DIY: Homemade Healthy Lunchables (that look just like store bought)

Homemade Healthy #Lunchables by 100 Days of #RealFood

The number one way to know what’s really in your food – and how highly processed it is – is to read the ingredient label.

There are some products that you just know are total junk food without even seeing what’s inside like Doritos, Coca-Cola, and pretty much any Little Debbie Snack. Then there are others that I don’t think are so obvious (to the average shopper), for example… Cheese and crackers? Peanut butter and jelly with fruit? All white chicken strips with a smoothie? C’mon, you have to admit those combinations sound more innocent and not nearly as bad as a Swiss Cake Roll.

It’s no secret that these are some of the combinations packaged up and sold as Lunchables. I can totally see the attraction to buying these “lunches” for your kids. There is no question that they are convenient for the adults and desired by (most) little ones.

But, at what point do we stop letting the benefits of convenience outweigh the importance of our children’s health?

I know we are all busy. Let’s face it though, we all have the same 24 hours in a day and it’s up to each individual to prioritize what is important in their own life. I don’t think one Lunchable is going to put anyone’s health over the edge, but please tell me that we can all agree this is not what we should be feeding our children on a weekly basis.

Let’s take a look at what’s inside those Lunchables!

Lunchables Contain…

Ingredients you know are bad:

  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Hydrogenated Oils
  • Artificial Flavors
  • Mechanically Separated Chicken
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
  • Sodium Nitrites

Ingredients you do not cook with at home:

  • Sodium Diacetate
  • Potassium Chloride
  • Potassium Sorbate (Preservative)
  • Monocalcium Phosphate
  • Thiamine Mononitrate
  • Monocalcium Phosphate
  • Calcium Propionate
  • Whey Protein Concentrate
  • BHA and BHT

Ingredients that are mysteriously evasive…probably for a reason:

  • Flavor
  • Natural Flavors

I also find it interesting that the ingredients for Lunchables used to be listed on their website – because I saw them there with my own eyes earlier this year – but when I went to “copy and paste” the ingredients for this blog post they had strangely disappeared. Clearly the Lunchables people don’t want us parents spending too much time thinking about this stuff. So I took the liberty to type them up for you (below) straight off the package.

Lunchable 1: Chicken Strips with Smoothie

Out of the three lunches highlighted here, this is the one that took me the longest to replicate. But (to make things more manageable) you could prepare the chicken nuggets and smoothies in big batches ahead of time and store them in the freezer. You can get the “knockoff” divided containers I used online or at Target or Walmart.

Homemade Healthy #Lunchables by 100 Days of #RealFood

Lunchable Brand Ingredients:
Fruit Smoothie – Water, Strawberry Puree, Banana Puree, Apple Juice Concentrate, Orange Juice Concentrate, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Citric Acid, Natural Flavors, Fruit & Vegetable Extract For Color.
Breaded White Chicken Strips – Chicken Strips – White Chicken, Water, Potassium Lactate, Modified Cornstarch, Contains Less Than 2% Of Salt, Potassium Chloride, Dextrose, Sodium Phosphates, Carrageenan, Sodium Diacetate, Lemon Juice Solids, Flavor. Breading – Wheat Flour, Dextrose, Yellow Corn Flour, Modified Corn Starch, Wheat Gluten, Egg Whites, Whey [From Milk], Spices, Caramel Color, Salt, Paprika [Color], Onion Powder, Extractive of Paprika, Celery Seed Extract. Batter – Bleached Wheat Flour, Food Starch-Modified, Yellow Corn Flour, Dextrose, Flavor, Garlic Powder, Extractives of Paprika, Monosodium Glutamate, Caramel Color. Seasoning Blend – Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour [Bleached Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid], Egg Whites, Modified Food Starch, Salt, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Spices, Natural Flavor, Browned In Soybean Oil.
Chocolate Sandwich Cookies – Sugar, Unbleached Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate {Vitamin B1}, Riboflavin {Vitamin B2}, Folic Acid), High Oleic Canola And/Or Palm And/Or Canola Oil, Cocoa (Processed With Alkali), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Cornstarch, Leavening (baking Soda And/Or Calcium Phosphate), Salt, Soy Lecithin, Vanillin – An Artificial Flavor, Chocolate.
Ketchup With Starch Added – Water, Tomato Paste, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Distilled Vinegar, Sucrose, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Modified Food Starch, Soybean Oil, Sodium Benzoate And Potassium Sorbate (Preservatives), Dextrose, Onion Powder, Xanthan Gum, Guar Gum, Spice, Natural Flavor.

Homemade Version Ingredients*:
Fruit Smoothie – Bananas, Peaches, Raspberries, Kale, Milk.
Chicken Strips – Chicken Breasts, Egg, Butter, Breadcrumbs (Unbleached Whole Wheat Flour, Malt Extract, Yeast, Sea Salt), Paprika, Garlic Powder, Parmesan Cheese (Pure Cow’s Milk, Salt, Rennet), Sea Salt.
Dark Chocolate – Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa, Raw Cane Sugar, Vanilla Extract.
Ketchup – Tomato Puree, Sugar, White Vinegar, Salt, Onion Powder, Spices.

*Organic ingredients were sourced when possible. Not all ingredients in the “Homemade Version” are technically 100 Days of Real Food approved, but are still far superior to the store bought version.

Lunchable 2: Ham and American Cracker Stacks

Call me old fashioned, but (in an ideal world) I think everyone’s lunch should contain some sort of fresh fruit or vegetable. So I took the liberty of adding organic grapes to this one.

Homemade Healthy #Lunchables by 100 Days of #RealFood

Lunchable Brand Ingredients:
Chocolate Sandwich Cookies – Sugar, Unbleached Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate {Vitamin B1}, Riboflavin {Vitamin B2}, Folic Acid), High Oleic Canola And/Or Palm And/Or Canola Oil, Cocoa (Processed With Alkali), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Cornstarch, Leavening (baking Soda And/Or Calcium Phosphate), Salt, Soy Lecithin, Vanillin – An Artificial Flavor, Chocolate.
Cooked Ham – Water Added – Chopped and Formed – Smoke Flavor Added – Ham, Water, Contains Less Than 2% Of Sodium Lactate, Potassium Chloride, Modified Cornstarch, Sugar, Sodium Phosphate, Salt, Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Ascorbate, Flavor, Sodium Nitrite, Smoke Flavor.
Pasteurized Prepared American Cheese Product – Milk, Water, Milkfat, Milk Protein Concentrate, Whey, Whey Protein Concentrate, Contains Less Than 2% Of Sodium Citrate, Salt, Lactic Acid, Sorbic Acid As A Preservative, Cheese Culture  Enzymes, Oleoresin Paprika (Color), Annatto (Color), With Starch Added For Slice Separation.
Crackers – Enriched Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Vegetable Shortening (Soybean Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil With TBHQ And Citric Acid Added To Help Flavor), Sugar, Leavenings (Baking Soda And/Or Monocalcium Phosphate), Salt, Whey (From Milk), Soy Lecithin, Natural Flavor, Enzymes.

Homemade Version Ingredients*:
Dark Chocolate – Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa, Raw Cane Sugar, Vanilla Extract.
Organic Ham – Pork, Water. Contains Less Than 2% Of The Following: Sea Salt, Honey, Cane Sugar, Celery Powder.
Cheddar Cheese – Pasteurized Milk, Salt, Cheese Culture, Rennet, Annatto Color.
TJs Whole-Wheat Wafer Crackers – Whole Wheat, High Oelic Safflower Oil and/or High Oelic Sunflower Oil, Salt.
Grapes – Grapes

*Organic ingredients were sourced when possible. Not all ingredients in the “Homemade Version” are technically 100 Days of Real Food approved, but are still far superior to the store bought version.

Lunchable 3: Pizza with Pepperoni

A lot of people seem to think of pizza as “junk food,” but if it’s made with 100% whole-wheat crust, organic cheese and sauce, and accompanied by a “real” vegetable then what’s so bad about it? I say dig in and, if you are a pepperoni fan, treat yourself to an organic version (Applegate makes one) on occasion.

Homemade Healthy #Lunchables by 100 Days of #RealFood

Lunchable Brand Ingredients:
Pizza Crust – Wheat Flour (Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour [Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid], Whole Wheat Flour), Water Sugar, Glycerin, Soybean Oil, Contains 2% Or Less Of: Yeast, Vital Wheat Gluten, Mono- & Diglycerides, Salt, Xantham Gum, Calcium Propionate, Sorbic Acid, Natural And Artificial Flavor, Enzyme.
Pizza Sauce – Water, Tomato Paste, Sugar, Contains Less Than 2% Of Modified Food Starch, Garlic Powder, Salt, Onion Powder, Spice, Citric Acid, Dried Basil, Sea Salt, Potassium Sorbate Added As A Preservative, Xantham Gum, Natural Flavor.
Pepperoni Made WIth Pork, Chicken And Beef – BHA, BHT And Citric Acid Added To Help Protect Flavor – Pork, Mechanically Separated Chicken, Beef, Salt, Contains 2% Or Less Of Pork Stock, Spices (Including Mustard), Dextrose, Lactic Acid Starter Culture, Oleoresin of Paprika, Flavoring, Sodium Ascorbate, Sodium Nitrite, BHA, BHT, Citric Acid.
Pasteurized Prepared Mozzarella Cheese Product – Pasteurized Part-Skim Milk, Water, Milk Protein Concentrate, Salt, Cheese Culture, Whey Protein Concentrate,  Sodium Citrate, Milkfat, Sorbic Acid As A Preservative, Enzymes, With Cellulose Powder To Prevent Caking.

Homemade Version Ingredients*:
TJs Whole-Wheat Pita – Whole Wheat Flour, Water, Honey, Yeast, Sea Salt, Ascorbic Acid.
Pizza Sauce – Tomato Puree, Oregano, Salt.
Pepperoni – Pork, Sea Salt, Contains Less Than 2% Of The Following: Dextrose, Celery Powder, Spices Paprika, Paprika Extract, Garlic, Lactic Acid Starter Culture.
Mozzarella Cheese – Cultured Pasteurized Part Skim Milk, Salt, Enzymes.
Carrots – Carrots

*Organic ingredients were sourced when possible. Not all ingredients in the “Homemade Version” are technically 100 Days of Real Food approved, but are still far superior to the store bought version.

