Real Food School Lunches III

With less than a month left of school I am trying hard not to give in to the simplicity and ease of having my daughter buy her lunch. While slacking off at the bitter end is tempting, these thoughts are thankfully short-lived. So my hope is that one more lunch post will help rejuvenate us all so even during these last few weeks we can continue to send our kids to school with healthy, creative, homemade school lunches that contain nothing other than real food!

In my first two posts about school lunch ideas (post I and post II) I shared that my daughter goes to a peanut/tree-nut free school. As a result the school has an “approved” snack list that shows what food products parents are allowed to send into the school. To me their little snack list not only shows what is approved, but it also serves as kind of a suggested list of items that you could and should send for your 6-year-old to eat at nine in the morning. Some of the items on their list that immediately jump out at me are Wendy’s frosties, skittles, oreos, fritos, airheads, cheese puffs, twizzlers, chips ahoy, and gummy bears. In fact, only 17 out of the 200 hundred items (8.5%) are what I would consider to be “real food” approved. And you know I pay attention to what the kids are eating when I volunteer in my daughter’s class (which happens to be during snack time!), and I see that some parents are unfortunately taking these snack “suggestions” to heart.

So rather than sitting here and complaining about it what better thing to do than to try to fix the list? I am admittedly not fixing things as fast as I would like, but I am definitely making progress (thanks to the help of another mom!). The principal of the school said I could add whatever I wanted to the snack list, but that I could not remove anything. He said if they don’t specify a certain brand of nut-free donuts a parent will surely send in the wrong kind. So without further ado, this is my plan for the snack list addendum (which I hope will be the first page!)…

“Food impacts how well a child’s brain works, affecting their moods and abilities … In a child’s brain junk food can cause neurotransmitters, which pass along information, to function improperly.  Smart foods, however, allow information to be processed correctly and help the child function at their optimal level.”  – Dr. Sears, one of America’s most renowned pediatricians and author of over 40 books



  • 100% whole grain
  • Made with very little (or no) refined sweeteners like white sugar and corn syrup
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables (preferably organic), dairy products, seeds, dried fruit, and humanely raised animal products
  • More a product of nature than a product of industry


  • “Low fat” or “low carb” or “low calorie” products (in most cases)
  • Made with artificial sweeteners like Splenda
  • Deep fried in oil
  • 100-calorie packs made with refined grains like white flour (labeled as “wheat flour”)
  • Something out of a package containing ingredients you cannot pronounce
  • Highly processed food that is labeled as organic

After this intro, which will hopefully get everyone on the same page, I will list out suggested “real food” snack options that will be divided into the following categories: 100% whole grain, fresh fruits and vegetables, dried and canned fruits, and other real food snacks. I can’t wait to see the response once it is finished and can only hope it will lead to at least some changes!

In the meantime let’s talk about a few more lunch ideas to get us through these last few weeks. I admit that I struggle almost every night to come up with something exciting and creative for my daughter’s lunch, but I will share what I have been sending in with her (along with some photos) just to get the discussion started. I encourage everyone to please share your ideas as well in the comments below!

  • Leftover cold whole-wheat pasta noodles drizzled with olive oil and grated parmesan cheese, carrots, melon and frozen blueberries

  • Egg salad sandwich on whole-wheat bread, apples, plain yogurt with a little honey and homemade nut-free granola (extra seeds were added instead of nuts)

  • Homemade whole-wheat raisin bread and cream cheese sandwich, applesauce, local carrots and hummus

  • Whole-wheat banana bread topped with cream cheese, hard-boiled egg, leftover strip of local bacon, and local strawberries


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132 thoughts on “Real Food School Lunches III”

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  1. Hi there!

