Summer is over, the kids are going back to school and you are getting back into your work routine. This means it is time to start getting creative about what to pack in those Paleo lunchboxes!
Choosing Paleo lifestyle, free of processed foods, grains, gluten or dairy does not mean packed lunches need to be challenging or boring but, making the transition back to a regular 9non-vacation) routine requires shifting away from mostly home-cooked meals towards a lunch box mentality: buying and packing Paleo foods that can be taken to go.
For many households, mornings are busy. We have compiled a guide to help getting nutritious lunches for your children, and even yourself, packed and ready to go when you are!
A Few pointers:
- Some eaters, be it the kids or the adults, enjoy variety, while others like the same thing every day. No matter what type your household is made of, make sure to pack real, nourishing foods: some protein, vegetables, healthy fats, and fruit.
- Get your kids involved in picking foods and packing their own lunches! If they have a say in selecting items from your real-food pantry, their food is more likely to end up in their bellies rather than the garbage can or trade box.
- You are far more likely to stick to a healthy lunch routine if you have the necessary equipment. Before the food, focus on the container, the lunch box itself. You want to avoid storing food in plastic containers and instead opt for glass at home, or at least pick BPA-free options. sending a little one off to school with a heavy glass container can be a little impractical. A stainless-steel lunch box is lightweight, unbreakable and does not leach chemicals and hormone disruptors like plastic. You can get them in a large variety of sizes and designs to suit all needs.
- To keep foods cool, pack the lunch box in an insulated lunch bag along with an ice pack. To keep hot foods like soups or stews warm, try an insulated thermal container. Not only will having the right container save you time, but it will also avoid the unhappy experience of discovering a squashed banana at the bottom of your handbag.
- Add your lunch menu onto your weekly shopping list. You’re less likely to pack your own lunch if a special trip to the shop is required, so plan your week’s lunches and stock up in advance. Once you have everything you need for a week of healthy lunches, keep it separate from everything else in your fridge or grocery cupboard by neatly packing supplies into two large trays – one for fresh refrigerated foods and one for dry goods. Not only will this make it easy to quickly see what your lunch options are and to pack a balanced meal, but it will also help you to identify what needs to be replenished so that you never run out.
- Last night’s dinner can be just as popular the second time around, even when cooled. Leftovers such as BBQ chicken, burger patties, or thin-sliced steak are delicious as a lettuce wrap, and served with burger fixings and some home-made root vegetable 'fries' on the side. Leftover meatballs and Paleo friendly pizza or meatza are also great leftover options.
- As important as lunch planning is, the snacks that you’ll undoubtedly need during the course of the day to keep you and your kids going are just as essential to a healthy diet. Plan for them by buying large quantities and divide into daily portions in advance, which will be easy to grab or place into a school bag on your way out the front door
- Pro tip: Unless you aremaking something like egg salad, you typically always want to package wet items separately. No one wants soggy greens or zoodles.
There are 4 basics to packing a healthy lunch box, with an option for variation if necessary and/or desired:
- Main lunch item (protein, good fat, vegetables)
- Paleo friendly snack
- A piece of seasonal fruit or some extra seasonal vegetables
- Water bottle
An extra snack for active and fast-growing kids
Vegetables and Dips
Pair raw, dehydrated or roasted vegetables (carrots, celery, jicama sticks, cucumbers, baked sweet potato fries, snap peas, blanched green beans, peppers, home-made vegetable chips etc.) with Paleo dips on the side.
Lunchboxes provide endless opportunities for exposing children to a few foods that may need a little more convincing, like vegetables. Children (and adults) are more likely to try new foods when they are hungry and have no other options available to them. Vegetables will also hold up well in lunchboxes, and can be eaten on the way home from school without worrying that they have spoiled, as opposed to leftover proteins that may not have been kept cold enough by an ice pack on a hot day.
