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8 Tips for Worry-Free Lunch Packing

Sending your kiddos back to school means life is about to get busy again. To make sure that your children are at their best, a healthy lunch is a must. 

Deciding what to pack in that empty lunch bag day after day can be challenging, especially if food allergies are part of the mix, so we turned to three local dietician-nutritionists — Erin Winterhalter Caroulis, owner of Eat With Erin; Ashvini Mashru, owner of Wellness Nutrition Concepts, LLC; and Stefanie Williams of Family Food, LLC — who chimed in with some tips.


1. Write this basic formula on a Post-it note & put it wherever you make lunch: 1 protein + 1 starch + 1 veggie + 1 fruit + 1 dairy


Caroulis offers this chart for healthy choice guidelines:

  • Protein – chicken, turkey, eggs, beans, nuts, seeds
  • Grains – whole grain bread, wraps, pita, crackers, cold pasta, popcorn, pretzels
  • Veggies – fresh and raw
  • Fruit – fresh or to-go packs, packed in unsweetened juice
  • Dairy – milk, yogurt, and string cheese


2. Keep it cold using an insulated lunch bag and ice packs. 

Mashru uses two products to keep lunches cold: ThermaFreeze ice sheets and Kids Konserve sweat-free ice packs. ThermaFreeze are thin and flexible, store flat, and are reusable. Kids Konserve ice packs are non-toxic ice packs that slip into a reusable cover made from recycled plastic bottles, perfect for putting at the bottom of a lunch bag.


3. Keep it warm using a Thermos food jar

For best results, warm the jar before while preparing your hot food inside by filling with hot water (boiling from the stove or just hot from your faucet), seal, and let sit for five minutes. 


4. Use rotisserie chicken for a quick and easy protein. 

Mashru offers two ways to include it:

Nut-free menu: Whole wheat pasta tossed with olive oil or salad dressing + pea pods + rotisserie chicken + grapes

Gluten-free menu: Cold pasta salad (made with gluten-free noodles) with zucchini, tomatoes, and sweet peppers mixed with gluten-free Italian dressing + rotisserie chicken + strawberries and blackberries


5. For a nut-free lunch, exchange soy nut butter for nut butter.

Williams recommends putting soy nut butter spread on celery sticks, then adding whole grain crackers, grapes, and a yogurt cup for a complete meal.


6. Dairy free? So Delicious dairy free milk alternative beverages now come in cute on-the-go size boxes!

Make one a part of your child’s lunch with this menu by Caroulis:   

Try this lunch by Williams: a soymilk drink box, apple-nut-butter wrap (one whole wheat wrap, spread with 1 ½ tablespoons of peanut or almond butter, then top with apple slices), and celery or cucumber strips.


7. Freeze juice boxes or sports bottles.

Packing frozen beverages will help keep the food cold and by the time lunch rolls around, the beverage will be defrosted, ice cold, and ready to drink.


8. Make Whole Foods your gluten-free shopping destination. 

Many chains offer lists of the gluten-free foods they carry, but Whole Foods takes it one step further. By selecting your local store, you can pull up a list of their gluten-free offerings for that location, so you plan your shopping list accordingly. With gluten-free staples like turkey, crackers, granola, hummus, and applesauce, you can throw together these lunches in no time: 


Turkey breast wrapped around reduced fat cheese slices, rice or whole grain crackers, baby carrot sticks, unsweetened applesauce cup (This menu by Williams is a favorite, gluten free or not).


Caroulis suggests a yogurt parfait (low fat or nonfat Greek yogurt topped with berries and gluten free granola, like KIND’s Healthy Grain Granola Clusters or Udi’s Natural Artesian Granola), baby carrots with hummus, and Pop Chips.

Founder & CEO, Family Focus Media | Creator for Main Line Parent, Philadelphia Family, & Bucks County Parent | Connect with me on Instagram @sarahbondfocus or email sarah@familyfocus.org.