    I am the mother of twin teenage boys who love (like all teenagers do) junk food. They have been eating school lunches with strict rules against drinking the non organic milk, partaking generously of the salads and sticking to the whole wheat options now thankfully served at their school, no luck on the meat though…sigh. I would LOVE to be able to convince them to pack lunches again but it seems too “uncool” for kids their age, plus they usually don’t give high schoolers enough time to go to their lockers for packed lunches. Do you have any suggestions for older kids like my own?
    I will say my kids are already very knowledgeable about eating clean and even surprise me at times by reading labels!
    So wish a blog like yours for families would’ve been around when my kids were younger and I certainly wish I had been more knowledgeable then about real food in our family life. Keep up the good work. Oh btw the 100 days on a real food budget was just that- REAL. As my sons would say “The struggle is real!”. Thanks for doing that and keeping it real!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Sonja. Sounds like they are making the best choices possible with what is available at school. That’s doing better than most, for sure. Perhaps they could take something that’s easy to carry (not a full on lunch bag) as a supplement for what they are eating at school even if it is just a pb&j or a thermos of a hearty soup or a bag of nuts, etc. to go with that big school salad? ~Amy

  2. I’m curious to know where you get your divided lunch plates. I assume they have lids. I can’t find anything like that.

  3. As I prepare to send my 5 year old (with a peanut allergy!!) off to kindergarten in two weeks, I’m so thankful for your blog! We have spent a very long time gluten and dairy free, and have reintroduced without issue. I hope she outgrows her peanut allergy as she has the others, but in the meantime your suggestions and ideas are helping immensely. My only confusion is—what on earth is ‘leftover bacon’? Hehe :) thanks again!

  4. Hi Lisa,

    I have a 15 month old, who is a pretty great eater, but her school is nut-free. What alternatives have you used in place of peanut butter for your daughters?


  5. My kids are used to processed organic food. How can I switch to better/real food? They turn up their nose when I mention leftovers. Of course I make sure it would be a yummy leftover. We use thermos food jars. I could try just not buying those processed stuff. Like I buy organic tortellini from Whole Foods. It is nice to have a quick meal on hand, but turn it becomes habit. Help!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Meredith. They can leak, just make sure the tops are secured tightly. I also put mine in a baggie just in case they leak. Jill

  6. We are gluten free, limited dairy, and organic. I live in Wyoming where it is difficult to buy fresh quality food, especially in the winter. I have 4 kids. We make 98% of our food and have for several years. Your lunches look well enough but all the plastic you are using is disturbing to me. I pack lunches everyday and have been using various sized glass containers. The tops have proven to not be very dependable as time has gone by so we rubber band them. Will be investing in a different brand soon. Back to plastic, containers, wrap. If you do your research you will see it is no little problem, especially for children.
    Toxic Chemical In Plastic Bottles Causes Cancer
    Posted on April 19, 2008 | Leave a comment

    Recent news has exposed the dangers of a toxic chemical known as Bisphenol A (BPA) used in some plastic containers that is believed to be harmful to consumers.

    According to Reuters Health News, BPA is used to make polycarbonate plastic, a clear shatter-resistant material in products ranging from plastic baby and water bottles to sports safety equipment and medical devices. It also is used to make durable epoxy resins used as the coating in most food and beverage cans.

    People can eat or drink the chemical when it leaches out of the plastic into liquid such as baby formula, water or food inside the container.

    “At this point, the writing is on the wall for bisphenol A. Major retailers and governments all across the country and the world are now recognizing that this chemical is extremely toxic at very low levels of exposure,” Michael Schade of the U.S. environmental group Center for Health, Environment and Justice said in a telephone interview.

    Dr. Mercola reports that Bisphenol A (BPA) is an artificial estrogenic compound that may increase the adult breast cancer risk of female fetuses. This confirms earlier findings regarding a link between BPA and breast cancer.

    A study exposed pregnant rats to bisphenol A at a range of doses from 2.5 to 1,000 micrograms per kg of body weight per day.

    Their female children developed precancerous breast lesions during puberty at a rate three to four times higher than usual. BPA resulted in an increased level of lesions at all dose levels, which suggests that the current exposure limit set by the U.S. EPA (50 micrograms per kg per day) has put American women at risk of breast cancer.

    Urine analysis has shown that 95 percent of people have been exposed to BPA. BPA has also been linked to prostate cancer and brain tissue damage, even at extremely low levels.

