During the elementary years my mom faithfully packed my lunch for school. I remember my daily lunch quite well… the notes, white bread sandwiches with the crust perfectly removed, and two quarters for buying ice cream. She lovingly took time each morning (or night) to pack my lunch.

Five Tips for Packing Healthy Lunches

Despite my mom’s labor and love, I developed a horrible habit: nearly everyday I threw away my lunch.

I’m not sure why I suddenly felt the urge each day at 11:42 to throw my mom’s hand-picked lunch in the school garbage.  In fact, the habit became so regular my mom would often question where I was putting the metal spoons she sent in my lunchbox. You guessed it! The trash. Thankfully, I matured and snapped out of the lunch-throwing phase. Unfortunately, that year my mom also lost her entire collection of metal spoons.

The big question for me (and you) is: “How do I pack a healthy lunch my kids will love (and not throw away)?” There are a lot of “food” options competing for a spot in our kids’ lunch-boxes.  How do we get our kids’ attention and pack lunches they will be excited about opening and eating?

Five Tips for Packing Healthy Lunches

1. Create a Favorite Meals List

One of the most important steps to getting your kids to love lunch (and eat it) is encouraging participation from the very start!

Before school even starts, sit down together and create a “My Favorite Meals” list or book. Ask your child to color pictures (or cut pictures from a magazine) of food they would enjoy in their lunchbox.  Nothing is off limits. If your child draws cookies, be sure to pack homemade cookies every so often.

5 Tips for Packing Healthy Lunches (kids won't throw away) - Live Simply

As your child draws the pictures, talk about their choices. Encourage new choices: “What’s your favorite fruit? Apples? Perfect! Do you like apples sliced with the apple cutter or whole?”

Hang the completed list on the fridge or create a “My Favorite Meals” book. This list (or book) can be revisited throughout the school year as you shop and pack lunch together. Don’t forget to have a few extra pages handy for adding new favorite foods. You can download the “My Favorite Meals” printable here or by clicking the printable button below.

5 Tips for Packing Healthy Lunches (kids won't throw away) - Live Simply

 2. Shopping Allowance

After creating a favorite food list, it’s time to go shopping! Provide your child with a weekly grocery allowance. Piper, my oldest, receives $5 each week. With this money he can purchase anything at the market or natural food store.

As the parent, you’ll still buy the majority of food, but the small allowance allows your child to have control over their food choices, and take pride in what they’re eating for lunch. You might be surprised at the new foods your child explores just because they had a choice.

3. Prepare Together

Encourage your child to get involved in the actual packing process. Set aside time on the weekend, after shopping together, to chop vegetables and slice fruit, cut cheese, and create sandwiches. Make it fun with tools your child can easily use.

5 Tips for Packing Healthy Lunches (kids won't throw away) - Live Simply

Allowing a child to help prepare food provides them with a sense of “I did this!” Often times children who help prepare lunch and family meals are more willing to try new foods and partake in meal time.

4. Practice Makes Perfect

Eating lunch at school can be intimidating, particularly for a young child. The noise and over-sized cafeteria can strike a bit of uneasiness in anyone. Trust me, I was a teacher for a number of years before coming home to share cookies and kombucha here at Live Simply.

Before school starts, sit down and talk with your child about what they can expect in the large cafeteria. Also, practice unzipping the lunchbox, and taking out the thermos and lunchbox. Walk your child through the steps of cleaning and how to handle leftovers.

5 Tips for Packing Healthy Lunches (kids won't throw away) - Live Simply

5. Super Cool Lunch Gear

Now it’s time to stock up on super cool lunch gear your child will love!

Ladies, you know the amazing feeling you get when you purchase that new purse?  Yep, that feeling.  You’re ready to take on the world! Your child’s lunch gear is the same way. You can see my favorite lunchgear in this post.

Real Food Lunch Packing Gear

Packing healthy school lunches shouldn’t result in frustration and a trip to the trash can. With these simple tips kids can enjoy an awesome year of healthy school lunches.

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  1. I love the Iron Man costume in the background of the apple slicing picture. That would totally happen at my house too. We send lunch in a PLanet Box, so when my son is finished, he closes it up and brings the rest home. We have an established pattern of the younger brother eating the lunch left overs in the car on the ride home from preschool pick up.

    1. Hey Vanessa, I had to chuckle at the Iron Man costume when my little guy started helping with pictures. Such a fun age. I love that you have a routine for your kiddos! That helps so much with packing and eating good lunches. Keep up the great work, Momma, and thank you for sharing!

  2. Great tips and cute lunch gear! My fear is that all the cute little accessories would get tossed in the rush to get the kids out of the cafeteria 🙁
    I struggle w non sandwich ideas for the kiddos lunch boxes so I’ll have to spend some time going through your posts for ideas.

    1. Hi Gwen, Thank you :). I used to throw away all my mom’s cute lunch gear. The five tips are designed to help there be less “throwing away” and more “bringing home” :). Happy lunch packing!

  3. My oldest will start a hybrid pre-K/homeschool this fall. She’s never been in any sort of MDO/preschool program, so I LOVE the idea of having a dry run at home where I can describe the whole school lunch scene and let her practice opening and putting away all her things. I also love your “grocery budget” for kids. Will definitely share these great ideas – Thanks, Kristin!

    1. Hey Dena, I can’t wait to hear about your daughter’s experience! I’ve been looking for something for Piper that would allow him to be in a preschool environment, but also homeschool. Have fun practicing!!