Every year when the school year starts, parents come face to face with the daily challenge of coming up with varied, balanced and quick lunch box meals for their little ones.
This can feel even more challenging when your family has chosen a Paleo lifestyle, free of processed foods, grains, gluten or dairy. Whether packing a Paleo lunch for yourself or for your child, making the transition back to school requires shifting away from mostly home-cooked meals towards a lunch box mentality: buying and packing Paleo foods that can be taken to go.
Kids need good fuel to get them through the day. That means their school lunches should be made up of real fresh foods that are nutrient dense, rich in protein and healthy fats, and low in processed (even Paleo compliant) sugar for stable energy levels throughout the day and better focus during class.
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!
The Lunch Box
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, like this one is the perfect solution:
They are lightweight, unbreakable and do 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, like this one:
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
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.
Make a super Paleo salad of greens, meat strips or cubes, shredded carrots, beets, olives, avocado, nuts/seeds, crumbled egg, cucumber, cauliflower, and other veggie chunks, topped with you favorite Paleo dressing. Check out our salad guide for more inspiration.
Tuna, egg and salmon salads are easy to throw together using wild canned fish or free-run eggs, avocado oil mayonnaise, diced onion, celery, pickles, and your favorite seasoning. Wrap these salads in lettuce leaves, pile them on leafy greens, or serve with a side of crunchy raw vegetables or your child's favorite home-made root vegetable 'fries'.
Chicken meat is always a hit, whether warm or cooled. Chicken legs from pastured chickens contain more healthy fats than breasts and are easier to eat on-the-go. Baked chicken wings or coconut flour crusted chicken strips along with a Paleo friendly dipping sauce or flavored avocado oil mayonnaise are easy options too.
Sandwiches, Wraps and Rollups
Although bread is no longer a part of your Paleo diet, try thinking outside the bun. Using thinly prepared burger patties, grated vegetable patties or large Portobello mushrooms can provide for creative 'sandwiches'. There are also a variety of grain free wraps available or alternately you can use a large lettuce, chard, or other green leaf as the 'bread' wrapped around quality deli meats, tomato, onion, avocado, and other fillings of your child's liking.
Quality deli meats rolled into a tube or wrapped around avocado or other veggie strips are also fun and easy to eat.
Unfortunately, most brands of deli and processed meats are loaded with chemicals and come from unhealthy animals. Following Paleo principles means the health of the animal and quality of the processing are important and it is best to avoid deli meats preserved with nitrates and other chemicals.
Egg muffins are always a tasty option and a great way to use up leftovers and ensure your child (or you) are eating some vegetables. The combinations and possibilities are endless. Try adding crumbled cooked sausage, chopped bacon or even leftover meatballs or meat sauce to the mixture for added protein. Many sweeter Paleo friendly muffins are also low in added sweeteners and full of fiber and nutrients.
Soup or Stew
Soups and stews are a welcome lunch box addition especially as the weather gets cooler. Using an insulated thermos keeps the food hot for several hours so a warm, comforting meal can be enjoyed by the time lunch rolls around.
Eggs, Bacon and/or Sausages
Make deviled eggs or simply hard boil eggs packed whole or halved seasoned with salt and pepper. Adding some cooled bacon, pre-cooked Paleo friendly hot dogs, sausages, or sausage patties served with condiments on the side for dipping creates a great meal of 'breakfast for lunch'. Ensure you are sourcing the highest quality meat possible. You can even pack in some raw or lightly steamed broccoli or cauliflower as a side.
Wild smoked salmon pairs well with Paleo crackers. Sustainably sourced canned salmon or tuna in olive oil work well as a quick on-the-go option too. You could even try your hand at making sushi rolls using cauliflower rice, avocado and canned fish mixed with mayonnaise or some sashimi-grade fish. Keep the lunch box is an insulated bag along with some ice packs to keep cool. Fish food is brain food!
- Raw fruit (berries, melon chunks, apple or pear slices) with single serving packs of nut butter or seed butter.
- 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.
- 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.
If are challenged to find the time to cook and prepare, there are still Paleo options available to you. Emphasizing protein and fat rich snacks will help you and your children to get through that mid-day slump with plenty of energy to spare. Petes Paleo Meals make eating Paleo super simple by delivering everything you need right to your door. Choose from weekly options or meals created for specific diets.
Packing a Paleo lunch need not be complicated, but, as with most situations outside of your home, planning ahead will save you much time and energy. Create a food preparation routine by dedicating 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 nutritious lunch boxes simple and stress free giving you the time to concentrate on the things you want and need to do, and homework!