  7. I’m new to your blog now that I’m packing school lunches for 2 kiddos! I love all the great ideas packed in those wonderful ziploc containers. Started reading “real food lunches iii” and I can’t believe the list of acceptable snacks they gave you! My 2 go to a public school that is not peanut or tree nut free but if ANY kid came to school with skittles, frosty, cheetos, candy for a snack…they are not allowed to eat it and the nurse does her job and talks to the parents about healthy snacks! My kids are semi-picky but they love fruits and veggies. I’m going to go through your lunch pictures with them and add to our lunch box idea list. Thank you!

  8. I too am a huge fan of your blog! I have a little one with many food sensitivities and you have so many options that work for us. I was wondering what lunchbox do you send the ziploc containers in? I haven’t gone to target looking for them yet, so I’m just trying to gauge if they will fit in the ones we have. Thanks!!

  9. I found your site via Pinterest. I just want to say thank you for all of the good ideas. We tried the cafeteria and my daughter only eats the “white” foods on her plate because she thinks everything else tastes weird. There’s no refrigeration at my daughter’s school for lunches brought from home and we live in the deep south so sometimes the classrooms are kind of warm when school starts in August, so bringing lunches to school and keeping them fresh is always a challenge.

  10. You are seriously the best mom in the world!!! I would’ve loved it if my mom made me lunches like this when I was growing up! Love your site!

  11. I think the lunches are great but I was surprised to see cream cheese, there is very little protein or even nutritional value in cream cheese. Organic Cottage Cheese would be a better alternative.

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      As mentioned above we don’t worry about our protein count too much. Also, we’ve tried cottage cheese and are not fans…although I am not sure how it would really be much better than organic cream cheese.

  12. Quick question. How do you keep your noodles pliable and soft for the next day? No matter what I do, noodles get hard and crunchy and I HAVE to heat them up again to make them edible. As my blog title suggests, I’m pretty “DUR” in the kitchen!

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I am not sure what kind of noodles you are cooking with, but you could try mixing them with olive oil which also keeps them from sticking together.

  13. These are great tips, and I can’t wait to read through all of the comments to see what other readers suggest. My 2 boys (3-years and 19-months) are starting at a new pre-school in a couple of weeks where we have to provide lunch. Luckily, there are no nut restrictions because it’s a small school and there are no kids there with allergies… yet. Their old daycare was horrible when it came to food and angered me almost every day. The old one also told us that it was against state regulations for us to bring in our own food without a medical reason/note from a doctor (99% sure that is wrong).
    We’ll have to look at the containers you mention. The only thing is that my boys are usually big eaters even though they are relatively small (both are 30th percentile or less for weight). If I sent them with the amount of food in your pictures, they’d polish that off and start going after the other kids’ leftovers. :) Anyway, a couple of questions:

    Our work schedules are going to force me to drop them off pretty early with breakfasts in hand. Any tips for real-food portable breakfasts? I have some ideas but wouldn’t mind some others.

    Do kids really not mind if some things are just thawed out as opposed to warmed up? I’m thinking of the chicken nuggets, for example. We make your chicken nugget recipe, usually 3-4 lbs. at a time and freeze them for later. But we always heat them up in the toaster oven at home. Just eating thawed out ones doesn’t sound appealing to me, but maybe the kids are different?

  14. Are you ever a girl after my own heart! I am speechless with happiness after finding this website as so many times it is just nice to see another persons groove or way of doing it. Anyways…very curious as to where you found those lunch containers. Sometimes I hear that certain plastics aren’t as good for us and especially with microwaving. So…I’d be so happy to hear from you and again THANK you for your work on this website. I will be a fan (smile)

    Happy Healthy…

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I got them from Target…they are made by Ziplock and BPA free. And we actually don’t put them in the microwave since they are just for school lunches. I hope that helps!

  15. I was recently told about your blog and I love it. I have found that many of the recipes and ideas are adaptable to my families special dietary needs. My daughter has celiac disease and several food allergies to include peanuts and tree nuts. I applaud your childs school for making that brave and difficult decision to go peanut and treenut free. I will never forget the day we had a class party and a parent decided that it wasn’t a party without “real cookies”. She made peanut butter cookies for the class and didn’t tell anyone that they were peanut butter. I told my daughter not to eat the cookie because it wasn’t GF and she was ok with that. There were plenty of other snacks that were safe for her to eat. However, my child has a skin sensative reaction to nut oil so just avoiding the cookie wasn’t enough. When it came time to leave and the kids were hugging and giving high fives my daughter started itching and breaking out in hives. The parent apoligized to me and said “I just didn’t think it was fair that your kid got to decide what my kid had at the party.” Nice, right. I fought for the rest of the year to allow my child to sit next to someone in the classroom and at lunch because the school was afraid she would have another reaction. We are a military family so I know how hard it is to stretch a dollar and what an easy quick nutrient rich meal a whole wheat pb-n-j sandwich is. Whoa, sorry about the rant. Thanks again for the great ideas. Since school lunch isn’t an option for us(ever) I love any tips.

