata or quiche and use for a couple of lunches.

Bee Pollen


Find the right type that suites your family – that is, if dairy suites your family: cheese, cottage cheese, buttermilk dressing (for dips), yogurt (without too much sugar or additives), or butter.


Protein from bee pollen and royal jelly digests easily and has many other nutrients. Drizzle over yogurt, add to dressing or dips.

Fruits & Vegetables:

Most children love fruit, but as we all know, vegetables can be a challenge. At first, stick with your child’s favorites (carrot sticks, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.) and then begin to slowly incorporate new ones. Remember, all of them count! If you make a turkey sandwich, add some romaine and sliced cucumbers. If you make a burrito, add sauteed carrots and roasted peppers.

It’s not about being deceptive, but it’s about combining foods in a way that is pleasing to a young palate. And don’t give up or be dismayed if something gets returned! It takes at least 5-10 tries before our taste buds come to an ultimate conclusion about a certain taste/texture. So make a small tasting portion until it’s received well.

Easy Snack

Healthy Fats:

We’re talking nuts and seeds:

  • Nut butters: tahini, cashew, almond, peanut
  • Nuts: pine, brazil, cashews, walnuts, almonds, pistachios
  • Seeds: chia, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, flax (raw or toasted) and ground

Natural sources & oils: salmon, avocados, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil, and sesame oil

Need some more ideas? Here are some additional resources I love:
Real Simple: 19 Healthy Snack Ideas
WholeLiving: School Snacks
WholeLiving: Kids Lunch Ideas
Environmental Working Group: A Guide to Buying Healthy Food on a Budget
Weelicious: School Lunches
Super Healthy Kids

I wish you the best this school year and would love for you to stop by my Instagram feed (@loradownie) and share your successes (and challenges) throughout the year. I’ll be posting pics of my daughter’s lunch box from time to time. Good luck and trust your gut!


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