The ultimate lunchbox packing list

November 29, 2019

Breakfast may hold the “most important meal of the day” title, but when it comes to providing kids with fuel for busy school days, lunch carries equal weight. 

“A well-rounded lunch with protein is key for helping kids get through afternoon classes and after-school activities,” says Jennifer Thompson, an advanced practice dietician with expertise in pediatric nutrition therapy at Johns Hopkins. “Also, it will help prevent overeating later in the day.”

Want to pack a healthier lunch for your child each day but don’t know where to begin (or feel like you don’t have time)? Here’s a full list of expert-approved foods to always have on hand so you or your kids can make quick, easy, well-balanced lunches, along with tips for getting kids to eat said lunches. 

The makings of a healthier school lunch

Pediatric and family nutritionist Andrea Berez recommends using MyPlate as a guideline when packing your kiddo’s lunch. MyPlate easily lays out and gives options for the five recommended types of foods to have in each meal:  

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Protein
  • Grains
  • Dairy 

“Begin with a selection from as many food groups [from MyPlate] as you can,” Berez says. “Choose whole grain breads, low-fat and low-sodium luncheon meats for protein, and include at least one serving of fruit in every lunch.” 

When it comes to veggies, Berez recommends either cutting them up as a side or packing them into a sandwich. And if your child is able to have dairy, she advises sticking to low-fat options of milk, cheese or yogurt.  

Of course, the children who will (or who can) happily eat a serving from every food group are few and far between. So, don’t sweat it too much if your child picks the turkey off of his sandwich each day and only eats the cheese. 

“It’s OK to have calcium-rich dairy foods, such as milk, yogurt and cheese, count as your child’s protein source at lunch,” says Thompson. 

Whatever you do, just don’t skip the protein altogether because it helps keep hunger at bay and gives kids sustained energy for the rest of the school day.

The ultimate lunchbox packing list 

While making the same exact lunch each day for your kids isn’t recommended, Thompson and Berez, respectively, advise having a selection of the following foods in your house at all times (a few from each group!) for a variety of well-balanced lunch options. Keep a list of these foods in the kitchen for each mix-n-match lunch packing for the whole family.


  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Lean, low-sodium deli meats, such as turkey and chicken breast
  • Water-packed tuna fish
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Hummus
  • Guacamole
  • Nut butters, such as peanut or almond 


  • Cucumbers
  • Peppers (in a variety of colors!)
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Snow peas
  • Jicama
  • Green beans
  • Lettuce


  • Natural fruit sauces, such as applesauce
  • Dehydrated or dried fruits
  • Apple slices
  • Orange segments
  • Grapes
  • Blueberries 
  • Kiwi 
  • Cantaloupe 
  • Strawberries
  • Pineapple
  • Watermelon
  • Honeydew 


  • Cooked pasta
  • Quinoa
  • Pita bread
  • English muffins
  • Crackers
  • Tortillas
  • Pretzels
  • Light popcorn
  • Whole grain chips
  • Rice cakes
  • Whole grain waffles and pancakes


  • Low-fat cheese slices or cheese sticks
  • Greek yogurt
  • Low-fat veggie dips
  • Milk
Andrea Berez, MS RDN
Andrea Berez, MS RDN

Andrea Berez, MS RDN

Thank you so much for visiting my website and taking the time to learn about family nutrition.  If you or your child is struggling with an eating issue or health issue that warrants nutrition intervention, please don’t wait to be in touch!  I am here to help!

I would love to hear from you:
Phone 973-420-9789

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