  16. Hi there,

    Love your blog! Just found it the other day. I too try to feed my family as little processed food as possible – which can be a little tricky sometimes! I am amazed at the school list of “approved” snacks – I live in NYC and so many schools have banned sugar and other sweetners – school lunches are another story – and contain food that is still a mystery for me! Good for you for providing an alternative list.

    Great ideas for lunches! Can’t wait to dig into your other posts…

  17. Thank you for all of your wonderful lunch ideas. I have followed your blog for a while but never had to worry about sending lunches (I homeschool). However, my daughter is starting a “real” school in January and I came here first to look for wholesome lunch ideas! You did not fail me!!! :)

  18. Thanks so much for posting school lunch suggestions. We are just beginning to try the unprocessed food pledge and my daughter normally eats lunch at school (which is sometimes horrifying what they serve).. She is also in a CMS peanut-free school and the list of “approved snack” items aren’t great either! I will definitely be going to Target today to get the “bento” style box. Thanks again and love the posts!!

  19. I just stumbled upon your blog (thanks to Pinterest) and am reading through your posts. This one shocked me. You’re school’s list of suggested snacks is horrible – even putting processed foods aside. A Frosty? Really? Talk about sugar highs with huge drops – scary! Thank goodness our schools (my boys are older, HS & MS) encourage “healthy options” across the board.

    I love your realistic options. You’re not crazy over-the-top with your choices. (my family might die without mayo) But share a guideline on how to eat more naturally. I can’t wait to put your tips into action! THANK YOU!!!

  20. Ok, I have to be honest, I thought, really school lunches? How can you change this up? Variety? Is that really possible? I have 4 children and we pretty much have the same thing over and over again. Anytime I see things it is pretty much the same PB&J I do but maybe with crackers.
    This is AMAZING! Since it’s Sunday, I am not going to attempt this this week but I am getting my grocery list together to do this next week. I’m a little excited and nervous. my kids might go into PB&J withdraw….thanks for the AWESOME completely fool proof {b/c the kitchen is NOT my area of expertise} way to re-do school lunches. Excited to give these a try!

  21. I third the request for egg salad recipe :D
    When I do it I simply chop up the hard boiled eggs, toss in a bit of mayo, which may sometimes be flavoured with herbs, lemon or lime juice and a bit of curry powder, and if I have any odd bits of bell pepper, celery, or other random vegetables left in the fridge I might toss them in too.

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      My “recipe” if you even want to call it that is super simple. I just add enough mayo (store-bought organic version) for it to stick together, a big dab of mustard, and a few shakes of salt. That’s it!

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      It is very simple. I just cut up hard boiled eggs and mix with enough mayo (the least processed stuff I can find) to make it “stick” together. Then I add a big dab of mustard and a few shakes of salt. Not really an “official” recipe, but it is a hit every time!

  22. At our school (and some other schools in our city), we have instituted a snack program where we provide organic, seasonal fruits and vegetables and distribute it to the whole school. Parents come in on Monday afternoons to wash and sort the produce for the week, then each morning a parent puts it out on the school yard. Each week a different grade is responsible so the job is shared by the whole school. The fruit for the kindergarteners is cut up, but the the rest of the school eats theirs whole. Some schools raise money to buy the produce, other schools get it donated. The teachers love it!

  23. Did you compile the list of approved/approved snack foods? I just got Drew’s approved list from school today and it’s even worse than I imagined. And, according to the website at the bottom, it’s from Canada! They didn’t even take the time to research foods themselves, just took it from another country. They are not nut-free in the lunchroom but they are for snacks since they can’t keep the kids with allergies separate in the classroom as easily. Anyway…I would love to steal your list and send it in as alternatives!

