These three simple steps can help you pack wholesome meals.
Lunchbox with quinoa salad with tomato and cucumber, blue berry and trail mix
Credit: Westend61 / Getty Images

Life can get hectic, and packing healthy lunches doesn't always fall high on our priority list when it comes to surviving the hustle and bustle. Throwing in a simple PB&J with a bag of chips into the lunch box is necessary some days, and that's perfectly fine. But if you're trying to get more fresh meals packed up for your family, our three easy rules can help. From prepping ahead to switching up proteins, here are our favorite ways to pack healthier lunch boxes:

Swap Up Your Normal Sandwich Routine

Variety — when it comes to types of food and lunchbox presentation — is everything for kids whose tastes are constantly changing. So when you're thinking about what to pack, consider simple ways to mix it up. For instance, here's how to swap up the lunchbox staple — a sandwich — while keeping it healthy, tasty, and vegan/vegetarian.

  • Use different spreads to add protein. Try hummus, flavored cashew cream, or pesto packed with extra nuts if you have a mini foodie on your hands.
  • Serve it up a bit differently. Stuff sandwich ingredients into a pita pocket, roll it all up into a tortilla (sliced into smaller rolls for something new), or maybe serve all the elements bento style so your child can have fun putting it all together. (Here are some great tips for better bento boxes!)
  • Keep it colorful. Vary the types of veggies you add to incorporate color: red, yellow, and orange bell peppers, purple cabbage, or heirloom tomatoes; and cut them in interesting ways: shred carrots, spiralize zucchini, or cut cucumbers in matchbox-style.

Keep Lunches Fresh

Kids often won't get to their lunches for at least a few hours, so here are a few ways to make sure the cold stuff stays cold, and the hot stuff stays hot.

  • Stay cool. Don't forget, a thermos is also great for keeping cold food chilled. And you can pre-chill it with ice water to keep it even colder. Reusable lunchbox cool packs (basically fancy ice packs) are also great for keeping lunchbox items fresh. You can also freeze juice packs and yogurt cups to act as edible cold packs — they'll thaw by lunchtime.
  • Hot, hot, hot. Use a thermos of course, but you might consider investing in a few different sizes or shapes to hold different types of food. Also, it helps to pre-heat thermoses with hot water first to keep foods toasty.

Make School Lunches Easy

The more you can do ahead of time, the less you have to do in the morning. Simple as that. Here are a few tips for prepping:

  • Prep anything and everything you can on Sunday. It always feels a little daunting (and let's face it: annoying) to have to meal prep on Sunday, but an hour cutting veggies, mixing sauces, and portioning out lunchbox items (crackers, nuts, sauces, etc.) ahead of time can save you precious minutes when they really count on weekday mornings.
  • Get the hardware ready the night before. Make sure lunchboxes are rinsed, and set out any containers you know you'll need. Napkins? Utensils? May as well get those in the lunchboxes now.
  • Put little hands to work. For those who are old enough, get the kids in on the Sunday prep and morning-of lunchbox assembly. Get them stirring pasta salads, stuffing carrots into sandwich bags, or choosing which crackers they'd like. It may or may not speed things along, but it'll get them excited about eating the meal they helped put together — and that's always a win.

Related Content: