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Packing Healthy School Lunches for Busy Parents

Kids excited for veggies

If you are like my family, dinner gets all the meal planning attention. Lunch also deserves some attention as it is another opportunity to get key nutrients into our growing children. Most of our kids have very long days; some get on the bus before the sun comes up, stay inside all day, and then arrive home to either hours of homework, sports, or other activities but all deserve healthy lunches.

School lunch meals are unlike dinner meals, which are typically eaten within some view of a parent’s eye. At dinner, we can encourage one more bite of vegetables or give the meat another try. When our kids are at school, multiple boundaries can interfere with them eating a nourishing meal. First, we are not there to remind our kids to eat; there are many distractions, including talking to friends and playing, meal times are very short, lunch can fall right after snack, which reduces appetite, or very early in the day with 4-5 hours before another eating opportunity. Although these boundaries do not apply to every age group, elementary school is different from high school; one uniting fact remains…lunch is an important meal for all young people as it can support their very high energy needs and reduce overall mental stress from dysregulated blood sugar.

school bus loading


Our kids need a consistent stream of energy and nutrients throughout the day, and with limited time for most kids to eat their lunch…we want to make every bite count. When I consider packing a school lunch, I think about these key things:

Protein content – Think about this as the meal foundation.

    • Kids need protein to balance blood sugar, just like adults
    • The current DRI for dietary protein indicates that children 4-13 and 14-18 years require 0.95 to 0.85 g/kg/day. This, however, has been challenged to say that the RDA may actually be closer to 1.55g/kg/day for children 6-10 years. Physical activity is just one of many factors that increase protein requirements for children.1

Micronutrient content – Think about eating the rainbow, colorful plants, and fruits.

    • Nutrient needs for children should primarily be met through the food they consume daily. However, most kids would choose a bag of chips over leafy vegetables and fruits, compromising their intake of micronutrients from dietary sources.
    • Reduction in micronutrient intake may impact the full genetic potential of our children for physical growth and mental development due to subclinical deficiencies of micronutrients, which are referred to as “hidden hunger”.2

Digestibility – Do they have time to chew it and swallow without rushing? 

    • Kids typically eat fast and are often in a hurry. I want to make sure that what they are eating can be easily digested to support their body for the remainder of the learning day and then into the transition to home, where they have school work or sports waiting.  

Fiber – Hidden or seen fruits and vegetables, beans, and grains as tolerated. 

    • According to Nutrivore, fiber, the composition and metabolic activity of the community of microbes in our guts, is influenced greatly by the foods we eat, most notably the amount and types of fiber.3
    • In addition to the microbiota, fiber also helps to regulate peristalsis of the intestines (reducing constipation), stimulates the release of ghrelin (tells us we are full), slows the absorption of simple sugars to regulate blood sugar (reduces excess insulin release), binds to toxins and helps to eliminate them. 

In order to simplify the science and make the process of planning for school lunches simple, efficient, and sustainable, I use a mental template: Protein | colorful fruit | colorful vegetables | dense carbohydrates | healthy fat | treat. Of course, then consider quick eating (cut, cooked, and easy to eat with the hands) and, of course, palatability (cold ground pork and turkey are more palatable than ground beef).

Bottom line…We all know that food affects mood, behavior, and focus. Have you ever had an upset stomach and tried to focus on a task at work or interact with coworkers? Have you ever felt the brain fog or lack of concentration attached to low blood sugar?

Kids are no different! What they eat for snacks and lunch at school directly impacts how they feel during the day. These lunch boxes are just ideas! Think about building a lunchbox with some plants, fruit, healthy starch, healthy fat, and protein.

I have been a loyal customer of US Wellness Meats for over a decade. Their products have helped me raise my children! Keep reading for WHY I chose to invest in high-quality protein for my family.

Nutrivore tells us that beef striploin, a favorite of our family, grass-fed beef striploin is the best source of coQ10 (essential for brain function), an excellent source of protein (a key feature of the lunchbox), taurine (important for liver health), vitamins B3 and B12 (both needed for energy production, and zinc (immune health).4 With protein as the foundation of the lunchbox, we choose a mix of nourishing, extremely nutrient-dense proteins like liverwurst, which contains pastured beef liver as its primary ingredient. Nutrivore classifies beef liver as a “super-nutrient dense food” with its concentrated source of key nutrients like B12, copper, vitamins A, B7, B2, B5 and CoQ10, vitamin B3, B9, B6, selenium, and choline.5 Basically, I consider any of the organ meat sausages better than a multivitamin!

Although they are convenient, chips, snack packs, pretzels, and fruit-flavored high-sugar dairy products cause blood sugar roller coasters. If you have kids who are picky eaters and fear they won’t eat their lunches if you pack simple ingredients, take the foods they love and find healthy ways to tweak it.

  • Invest in a Bento Box or Lunchbot to allow all foods to be right in eyeshot. This gives you a view of all the food available at once rather than having some tucked away in plastic bags.
  • If they like yogurt squeeze tubes, swap it for plain Greek yogurt and add banana, some raisins, berries, or a drizzle of honey.
  • Make your own granola with rolled oats, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit
  • Bake your own muffins and avoid seed oils, refined sugar, and grains (I have a TON of recipes)
  • Pack a thermos with a hot meal like pasta or meatballs.
  • Add vegetables to everything!

Involve the kids in the process so they can have a role in their own meal planning.

US Wellness Meats has many simple ingredients that we can use to combine into fantastic lunches for our kids without keeping us tied to the kitchen for hours.

Some of my absolute favorites from US Wellness Meats that make for EASY pack-ahead lunch boxes include: (link directly to products and add photos):

fall foods cooking autumn root vegetables crisp pumpkin apples kids family grandma baking kitchen 138456700

Now, if we apply my template from above with the thought process of respecting science and how these foods nourish our kids’ bodies, let’s generate some lunches with the above ingredients.

Example Meal #1

Protein: Liverwurst / Braunschweiger / Headcheese 
Colorful fruit: Kiwi, pomegranate perils, black grapes, cherry tomato, or plum
Colorful vegetable: Cooked carrots or broccoli, bell pepper
Healthy fat: Olives, avocado cups, walnuts, cashews, almonds, raw cheddar cheese
Dense carbohydrate: Sweet potato, chickpeas, baked oatmeal square
Treat: High protein energy ball, dark chocolate square, date stuffed with almond butter and a chocolate chip

Example Meal #2

Protein: Pastured Ground Pork
Colorful fruit: Orange, green apple, red grapes
Colorful vegetable: Green peas, green beans
Healthy fat: Peanuts or green olives
Dense carbohydrate: Sweet Potato Tots Recipe
Treat: Dried fig, dark chocolate almond butter cup

Example Meal #3

Protein: Grass Finished Franks
Colorful fruit: Cherries or strawberries
Colorful vegetable: Sliced carrots
Healthy fat: No need because hot dogs are high in fat. Add another low-sugar fruit, like blueberries.
Dense carbohydrate: Broccoli pesto pasta 
Treat: High protein energy ball, dark chocolate square, gluten-free cereal, and raisins.

Example Meal #4

Protein: Sugar-Free Pork Bacon Ends
Colorful fruit: Kiwi, pomegranate perils, black grapes, cherry tomato, or plum
Colorful vegetable: Cooked carrots or broccoli, bell pepper
Healthy fat: No need because of the pizza ingredients
Dense carbohydrate: Sweet potato, chickpeas, baked oatmeal square
Treat: A couple of chocolate chips

Example Meal #5

Protein: Beef Snack Sticks \ Beef Snack Stick Ends
Colorful fruit: Kiwi, pomegranate perils, black grapes, cherry tomato, or plum
Colorful vegetable: Cooked carrots or broccoli, bell pepper
Healthy fat: Olives, avocado cups, walnuts, cashews, almonds, raw cheddar cheese
Dense carbohydrate: chickpea pasta with olive oil and salt
Treat: High protein energy ball, dark chocolate square, date stuffed with almond butter and a chocolate chip

Example Meal #6

Protein: Beef Striploin, Grilled and sliced
Colorful fruit: Green apple, unpeeled banana
Colorful vegetable: Bell pepper, steamed asparagus, cucumber
Healthy fat: Olives, avocado cup, homemade ranch
Dense carbohydrate: Sweet potato, chickpeas, cooked plantains
Treat: High protein energy ball, dark chocolate square, date stuffed with almond butter and a chocolate chip


The biggest question that I get from most clients is, WHY! We all know that our kids need to eat, but most of us don’t realize the huge impact that food quality has on our kids’ health and development. High-quality protein like that found at US Wellness Meats can make an enormous difference in how our children feel and function each day!

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Amy Slater

Amy Slater

Amy Slater is a mother of two sets of twins (two boys and two girls) and currently practices as a women’s health coach. Amy has been in the health and fitness field for 22+ years with a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics, a fellowship in Applied Functional Science, and several advanced certifications. She is currently working toward her NP with an emphasis in Functional Medicine. Keep up with Amy on her Instagram and Facebook, and learn more on her website!


  1. Hudson JL, Baum JI, Diaz EC, Børsheim E. Dietary Protein Requirements in Children: Methods for Consideration. Nutrients. 2021 May 5;13(5):1554. doi: 10.3390/nu13051554. PMID: 34063030; PMCID: PMC8147948.
  2. Singh M. Role of micronutrients for physical growth and mental development. Indian J Pediatr. 2004 Jan;71(1):59-62. doi: 10.1007/BF02725658. PMID: 14979388.