This post is by blog team member, Kiran. To learn more about Kiran, check out our team page or her blog, Easy Real Food!
Now that school’s been back in session for a few weeks, how are ya’ll doing with those lunches?! Anyone encountered some busy afternoons or evenings where you’re wondering what to pack? No fear, because I’ve got some great healthy packed lunch ideas for you in today’s new post. And guess what? You won’t find any boring ol’ pb&j’s here!
These are 5 solutions for when you need a quick (yet solid) packed lunch and are out of ideas. Would love to know which one you are most excited to try first! There’s also a way for you to download all 5 of these ideas in a handy tip sheet at the end of this post..
1. Black Beans over Brown Rice with Cherry Tomatoes and Romaine on the Side.
It seriously doesn’t get any easier than this. I love that this is a filling meal that’ll leave their bellies feeling full. I come back to this lunch pretty often and am guessing you will, too!
- 1 packet pre-cooked organic brown rice
- 1 can black beans (organic preferred)
- 1/4 cup cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (organic also preferred)
- Cherry tomatoes
- Romaine lettuce, chopped
- Optional dressing
- Open package of rice and place on microwave-friendly dish. Open can of beans, drain, and add desired amount on top of rice. Top with cheese. Heat in microwave and transfer to lunch container or thermos.
- Wash and chop romaine. If you are in a pinch, bagged romaine will work fine, too. Add to divided lunch container. Top with your favorite salad dressing (optional).
- Add cherry tomatoes.
2. Pizza English Muffins, Broccoli and an Orange
An oldie but goodie, I have yet to see a child turn his nose up at this. I mean – pizza, right?! Full transparency – this one takes 5 minutes to cook the “pizza” and a few minutes to heat the broccoli in the microwave, but you’re technically done prepping quickly, which is why I included it.
- Whole grain English muffins (sub gluten-free if needed)*
- Pizza or marinara sauce
- Mozzarella cheese, shredded
- Toppings of choice (sausage, peppers, mushrooms, bacon, onion, etc.)
- Frozen (or fresh steamed) broccoli
- Sliced orange
- Split english muffins in half. Top each with sauce, and then with cheese. Place toppings on English muffins and place in a toaster oven for 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted.
- While pizza muffins heat, take frozen broccoli out of bag and cook in the microwave according to directions on the package.
- Place both in divided lunch container.
3. Hummus Dipper Lunch
Okay, so this one is not going to get any gourmet awards, but even so my kids have never been disappointed! This lunch is an absolute breeze to pull together, and you will likely have most of these items already on hand.
- Hummus (1/4 cup+ per child)
- Bell pepper slices
- Carrot sticks or baby carrots if you don’t feel like cutting :)
- Celery sticks
- Cherry tomatoes
- Whole-wheat pretzels
- Whole-grain crackers
- Open hummus and add to divided lunch container.
- Add peppers, carrots, celery and tomatoes to divided lunch container. Add pretzels and crackers.
4. Chicken Salad on Whole-Wheat Bread + Diced Melon and Banana
Guess what? I’m gonna leave this one totally up to you. There are so many options for variety here, you can do whatever works best based on the foods that you have. Don’t have any whole-wheat bread? Send it with crackers or pretzels (from the lunch above). No melon on hand? Substitute with another fruit or vegetable. Do what works for you, momma – it’s all good.
- 10 ounces organic canned chicken, drained
- 3-4 Tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 Tablespoon pickle relish, optional
- Diced melon
- Whole-grain bread or crackers
- Mix chicken and mayonnaise with relish. If your child will like it, feel free to add in sunflower seeds, raisins, diced apples, etc. My kids do not like these mix-ins, so I generally leave it basic.
- Add bread, melon and banana to divided lunch container. Your child can put the chicken salad on the bread at school to avoid it from getting soggy in transit.
5. Cheese Quesadilla, Lentils, Strawberries and Peas
Another super easy one. If you can turn on the microwave and open a can, you’re more than halfway there.
- Whole-wheat tortillas (sub whole-grain corn tortillas for gluten-free)
- 1/4 cup Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese, shredded
- Canned lentils
- Organic strawberries
- Frozen peas
- Place cheese on tortilla on a microwave-safe plate and heat for 20-30 seconds, until cheese is melted. Fold in half, and cut into halves.
- Open can of lentils. Spoon some into a divided lunch container.
- Wash strawberries; cut off tops and slice in half. Add these to one spot of the container, and the peas to another. Sending them frozen is fine; they will defrost by the time lunch starts.
Get Your Free Copy
So there you have it, 5 lunches you can make in 5 minutes. Head over to our Free Membership Area to get instant access to a printable PDF copy of these 5 lunches. You will also be subscribed to our weekly newsletter to be notified of new blog posts and recipes. And now that you’ve seen them, I want to know which one you like best!
19 thoughts on “5 Healthy Packed Lunches in 5 Minutes”
Hi! I’m new to all of this – been slowly switching my family to real food for about a month now and my boys are mostly liking it. I saw your tip on sending frozen peas – my boys eat peas without any issue microwaved at dinner so I was about to pack frozen peas in their lunch BUT the package says ‘for food safety product needs to be fully cooked to an internal temperature of 165.’
Is there a certain brand I should buy or will this be ok? My husband is going along with all of this as long as no one gets sick.
To keep food warm in a thermos, it really helps to put hot tap water in the thermos for a few minutes to warm it up first, then empty it and pat dry and then fill with the hot food – it will still be hot by lunchtime! And using foil helps even more. Even my super picky high schooler had a piping hot homemade burrito in her thermos last week (it was made at 7:30 am and her lunch is 1 pm) using both tricks — she really can’t stand cold or lukewarm food, so this was a great way to keep her from the nasty fast food choices that abound.
I have decided to adapt these for my lunch ideas but in adult size. I get tired or eating the same thing. Great ideas, thanks for sharing going to use some of these to incorporate into my lunch. thanks
I have been meaning to try black beans and rice. My girls love black beans, but are not so big on rice. Maybe the cheese will help. My oldest now eschews pita bread pizza as well as pizza sauce, so I spent my Sunday making a triple batch of whole wheat pizza dough and homemade pesto. Now my freezer is filled with pesto cheese pizza slices. I also made a triple batch off tortillas, so we are good on quesadillas as well. I feel like the first month of school is devoted to restocking the freezer. Trouble is, all 3 of mine are now completely full, and I have more to bake.
Yes, how do you keep the food warm? I love the pizza idea-just need to keep warm.
A lot of times younger kids couldn’t care less about the temperature of their food. My 7-year old actually prefers pizza cold. My kids will also eat chicken nuggets, quesadillas etc cold. I do have 10-ounce thermoses for when I send pasta and meatballs or mac and cheese – they love this, by the way. However if your kids insist on pizza being warm then you need lots of foil and a fully insulated lunch container. :)
I love your lunch ideas, however my son is almost 11 years old and your examples is just not enough for a growing boy. Could you show us some lunches for growing boys?
Sure thing! You can certainly up the quantities. Provide more beans + rice + cheese, for instance, or add in extra veggies/crackers in the hummus meal. Or add a hard boiled egg or two to that lunch.
Adding quantities or supplementing can certainly help, or perhaps I need to look at a separate post just for teenage boys(?) A good idea, I think! :)
Good ideas, thank you. I also like your thought on adding some examples for preteen/teenage boys. That would be awesome!!
Love the idea about a post for teenagers. They are Always hungry!
How do you keep the quesadilla warm? Mine are very picky and only eat the goodies
Try heating it up in the morning, wrapping it in foil and putting it in a Thermos to help keep it warm. As long as they don’t have a super late lunch, this should hopefully help.
My Kindergartener and preschooler never eat the healthy lunches I pack them. Ever. The school used to send them back but since I confronted the kids now they just throw it away and are starving and cranky after school. Any ideas?
I just keep more of the same food at home for my kids after school, or if not possible then only “healthy snacks” (hummus, string cheese, veggies, etc.) If they throw it away they learn that they will get more healthy stuff, or starve until dinner. Even 4- and 5- year olds get this after a bit. :)
Try letting your kids pack their own lunch, that way they feel like they have some say in what they eat. We use ziplock divided lunch containers and my girls know to include 1 veggie, 1 fruit and 1 grain. Since we mostly keep real food in the house, they can only pick healthy choices. When my girls bring home their lunch containers, I ask why they didn’t finish something. I learned some only like frozen peas, prefer cheese slices to cheese sticks, like carrots with humus or PB, dislike pizza sauce, dislike mustard on cheese sandwiches, prefer crisp apples or whatever their latest whim is. Try sending dinner favorites as leftovers for lunch. My girls love leftover pasta salad, pizza, and grilled cheese. I also have them view Lisa’s lunch posts for new ideas.
Talk through it with them. Will they eat the same foods at home? If so, then they may be embarrassed that their lunches don’t look like everyone else’s.
Even my healthiest eater (she *asked* for salads in kindergarten!) would sometimes complain that she “never” got the same kinds of processed food her classmates got. I loosened up a little and started sending something as a treat each day. Sometimes special fruit (strawberries), or a single cookie, or maybe some potato chips (which I hate). Once or twice a year, I even buy a Lunchable – which she has now admitted is not really enough food for her, even though she likes the style.
Is it too hard to eat? That’s been my younger child’s complaint (“not enough time”). I’ve found that cute dippers aren’t going to work, because it takes too long to open multiple containers and sort through the different pieces. He gets distracted easily, so he gets a PBJ on whole grain bread most days plus some kind of fruit and vegetable.
Get them to either cook with you, or choose from a selection.
You have to send healthy foods that you know they like and will eat. Otherwise, I would send less healthy food and try to work on them eating healthier at home. Hungry kids at school don’t learn well.
NYC has made school lunches free this year, and I have decided my kindergartener will eat school lunches. Politically, if we all start packing lunches there will be no pressure on the school system to improve lunches. As PA members, it is possible to advocate for better lunches. His school serves some of the “same old” bad stuff like hamburgers and mac n cheese and pizza, but I am seeing stuff like this in some of the lunches here. There is also a salad bar (which he doesn’t touch) but they get a vegetable like cauliflower, “broccoli trees,” or raw carrots every day. They also get unsweetened apple sauce and there is no chocolate milk. I have also seen unsweetened Greek yogurt at breakfast. He eats it all because it is the same thing his friends are eating and while I love looking at all these lunch ideas, I know that if I packed his lunch a lot of the food would be wasted. I think it’s important to remember that packing lunch is a middle class privilege in some places and its possible to go ahead and let a kid eat that school lunch and focus on nutrition when he/she gets home. No need to feel guilty about it, and if it needs improvement become an advocate for healthier lunches in your school, so that all kids, affluent and not, can be healthier.