Full Disclosure:  I clearly had to purchase Lunchables in order to write this blog post. While taking the photographs and making the “knock off” versions I allowed my children to sample everything you see pictured here. I hope to raise children who don’t just avoid highly processed food “because mommy said so,” but instead because they realize it is far inferior. My older daughter didn’t really like most of what she tried (and now knows what this stuff tastes like!), but my younger daughter, on the other hand, would eat anything and everything I put in front of her…including these. That is why I don’t buy this stuff. If it’s not around it is rarely ever an issue. Always a work in progress around here. :)

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277 thoughts on “DIY: Homemade Healthy Lunchables (that look just like store bought)”

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  1. How long do these last in the fridge? Especially the pizza, and ham (turkey here lol) Could I make a weeks worth & store them?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Morgan. If all the ingredients are kept separated, you can easily have these prepped for a few days out. I would not add bread or crackers until the day of, as they can get a bit stale. ~Amy

  2. I can read everything in the article and nod, but the mechanically separated chicken isn’t bad. In fact, Paleo Whole Fooders should be appalled that we would even separate the chicken at all. Real cavemen would eat real food. The whole animal, one bite at a time. Just because we used a machine to get our food ready, doesn’t make it bad. You all have blenders, and processors and such, right?

  3. Thank you for this post! One day my son came home from school and said that Jacey was so lucky because her mom gave her lunchables every day (ICK!). I would never buy the store lunchables for my kids, even in the face of grocery store begging. It was at this point I began making my own version of lunchables featuring many of the same things you use to make your own versio nof lunchables. Problem solved and I can feel good about what I give my kids to eat. Love your website!

  4. Great and informative post specially for moms that have problem of cooking and going for job at the same time. I can also try some of these dishes for my breakfast as well.

  5. Thank you so much for doing this article! You have inspired me to put in the “extra” work to provide healthy and nutritional meals for my family. I’m learning so much from your site on a daily basis. I come from a family that ate out for at least 2 meals a day. That’s how I grew up. And now my job as a stay at home mom is to provide homemade nutritious meals for my family. It’s been a challenge to learn this new skill but your site has given me so much knowledge. You’ve opened my eyes to so much convince foods out there and it shocks me every time I read a new post from you.
    Thank you so much for your insight, experiments, recipes and knowledge. My family and I appreciate it so incredibly much!

  6. James Broderick II

    Actually, one little nitpick: Potassium Chloride is actually available as “lite” salt by way of some brands…so yes you can cook with it at home.

  7. Thank you for this! I have been packing homemade lunchables for my milk-allergic first grader (usually with leftover roasted chicken cut into cubes) for a couple of years, but it never occurred to me to use homemade chicken tenders (we use a similar recipe w/ no cheese) or the pizza idea (he likes daiya vegan cheese). Great ideas as always.

    For “dessert” I typically include a mini muffin or homemade brownies baked in a mini muffin tin – perfect serving size for a little guy!

  8. Round circles are really easy with a biscuit or cookie cutter. Depending upon the thickness of the meat, cheese, whatever, you could try a narrow mouth glass.

  9. This is great, thanks!!
    Sometimes I am left overwhelmed after learning about the harmful things in our food. My favorite thing about Food Babe, is that you’ve already done the research and suggest healthy alternatives, instead of leaving us high and dry and overwhelmed. THANK YOU!!!

  10. People by these products because they assume the food is safe; I mean its on a store shelf for purchase, how could it be bad for them???? Then there is the convenience; so many people these days have been introduced to modern technology, I mean you don’t have to grate your cheese anymore, it comes shredded, so does lettuce and now hard boiled eggs pealed… we have become such a lazy nation. All that work you did above is awesome and any person who does it for themselves or their kids are true lovers of good health who are not lazy, who care about their health and take the time to make it happen… I really wish the wholesome good food on the right next to all these horrible lunchables were ready and available for purchase in a store.. what is wrong w/that idea??? Packaging real good food for a consumer to buy and eat??? Seems simple to me yet they don’t do it! SAD…

  11. Thank you for this post. My son LOVES lunchables. I cringe every time I purchase one. I crisply hate myself because I do send him to school with him on a rotating basis but I take comfort in the fact that at least he’s eating. Live the homemade versions. My son can tell the difference in the meat. He prefers the gross ones. I hope to expan his palate to a more healthier option. But until then I will do what I can. Please share: the meat you use-what is the thickness of the slice AND what do you use to cut the circles? Love this site btw.

  12. Hi. Do you have suggestions for made at home vegetarian lunchables? My daughter (3) typically eats rice, beans, avocado, and tomato for lunch or pasta with a little butter, parm cheese, and peas. Sending it cold is not working. At the moment we are trying to get her to try new things… and it usually ends up in a sour face… Just curious if you have ideas around whole food vegetarian lunchables for pre-school. I am a little stuck because we are in a nut free and coconut free class this year due to allergies. Thanks in advance for your time!

    1. thermos makes a soup cup that keeps stuff hot for 5 hours cold 7- its great for noodles and sauce, mac and cheese, soup, milk (when mine takes cereal for lunch) she could purchase milk but she never seems to have enough time to eat! target has them for like $10 I highly recommend as you can send all kinds of hot leftover stuff

  13. Any tips on cleaning those little green pouches? My kids love when I freeze leftover smoothies in them and send for lunch. I use a bottle brush and soapy water and then run through the dishwasher, but I never feel like they are a 100% clean. I seem to find little specks in the seams. Any tips out there? Or other ways to freeze smoothies (the tubes did not work in our lunch boxes either– leaked on us)? Thanks!

  14. Ok, so where did you find containers like that or did you just keep the ones from the Lunchables you bought? My daughter loves those stupid things and I would love to give her a healthier version

  15. What do you use for your smoothies to pack them? I don’t see them in your favorite containers and you’ve mentioned something else in an earlier post (which seems really expensive to me) but that’s not what’s in this picture.