  24. I had lunch with my daughter in 5th grade.. I was soo upset.. a fruit.. what they considered a fruit.. was an icee.. yes.. it was horrible.. and she had pizza.. it looked like card board.. no joke at all. with some white stuff on it.. it was all she had to eat.. pizza and icee. and she paid full price for lunch.. she is going into 6th grade this year..she is picking.. and i advised her i would be packing her lunch every day.. so i at least know when she eats fruit it will be fruit.. i told her if she wants pizza friday..i would be glad to make pizza for fridays dinners.. that way its fun times too.. we usually try to eat the same same during the week.. its easier for me. weekends we try new things..

    but school lunches are so horrible.. I love Jamie Oliver Food Revolution. I have his it.

  25. Lisa, thank you again for being a light in the darkness for the rest of us. You are an inspiration to me everyday. Forgive me for sounding so cheezy…..

  26. I work in a public school and refuse to eat lunch from the cafeteria. When I eat with some of the kids they are always interested in what I bring. I think kids really want to eat the less processed stuff, at least for the most part. They are always trying to get some part of my lunch off of me. :) If you feel a bit stumped for yourself, or even your kids, check out There are some great ideas there and she also has a cook book. Laptop lunches also has an idea section: that I go to when I need inspiration.

    1. I also work at a school and refuse to eat the lunches. I don’t think schools are any less informed than the general populace, but it does seem politics and spin become more of a concern than what is really healthy. I see kids bring an energy drink and Pop Tarts and call it lunch! Breakfast doesn’t happen because they get up after Mom and Dad have gone to work and no one takes the time to make breakfast. I use this lunchbox and often bring posole with all the fixins, or a Moroccan stew with yogurt and cilantro. The other teachers who try to lose weight while drinking diet sodas and eating a tasteless salad with chemical dressing think I’m crazy, but then they see my success and want to know more. Everyone needs to be educated about how amazing real food can taste! JustBento is awesome and has great ideas for making healthy food attractive and fun!

      1. I was actually eyeballing that lunch set for this year! Do you like it? What about leakage? I usually take leftovers from the night before, or I’ll have something super simple like rice with steamed veggies, or cheese, crackers and fruit. When you only have a few minutes to eat you want it to taste good so you can still feel human! I completely agree with you on the salads. I love a good salad, but a good salad is a difficult thing to pack so it will stay fresh and by golly, I want a real dressing on it, not some low/no fat chemical concoction.

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I bought a rectangular fabric type lunch box from Old Navy last year that worked. I also saw some the same shape at Target this year.

  27. I really love your project, and was just sent your blog today after a family member read about you in the paper.

    My hubby and I eat 95% non-processed food, despite how we were both raised. I think you and your family would really love this apple-cheddar sandwich I wrote about yesterday, it’s a different kind of sandwich but definately kid-friendly.
    Good luck as your continue you new lifestyle!


  28. This school lunch issue really gets under my skin. The thing that bugs me the most is the total false impression that the schools are giving to parents that don’t know a lot about nutrition. In my kid’s cafeteria there are all kinds of signs about how great the govt food pyramid is (which I think is a joke), how much physical activity kids should be getting and how great and nutritious the school lunches are. The last time I was at my kid’s school during lunch time they were having “uncrustables” those ridiculous PB&J sandwiches made of white bread, HFCS grape jam and PB with hydrogenated fat, low fat pudding cups, fruit in heavy syrup and of course no-fat chocolate milk. What a joke! It makes my blood boil just thinking about it. This is the reason I send my kids with their own lunch everyday (and we will be homeschooling next year, so it’s not even an issue anymore). Now, I do not feed my kids a perfect diet 100% of the time, but I’m also not trying to push some fake food as real, nutritious food. The majority of parents don’t know much about nutrition except for the misinformation that our government gives them. They think their kids are getting nutritious food at school and there is nothing further from the truth. The icing on the cake was when I was asked to bring in jello cups for my son’s kindergarten class for a snack. I expressed my concern to the teacher and she said to just make sure that they are sugar free jello cups. No wonder so many of our kid’s have learning problems.