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10 Healthy Brown Bag Lunch Tips


Sack Lunches can be tough to pack when you are looking to keep it healthy.  The older my kids get, the less they want to bring a lunch with containers or bags they need to bring home.  Here are a few ways I’ve made the brown bag lunch work in our family.

A ham sandwich on a plate in front of a brown lunch bag, apple and banana.

Here are 10 tips for creating a healthy brown bag lunch.. the first one will save you hundreds of headaches!

  1. Let them pack it themselves!  Have I ever told the story of when my son traded his entire lunch for ONE candy corn?  True story!  From that day forward, I started making my kids pack their lunches, so they would want to keep what they brought, since they chose what they brought.  They can do this as young as kindergarten, I promise!
  2. Get clever with the sandwich bread: we’ve used:
    • Whole wheat pita pocket.
    • Whole wheat mini bagels
    • whole wheat wraps
    • tortillas
    • Whole wheat bread
    • Whole wheat dinner rolls
    • We’ve never tried Panini bread, but that is an option.
    • A hoagie roll
    • A whole wheat English muffin
    • French bread
  3. Then we get creative with the spreads:
    • Hummus (usually chickpeas)
    • avocado
    • veggie mayo, or light mayo
    • Refried beans (pinto beans puréed)
    • Light cream cheese (My personal favorite!!)
    • Nut butters
    • honey
    • All fruit jams
  4. Then the fillings.  Here is where parents can lose the kids!  Don’t pack too much stuff in the sandwich.  When you get a little ambitious and pack it with sprouts and lettuce so full they can’t wrap their little mouths around it, it likely will end up in the school cafeteria garbage!
    • Sliver of lettuce and a small slice of mozzarella cheese
    • tomatoes
    • sprouts
    • In the case of the nut butters, add sliced bananas, apples or raisins.
    • Cheeses
    • olives
    • peppers
    • salsa
    • shredded lettuce
    • shredded carrots
    • sliced lean meats.
    • Just remember, keep the sandwich thin!
  5. When you have no bread for sandwiches, I’ve sent a sandwich bag full of cereal, or muffins, or trail mix…  the sandwich doesn’t have to be the center of the lunch.
  6. Keep snack foods in a single location that are reserved just for lunches.  These can include homemade granola bars, single serving string cheese, single serving yogurt tubes.
  7. Save disposable containers such as from sour cream, butter, yogurt cups etc.  Use these to send dips or tender fruits to school, and your child can dispose of the container after lunch (or if you’re lucky, they’ll bring it home and you can reuse it, but you don’t have to sweat if they forget).
  8. Don’t forget the veggies.  You can send cut up carrots, but they might get boring after awhile.  Try dried veggies, broccoli salad in a container, vegetable juices, sliced peppers, celery with peanut butter, shredded cabbage salads, or just pile it on the sandwich.
  9. Don’t overpack.  If you haven’t heard, kids don’t have much time to eat.  I witness most kids eat one or two things from their lunch bag and toss the rest. So, don’t go overboard with several courses. It’s overwhelming and wasteful.
  10. Drinks! A small water bottle (8 ounce size) is usually sufficient for my kids.  A lot of times my kids will want to purchase a carton of milk from the cafeteria.  You can also fill the 8 ounce water bottle with homemade juices!

Other posts on sack lunches:

Do you have any lunch packing tips?

Natalie Monson

I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.

Learn More about Natalie

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Great post! My kids start school wednesday, and they want to brown bag it this year. I’m desperately in need of tips. Perfect timing!

Hi Julie, Actually I have a giveaway for that yogurt tomorrow. I got this at Walmart, but I’ve also picked it up at Macey’s

Thanks for these great tips. With 3 kids bringing home lunch this year I will definately be using this info. Do you dry your own veggies?

No, I just found those dried veggies in the produce dept at Walmart. I don’t have a dehydrator.. but I’d love to try drying some right now.

Great lunch ideas! One of my favorite lunch ideas is to use thermoses for hot or cold foods and beverages. Works great for milk and soups.

Great tips! I’ve begun pre-packing items and having them in bins in the fridge. I made 18 sub sandwiches the other day (4 kids plus husband pack lunches) and then cut up a bunch of carrots and celery and put them in baggies!

I am taking my son’s last year of preschool as practice this year, packing lunch three days a week and making it healthy AND fun! Great tips and I’ll totally allow him to help me make his lunch! He loves helping make sandwiches now, so I’m sure he’ll love making his food for lunch at school 🙂 Very cool!

I ask my daughter what she wants and then pack her lunch in a Bento so that I can make sure I hit all the food groups- somehow it’s easier to see if I got them all in those separated containers! Great post!

Thanks so much for these ideas Amy, they are great. My daughter will like these ideas since she is brown bagging it this year. We’ve even agreed that if she changes her mind after a couple weeks of brown bags we will go out and get a lunch bag to use. Thanks for reminding me not to overpack since that is what I do. My kids go back tomorrow and tonight they will be packing their lunches by themselves so it’s what they like.

Good advice Amy. I especially like the “Don’t overpack”. I sent a half sandwich, an apple, a juice and a cookie and my 1st grader didn’t even have time to get through that today. He’ll either be really hungry or learn to eat faster this year.

Can you show a bit more how you set things up so they are together? My 9 & 6 are ready and I would like it to happen before they go to bed. Should I divide everything and have a shelf in the fridge set up? Is there a checklist I should use so they don’t end up with all fruits and end up with a natural sugar rush? One thing I have learned in my 4 years of packing – we only send fresh, cold water in the water bottle. I have them use any left for afternoon snack so I feel that they drink at least that much water on their own. We have juices sometimes but only in a special container. This has helped them ask for their water bottle when they are thirsty instead of waiting or asking (complaining!) for juice. Any set-up guidelines to help keep the fridge from being left open are appreciated!

I like to wrap a few pieces of ham or turkey around a cheese stick & secure with a toothpick. My kids live it as an alternative to a sandwich!