  16. Such a labor intensive post! I wasn’t sure what it was about at first… why don’t those lunches have vegetables? Then I read where you are recreating Lunchables at home using real food. When Lunchables first came out I thought every mother in America would instantly see how little food value was in them and they would fail miserably… but no, people actually give these to their children — people who fuss over sunscreen and baby monitors and seat belts hand over these science projects for their kids to ingest into their bodies. I hope your homemade versions go a long way to open up blinded eyes.

  17. I saw a couple other people ask about the pepperoni but did not see that the question was answered. Please let us know what kind it is that doesn’t have the preservatives it in. My sons would be ECSTATIC to have that in the mix!

      1. I just checked the label of “Applegate’s uncured natural pepperoni” and it demonstrates the entire failure of the food labeling rules. It contains celery powder, which is a natural source of nitrite. I just can’t believe that it is allowed to label that pepperoni as “uncured”. It is also advertised as “casein free”, “gluten free”, “dairy free”, and “low carbohydrate”. Can anybody show me a pepperoni that is high in carbs and/or has casein, gluten and dairy in it?

        There are two lessons to be learned. 1. The organic food manufacturers are not an ounce better in advertising their products than “Big Food”. 2. It is time for the consumer to get realistic. Curing is an old, traditional method to preserve meat; to make it microbiologically safe, to create a certain flavor and to preserve the color. For curing meat you need nitrite. If you don’t like nitrite just don’t eat pepperoni and other classically cured meats. What good does it do to kind of force the manufactures to lie to you?

      2. I am a celiac and can assure you that a number of processed meats are hiding gluten. They use the starch to bind the meat. Dairy is also sometimes found as the meat may be injected with a mixture including milk to keep it moist. Applegate farms is one of two brands I can find at a foodstore on a regular basis that offers gluten free lunchmeat.

      3. I agree with you. People need to realize that “uncured” and “no nitrates added” meat products are actually cured using the nitrates in celery products.

        On the other hand: I believe products are labeled such because it makes it easier for consumers who want to avoid certain foods (dairy, etc) to know, at a glance, whether a product is safe, without having to stand there are squint through the ingredients label. More a convenience/courtesy than dishonest labeling (except the “nitrates/celery” thing).

  18. Can you tell me about these pouches (the reusable green one and the Zipsicle one) that you use? I have tried those pointy smoothie things before but they ended up a disastrous lunchbag mess. I am curious about these new ones! Thanks for some great suggestions!

  19. Thank you so much for this post and all the ingredients! My 8 year old daughter loves Lunchables but I cannot stand knowing she’s eating all those unhealthy things. I will be making the 100 Days of Real Food version of Lunchables from now on! Thank you!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hello Alison. Lisa doesn’t buy it or other lunch meats often but this peperoni is Applegate Farms from Earth Fare. ~Amy

  20. We have always fed our grandchild healthy food. At one time she just HAD to have a lunchables pizza. I relented, took it home and cooked one little pizza. She ate one bite and that was the end of that. If you look at Japanese web sites, you will find something called BENTO. What genius! There are many web sites dedicated to BENTO. Little adorable boxes and containers and ideas for healthy food made to look beautiful. My grandchild considers it a real benefit to be able to take a Bento Lunch. Husbands like them too. Varied, healthy and beautiful.

  21. I’m curious about the “real food” dark chocolate, too. I can’t seem to find any chocolate that doesn’t contain soy lecithin. Where can I find some?

  22. I would love to send these with my son. How did you seal the top? Also, I too would love to know where you get the refillable pouches. Are they lined with BPA like the baby food pouches?

  23. I used to HATE that my mom wouldn’t let us have lunchables. We went to school with leftovers, soups, sandwiches, and always some homemade dessert (and a note letting us know how much she loved us). Now I am so thankful for a mom who at least had the right idea. As a step mom whose step kids eat CRAP all week, meals on the weekends can be a real pill. I’m not giving up though!

  24. You always seem to find a wonderful balance of making things accessible and exciting for kids, and making it healthy / parent approved. Your straightforward, honest and realistic approach to food for kids is refreshing. Thanks!!!

  25. This is great! When my daughter was younger she was nuts about Lunchables, but I was completely grossed out by the idea of her eating all that processed junk. So I bought one, and replaced the turkey with organic turkey (cut into circles), the “cheese” with real cheddar cheese and the crackers with whole wheat crackers. Then I glued the cover back on. Fooled her. :)I don’t think she would fall for it now, so I just avoid that aisle! BTW, where did you get that reusable food pouch? I need that!!

  26. I use so many of your ideas for my kids and for my husband and myself. Can I Ask what you have your pizza sauce stored in. I can see my 5 year old getting messy with that, but she would love this for a lunch at school. She chooses not to buy, i dont blame her

  27. I just realized that because I never took the kids to McDonald’s, they don’t even ask to go there, not even as a ‘treat.’

    Just keep doing what you’re doing and soon you’ll realize that your children will find the processed food gross and disgusting, too. Their taste buds crave what they’re given.

    The key is to present the food to the child at least 6 times (or at least that is the magic number I remember). My fussy girl wouldn’t touch beans at all and they’re a huge part of our meals. Now she’ll at least fork some into her mouth.

  28. A lot of loving caring parents truly don’t know that this stuff is bad for their kids. No need to judge, let’s just be a source of information for those great moms & dads who don’t know yet.