Make a yummy Paleo salad (check our Salad Guide) or throw together some available ingredients like greens, meat strips or cubes, shredded carrots, beets, olives, avocado, nuts/seeds, crumbled egg, cucumber, cauliflower, and other veggie chunks in a to-go container. Serve with a favorite Paleo dressing in another small container and don’t forget to pack a fork!
Tuna, Salmon, or Egg Salad
Tuna or salmon salad are easy to make using wild canned fish, avocado oil mayo, diced onion, celery, pickles, and fresh or dried dill seasoning. You can make egg salad a similar fashion. Wrap these salads in lettuce leaves, pile them on leafy greens, or serve with a side of raw, roasted or dehydrated vegetables for easy dipping.
Last night’s dinner can be just as popular and delicious, even when served cold! Leftovers such as BBQ chicken, burger patties, or thin-sliced steak are delicious when made into Paleo-style sandwiches, burgers rollups or wraps. Leftover meatballs work well with dips and sauces too.
You can use a large lettuce, chard, or other green leaf as the “bread” wrapped around quality deli meats, tomato, onion, avocado, and spices. Serve with pickles or home-made “fries” make a perfect lunch.
Quality deli meats can be rolled around avocado or sliced vegetables and are fun and easy to eat and thinly slices meats also work well alone, wrapped into a tube for a quick on-the-go snack.
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Chicken Drumsticks or Wings
Chicken meat is always a crowd pleaser, even when served cold. Chicken legs or drumettes contain more healthy fats than breasts and are also easier to eat on-the-go. Try seasoning with lime juice, salt, and pepper and bake in the oven or BBQ for an easy, delicious meal.
Make deviled eggs or simply hard boil eggs and serve them sliced in half topped with salt and pepper. Cold bacon and hard-cooked eggs together are always enjoyable, hot or cold. You could also make mini egg muffins, packed with favorite flavors and ingredients which are tasty, travel well and easy to eat on-the-go.
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Well-sourced, additive and nitrate-free cured meats like salami, pepperoni, or soppressata pair well with pickled veggies, sun-dried tomatoes and some dehydrated vegetable chips or Paleo crackers.
- Raw fruit (berries, melon chunks, apple or pear slices) with single serving packs of nut butter or seed butter or pack celery sticks to make ants-no-a-log. Be sure to check if the school your child attends is a nut free facility – seed butters work just as well.
- Chia pudding made with coconut milk or a serving of coconut or plain full fat yogurt if dairy is an option for your family. Top either with some berries and/or seeds.
- A variety of raw vegetables(cherry tomatoes, crunchy beans. snow peas, baby carrots or sticks of carrot, celery, cucumber, radishes and capsicum) along with a side serving of paleo friendly dips such as cauliflower hummus, guacamole, baba ganush, beetroot dip and egg salad. This works equally well with some leftover roast vegetables or root vegetable 'fries'.
- Homemade, Paleo friendly granola or granola bars can be made nut free by substituting seeds for the nuts. Some recipes even use vegetables such as carrots or zucchini.
- Home-made fruit or vegetables chips, toasted coconut flakes and dehydrated kale chips make crunchy snack alternatives. You could also try nori chips or ½ an avocado seasoned and eaten with a spoon.
- Dried meats. Look for Paleo friendly ingredients and options like free-range turkey jerky, chicken jerky, pork bites, grass-fed beef jerky, bison bites, lamb bars, or dry your own meats in a dehydrator.
- Everyone loves baked goods, especially a good Paleo muffin which is delicious, nutrient dense and healthy! You can use these as a tasty canvas to pack in some fruits and vegetable. For the occasional sweet treat, you could also include a Paleo friendly cookie or bar, home-made or store bought.
- Gelatin fruit gummies are another nutritious sweet treat option.
As with most situations outside of your home, planning ahead for your Paleo lunchboxes will save you much in time and energy. Try setting aside a dedicated one or two hours once or twice a week to get your vegetables and meats chopped, prepped and cooked. This will make assembling a variety of delicious lunch boxes simple and stress free giving you the time to concentrate on the things you want and need to do, and homework!