  29. These are great suggestions, Lisa. But commenters, please don’t be so judgemental of people feeding their kids lunchables. until about 6 months ago, i personally didn’t realize just how bad they are for you (fortunately, my son is only 1, so i learned in plenty of time). they seem relatively innocent – cheese and crackers, mini pizza, etc. so it’s not OBVIOUS that they are terrible for you. my own mother sent them with me to school as a kid and i loved them. but 20 years ago, we didn’t have the resources or information we have now. plus, my mother was a single, working mother (she and my father divorced when i was 2) and had limited time. my mother went above and beyond when it came to parenting me. she kept our home clean and safe, almost every night of the week she made a home cooked meal (no it was not organic, and yes she used plenty of processed foods to make them, but she took the time to cook instead of just heat up something frozen), and she didn’t sacrifice the time she spent with me. the same is true for so many mothers today… plenty of which have multiple children and a similar lack of resources and information! so please stop demeaning and judging. just educate. And thank you Lisa for doing just that – educating without demeaning and judging.

    1. You bring up a good point, Amanda. We should take that negative energy and apply it toward the food manufacturers who invent this stuff and package it to look appealing to the masses.

    2. Thank you for all that. I to never realized how bad all this stuff was for me. Thankfully I was around great people who encouraged me to learn more while I was pregnant now I am “TRYING” to create a whole foods atmosphere for all 3 of us. My mom too always took time to cook for me and never knew about all the ingredients in processed foods, now I am (lovingly) trying to clean her diet up also :)

  30. Hello,

    First off, great post. Really eye opening.

    I was wondering about the chocolate bar. How you pick it and if you have any brands you recommend?

    Thanks!
    Caitlin

    1. Sorry, the word chocolate caught my eye so I thought I’d chime in! :) When I pick one, I turn over and read ingredients. I look for no “artificial flavoring” or emulsifiers. Of course, with organic chocolate bars you know the sugar is not from GMO sugar beets.

      I personally like the flavor of 70% ish dark chocolate the best. Any darker and it’s a bit too bitter straight up (add in cranberries or almonds though, and anything goes). Fair trade chocolate is even better, IMO. I have seen “Green & Black’s” brand, and Dagoba brand as a few examples.

  31. I love this idea of making your own. I do have a question, what type of container did you use for the pizza sauce. My son would love to take little pizzas to school. Thanks!

  32. I think these ideas are great. And for all those moms who are like oh my god I can’t believe people give these to there kids… My mom is one of these people, I was raised on this stuff and she keeps trying to give them to my son. Education or not some people are set in there ways and they don’t care.

  33. This is incredibly clever. Why not knock off something (the junk Lunchables) that is crazy-popular with so many kids, and in a healthful way? I do not see the harm in it and it looks like fun, too.

  34. I’ve been making lunch most day of my 4th grader’s school life. He’s never begged for lunch-ables, but in kindergarten came home describing someone’s pizza lunch-able. We eat homemade pizza every Saturday, so it was no problem to make our own by reserving a bit of sauce, toppings and cheese. Today, by mere coincidence he has homemade and GF chicken nuggets, veggies (carrot, cucumber, pea pod, red and orange pepper) and homemade ranch dip, chia pumpkin pudding and an apple.

    Packing lunch used to be hard, but as the years go by it easier. I even pack lunches for the 4 year old and myself, never know where we might go on the spur of a moment.

  35. I had lunch with my 1st grader at school one day, & the kid next to him had the ‘nachos’ lunchable — so gross!!!!!! My kid is a junk food junkie & would eat any processed starch or other put in front of him, so I don’t buy these things either. But I do constantly battle with snacks given at school or church that are definitely not on my list of acceptable items…I try to teach him to make good choices, but he really likes them. Ugh. (Fortunately he has no desire to buy hot lunch at school!) :)

  36. That’s just crazy…I don’t understand that kind of stuff. We weren’t allowed it when I was a child. We had plain cereal, basic lunches (sandwich with good quality bread/fillings and fruit). I’d have enjoyed your version of lunchables, but not those highly processed ones. Just yuck!

  37. I actually love this. I have a 7 month old, and I know I have a while to go before I start packing his lunches, but why didn’t I think of this for me? My SO is a CO working 12 hour shifts, and these are perfect for him!! Thanks for such a great idea, even if it is for “kids” lol.

  38. I cannot figure out why people even feed their kids that junk. It’s a processed product, it is NOT food. There is enough education out there on this stuff that there is no excuse for kids to be eating it. Even my 7 yr old can figure that out. Thank you for sharing this and for providing options for us moms to treat our kids with an alternative that is not going to give them cancer down the road.

  39. Thanks again for another good post. I am a working mom and seem to be just as busy as when I was a stay at home mom when my kids were babies.
    We are not quite 100% processed free food yet , but we arent far off and continually try to get one step closer to healthier as well as more informed choices. These posts help us on our journey.
    I dont buy lunchables. They are so over-processed it has never made sense and having it outlined really is helpful for our general society in my opinion. My kids do eat hot lunch and our school has healthier options like hummus, yogurt, fresh fruit and veggies and my kids pick that because they are used to eating it. I would like to increase our homemade lunches as the result of these posts. Maybe my own kids can help with the lunch preparation to help with time?:)
    I loved the disclosure. I actually wondered if you cringed when you bought them for the pictures ha ha! I like that you let the kids try them too…I have had kids over that never were allowed candy and before I even realized it had eaten the whole bowl. I love your approach that you dont buy processed but that you realize you may eat it once in awhile at a party or for a treat.
    Keep posting, you are helping us think!! (and my son’s 4th grade class is still following the posts too and bringing in labels for discussion daily!!)

  40. While I appreciate that you are making people aware of the things they eat, I do feel some of this is over the top. For example, the ham in the second lunchable has lots of sodium and nitrate components to help preserve it. Your alternative uses a “celery powder.” Same exact nitrates only not extracted in a lab so it can be called all natural or organic. You are still getting the same chemical makeup. A rose by any other name…

      1. I wouldn’t eat either, and there’s no way I would give them to my kids. Check out “Disease Proof Your Child” by Dr. Fuhrman. I know you are open-minded and looking to feed your family right so check it out :)
        We have a messed up idea of what is good nutrition in this country. Hint dairy…

  41. I LOVE that you are raising awareness about how awful these things are! Last year, my daughter started Kindergarten and it was the first year we ever had to pack her lunches. So of course, she wanted to bring lunchables like her friends at school had. Well, I bought them for her, not being as aware and mindful as I now am. She was taking them a couple times a week, I never gave it a thought. Well halfway through first quarter, she started developing a rash around her mouth. I took her to an allergist, had our primary care look at it, even a dermatologist. No one could figure it out. So I started researching myself. Come to find out, it was due to her having too much sodium. And when I got to thinking about it, those lunchables are PACKED FULL of all of that! I felt terrible. So we cut them out completely, and she hasn’t had a rash since! Wish I would have seen this post last year! Thanks for all your hardwork and dedication to the matter!

      1. Be careful about the EZ lunchboxes though… the compartments are leak proof and we’ve had strawberry juice (from the sliced strawberries as they sweated) leak into the other compartments and basically ruin a lunch. Talk about feeling bad when your 2nd grader comes home with his entire lunch intact and tells you he didn’t eat anything because it was all ruined!!! I’ll be getting the Ziplocs next time!

  42. Thank you so much for the info! You have really inspired me. I, too, would like some suggestions for other healthier alternatives to lunch meat. Thank you!

  43. Thanks for this post. Last year I too made a home made lunchable build your own pizza lunch and my daughter has requested it again this year. Since you posted, this I did a quick google search for those zipzicle baggies and ordered them right away. Love the power of the internet :D

  44. Great post! Just wondering where you got the “packets” that you have sauce in for the pizza homemade lunchable? Sometimes it’s all about the packaging to make food cool for my little guy. Thanks!

  45. So very happy I stumbled upon your blog as I was looking for healthy lunch recipes. I tried it today and I will get the verdict when my son gets home from school. I am sure he will love all the good eats I packed. We are usually pretty healthy eaters.
    I was wondering when you make popcorn for lunches, how do you store it without it going stale?

  46. Thank you for this post!! My son asked for a lunch able because all of his friends have them. I said I could make his own and I’d look into it. We’ll, you just gave me everything I need for mix and match lunches all week! He will LOVE a treat of chocolate ;)

  47. Do you get any push back from the school for sending ‘candy’ in the form of dark chocolate? I’ve been thinking about letting my kid take dark-chocolate covered almonds to school, but don’t want to get any hassle for sending ‘candy.’

    I agree, of course, that the dark chocolate is better than the chocolate sandwich cookies in the Lunchables. Thanks for the healthy lunch ideas!

    1. I love the dark chocolate covered almond idea, but you should first check with the school to see if it’s part of the nuts they ban due to allergic reactions.

    2. The district my kids’ school is in has very strict guidelines for what can be shared in a classroom setting and what can be sold at the cafeteria, but no restrictions as to what I can send with my child for lunch or snacks, other than no nuts. (Nut free school) The teachers have requested only dry foods for snacks and no candy…. but that is just for the snacks in their classroom, not what is packed in lunches. (My son’s teacher shared with me that she had a child bringing large bags of Skittles in for mid-morning snack and she had to nip that in the bud for obvious reasons!) Basically, I can send an organic or homemade cookie or a small piece of chocolate with my kids’ lunches and no one cares. Lord knows, that dark chocolate is MUCH better than Red Kool-Aid!

  48. Hello and thanks for the info you share with us. Can you share a recipe for home made “cold cuts”…we dont eat pork so turkey, chicken or beef slices would be great as we are avoiding commercial grade luncheon meats but kids love them (heck I love turkey sandwiches too) and they are convenient for school lunches. Any tips would be appreciated. We can do this!

  49. my son JUST started to try lunch meat and wanted a lunchable. at 10/$10 it seems like a deal but with all the processed crap I decided to make my own too. I use home made chicken strips and fresh roasted ham or turkey and such, now if I could get him to eat a fruit or veggie we’d be all set!

  50. What a great idea for a post. This is a great example of how to take something ordinary/highly processed and make it way better (maybe not perfect). And even better, it is very manageable for a parent, and the kids barely would tell the difference. My daughter would love this. Kudos to you!

    1. Mary – It is hard! I work outside the home too … and have settled on just doing the best I can with the choices I have. In other words, if I can only make it to one regular grocery store, find the best thing I can, by doing “Mindful Label Reading”. One time saver I recently started is sharing a lunch with coworker … 2 days a week I don’t have to worry about my own lunch. Maybe the same idea could be with another parent at your kids’ lunch table – it rarely takes 2x as long to make 2 lunches as 1, and you could trade off? Good luck!

    2. I don’t understand why you’re so negative about this? It’s just a suggestion–a way of being innovative about healthy kid lunches.

      1. Not being negative. Just want to know where I can squeeze time in. I’m reading this article at work – haha – would never get the chance at home.

    3. I know people are very busy but most of the options given here are not really time consuming. Cutting some lunchmeat and cheese into slices and putting it into a container with crackers and grapes… what could be easier? Also, no one is claiming that it is as easy as buying a lunchable. What should you give up? I think we all have a few extra minutes a day that we waste or could re-purpose. Me? I waste at least ten minutes a day on Facebook or Pinterest that I can use to prepare a healthy meal. I started trying some of the 100 days of real food crockpot recipes and find they actually free up time I would have spent cooking. (Ex. today my husband made the pork carnitas by browning a piece of pork and putting in the crockpot with a jar of salsa– this all took the same amount of time it took for me to pour coffee and cut up some strawberries for my morning cereal.) The amount of extra time it takes is negligible (in my opinion) compared to the benefits of eating less processed food. But that is all up to you.

      1. It’s all about what you give priority to. Lisa has stated before that she does put a lot of time into preparing food for her family.

        I can whine and complain all I want about how I don’t have enough time to do things, but I “make” time to watch TV every night – obviously I’m putting TV before food preparation.

        How much time do you spend on the internet? TV? Chatting on the phone? Reading a book? You may have more time than you realize, you just have to think about what you consider more important.

    4. Mary

      I am sorry you feel that this is so time consuming. It just takes some planning. I am a medical student with four children and one on the way and we manage to pack healthy lunches. It really only takes me about 5 min every night as long as I have an organized grocery list for the week.
      Just a thought. :)
      Good Luck

    5. Mary, I completely understand your frustration. i feel like i have little to no time to spend with my family now that we’ve started eating healthier. but, i’ve become really motivated about it, which is why my family has kept it up. and i’ve gotten my husband involved as well! so that gives us more family time together- preparing meals. personally, i don’t blame you for being defensive. there are some relatively judgmental comments that have been posted (not directed at you or anything), so i would feel somewhat defensive too. but we are all glad you are here and taking the time to learn.

      also, feeding a child lunchables does NOT make someone a bad parent. physically/mentally abusing a child makes someone a bad parent (among other things)- just to keep things in perspective.

    6. Mary, your worth it and your health is worth it. Starting a new habit takes work, then it becomes the “new normal.” I have to remind myself of this everyday as I struggle with motivation to exercise. Also,
      I am motivated by watching family members age well and some who don’t. I don’t want to be in the “don’t” category:-)

  51. Wow… what an fabulous way of showing just how gross lunchables are. My daughter is only two and not in daycare or anything else but it’s never too early for me to learn how to pack her lunches for the future! Thanks for this awesome post!

  52. Thank you for all of the work you do. I am trying to do better with preparing my children’s meals. I recently began a new journey of being gluten free because of some health issues and it’s helped me so much! I wanted to know where you find pepperonis like the ones you listed above. I really do enjoy them but I know the store-bought ones are horrible! Thank you again. God bless.

  53. That is amazing. Thank you for this. Also, that Little Green Pouch is amazing!! We buy our kids (2 and 11 months and my husband eats them too lol) those to keep in our diaper bag when we go out. They are so expensive though. I will have to buy some of these!! Thank you!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hello Aubrey. Yes, they eat them cold. Lisa uses ample ice packs. The school does not provide a place to heat lunches. ~Amy

  54. Hi Lisa!
    Maybe this is a silly question, but do your kids eat the lunchables at room temp? Do you stick an ice pack in their lunch bags to keep everything cool (esp the chicken tenders)? I’m just not sure my kids would eat foods that are normally “warmed”, cold…hmmmmm. Any thoughts?

  55. I absolutely LOVE your YUMMY homemade Lunchables! We have done this for years as my kids THOUGHT that Lunchables were the ultimate lunch treat (especially on field trips)and felt like they were getting the short end of fun lunches. BUT once I “caught on” to how to make them LOOK awesome and cool they LOVE their lunches NOW. Even my high schoolers!

    Now, all the convenient re-usable containers are THE BOMB! Love that smoothie pouch!!! LOVE!

  56. Do you make your own breakcrumbs or did you use some you bought? If they were bought what was the brand. I can’t find any without soy in it and sometimes I don’t have time to make my own. Thanks!

    1. I make mine from a french loaf sold in my grocery bakery. It IS made with enriched white flour, but otherwise all the other ingredients are “real”.I sometimes air dry it, and sometimes put it in a low oven. Then I put it in my food processor and I have (mostly) real bread crumbs. I tried it once with Great Harvest Bakery Honey Whole Wheat, but it was very hard when dried and didn’t make as nice of crumbs (got a few big chunks) – fortunatly it was only a couple of heals I did not a whole loaf :-) Really, any bread you eat will probably work – great use of the heals that most don’t like eating.

  57. Thank you for sharing this. My son is lactose intolerant and for very obvious reason can’t have store bought Lunchables, but at times has talked me into buying them and just not eaten the cheese. The reason he wanted them was because a friend at school had one in his lunch and he wanted to try one. Even after trying one he really didn’t like them all that much. But I can do it this way and put foods in that he likes and that he’s not allergic to!

  58. In the past, I would let my daughter purchase her lunches at school. This year I have begun packing her lunch every day. I am not at 100% natural and whole foods, although the less ingredients I can’t pronounce, the better. I steer clear of obvious and overly processed foods as much as possible. So far she has just wanted ham and cheese on 100% whole wheat, a veggie with ranch dip, and a fruit salad…every single day. I’m afraid she’s going to get tired of it VERY soon, so I’m excited to see these ideas! Especially the pizza one. She loves those lunchables, but I only buy them for the kids once in a blue moon for a treat. I’m off to surf your site some more for school lunch ideas!

  59. Thanks, Lisa, for all the inspiration! My son started kindergarten this year. In order to combat the “I want what _____ has in his/her lunch!”, I’ve been giving him a choice of things he likes, using your site as inspiration. Today he has pizza toast and apple slices, with a granola bar for a snack. I really enjoy packing his lunch, and you have done such a great job in making it easy. I have your list of snacks posted to the fridge for mornings where I am at a loss for what to pack. One day last week he said, “Mama, thanks for making me things I like. It fills my bucket!”

  60. Thank you for this! So timely, as my 8 year old has been complaining so loudly that he doesn’t get Lunchables *ever* – can’t he have it just once in a while??? I tried to tell him we could make our own version, but I think this article with the lovely pictures will be way better.

  61. This is a good demo for real American Moms to view. Our family is strict traditional, but so much of America isn’t ready to make that kind of a change so quickly.

    I understand subbing dark chocolate in the place of the obscene amount of desserts offered to young children. But wow, how are we going to break the trend that a treat/dessert is necessary for all occasions.

    We eat rapadura, raw honey, maple syrup and etc.. But communicating this cause and effect problem of daily sugary treats, to the rest of the population continues to be a huge hurdle.

    Good job on this posting.

  62. This information makes me stop and think about what I eat now. Thank you for the reminder that what the food industry, is feeding us is not the way to go….additives to extend the shelf life… are poison to our bodies. I no longer have school lunches to pack, but just being conscience of what we eat daily ourselves, will help to keep cancer, and other diseases away….We are working on a garden plot at this time, and are hoping to have many more fresh vegetables and fruits to bring to our table soon….thank you for this website….keep up the great work and congratulations on being such a wonderful Mother to your own girls!

  63. I love this – my kids are always begging me to “make a Lunchable like ___ has at school!” because they know I won’t buy them :) Thanks for doing this post – lots of great ideas! And I love those containers – I had lunch with my two oldest today and I noticed their noodles with olive oil had leaked all over their lunch bags – you said these containers are leak-proof? We will have to try them!

  64. Hi there, just wanted to say that while we do not do 100% unprocessed food I do use your website for inspiration. I always pack my daughter a lunch from home and I love seeing the ideas you come up with. :)

  65. THANKS FOR THIS POST!! I just made homemade pizza lunchables last week. I made 18 little pie crusts out of white whole wheat flour and froze them for future lunchbox lunches. My daughter loves the store bought ones but I only let her buy ONE when she goes food shopping with me. She likes the homemade ones and has no problem taking them to school, but if it was her choice she’d be buying the storebought ones. :/

  66. I would LOVE to know where you found the pepperoni! I have looked everywhere, but I can’t find any without BHA & BHT. Since making the switch to real food over the summer, that has been one of the hardest things to give up (yes…pepperoni! Can you believe it?). We are a (homemade) pizza loving family!

    1. I second Ashley – I’ve been making my own lunchable pizzas as an adult because I STILL love them, but don’t like the ingredient list and price. I haven’t found any pepperoni without BHA & BHT either, so I just load up on cheese.

    2. I have seen Applegate organic pepperoni at EarthFare (and Whole Foods, I would imagine), but no where else. The trouble with it is that the slices are huge! I thought about cutting them down, but then what do I do with the leftovers? Pepperoni strips, I guess . . .

  67. I am a licensed day care provider in MA who is also a member of a USDA food program.
    We have ‘rules’ to follow so we are reimbursed for the food we serve. At lunch we are required to serve: milk, 2 fruits/veggies (any combo), 1 meat (or alternative like eggs, etc) and 1 grain. These home made lunchables are what I have been doing for ages to meet this requirement. Kids love it and it is very affordable and nutritious .

  68. Thanks for this! My kids just said yesterday that they miss some of the lunchables, and asked if we could make some ‘clean’. So, I said of course!

  69. Not the author. However we use the snack size ziploc bags for our homemade pizza lunchables. I buy the huge box of them at BJ’s. I also use that bag for the pepperoni

  70. So simple and so much better. I too make sure that every lunch has a veggie and a fruit. Love your blog. Even though I don’t do everything as 100% whole food like you do, you have inspired me to make a lot of changes and make sure most of what we eat is not crap.

  71. Thank you for this!! I have made my son homemade Lunchables since I started reading your blog in the last year. I love your tips :)

  72. Caroline Thangavelu

    Thank you Lisa for this. I pack my kids’ lunch but I think a lot of people will benefit from this. I believe all children should be fed healthy, good food without chemicals.

  73. My kids are all adults now,but growing up they got ‘Momables’.We had 6 kids and needed to save money . I didn’t have the containers so we used sandwich bags.The kids still brag about how much better they were and how jealous the other kids were about the time their Mom took to make them lunches every day.We were saving money and teaching them healthy eating .

      1. Very cool!

        I’ve made my own lunches ever since I can remember (and continue to do so as a working adult)… and look forward to making my sons’ lunches when they go to school in a few years.

        These are pretty neat for on-the-go sauces… Thanks for the link!