11 Healthy Make Ahead Lunchbox Ideas for Work and School
Whether you work in an office, pack your kids’ lunchbox for school or take it to site in an esky, here are 11+ nifty ideas to make your lunchbox contents a little healthier and prep ahead of time for the whole week or for half the week, making a new batch of lunches including Saturday sport snacks ahead of time on Wednesday night. Allergy-friendly, grain-free and low sugar options too!
1. Do a Sunday Night Cook Up
Every Sunday night (or any other night that suits you really), cook up a big batch of steamed and roasted veggies for the week ahead. It makes throwing together a healthy vegetable-packed lunch so much easier. Reheat in a microwave or eat cold as a salad, topped with canned fish or homemade dips.
- – Steam Asian greens, green beans, broccoli, peas, cauliflower, carrots.
- – Roast sweet potato, carrots, zucchini and onion drizzled with olive or macadamia oil and sprinkled with herbs.
- – Stir-fry some capsicum, mushrooms, broccoli and beans with a little tamari or curry paste.
2. Canned Fish for Protein and Salad Dressing in One But Limit the Tuna
I absolutely love canned fish in pure olive oil. It’s healthy , delicious and an easy way to get some fish and good oils into your diet. It make for an instant and hearty salad dressing! Just add a squeeze of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar which you can keep at your desk as it does not require refrigeration. Watch the tuna though as consuming more than 400g grams of tuna a week for an adult and 200g for a child on a regular basis can lead to mercury poisoning so vary your fish – mackerel, sardines and salmon are good options.
When buying canned fish watch out for those three things:
- – Some cans contain the “olive oil blend” which is made with various ratios of olive and refined, beached and deodorised vegetable, sunflower, canola and other unsustainable oils. Always check the ingredient list and remember that ingredients are listed according to their volume in processed foods. Otherwise buy in brine and add your own oil.
- – Opt for brands that support sustainably-caught seafood. Unlike net-caught fish they are mindful of other species.
- – Opt for BPA-free cans (I’ve had a chat to the folks at Safcol and they confirm that all their cans are BPA-free, their fish is sustainably-caught, too).
Check out also Australia’s Sustainable Seafood app to help you make a more sustainable choice when it comes to buying all seafood.
3. Non-Soggy Salads (in Jars)
This one is genius! Even though jars are said to be so 2013, they are a cheap way to carry your lunch to work. They’ll also stop that salad of yours from getting soggy and wilted. How?
- – Simply place all your salad ingredients back to front and upside down in the jar: dressing, topping, middle bits, salad leaves; screw on the lid and carry to work.
- – When ready to eat, unscrew the top and tip the salad out of the jar into a bowl, shaking a little. Your salad will be dressed and as fresh as a daisy!
How good does the I Quit Sugar Grated Salad in a Jar look? Yum!
4. Eggs, Glorious Eggs!
Eggs are a fantastic source of filling protein, good fats, vitamins – especially in the yolks, and essential amino-acids.
- – Perfectly cooked soft-boiled eggs are a joy to eat and can be taken to work or school, whole in their shell. As can, obviously hard boiled eggs.
- – They are a great addition to kids’ lunch boxes or a healthy after-workout protein snack.
- – You could also make a fritatta or quiche (see here for loads of recipes for one) and enjoy it warmed up or cold.
5. Leftovers Makeovers
We totally dig leftovers for lunch. In fact, I’ll often cook for 6 or 8 to have a few serves left over for lunch and a stash in the freezer saved for a rainy day. It’s a more frugal way of using ingredients, your energy and time, as well. Some of my favourite leftovers meals include:
6. Veggie Sticks and Dips
My latest snack food pet hate, although I applaud their passion for creating a healthier choice, are those small plastic pouches containing veg pieces, fruit bits and dips. Frankly, it’s much cheaper to buy a whole carrot and it doesn’t take long to cut it up into 8 sticks either. Plus there is minimal waste when you use a re-usable container instead of relying on plastic.
- – Raw carrot, cucumber, kohlrabi, swede and zucchini sticks are great for snacking. As are broccoli and cauliflower florets and mini tomatoes.
- – Checkout the Seasonal Fruit and Vegetable Guide for inspiration and what’s in season.
- – Try some of these simple homemade dips for an even healthier option.
7. Fruit Bits and Yoghurt
You can also be frugal and mindful with yoghurt by buying a big tub and portioning out a serving into a small container, washed small jar or one of these Little Mashies – re-usable squeezy pouches, so popular with the younger kids. They are BPA-free and you can wash them in the dishwasher. Perfect for baby food too, but I digress.
- – Add frozen berries, they are cheaper this way, or some diced apple, peaches, banana or pear.
- – A sprinkle of cinnamon or ground cloves does wonders for a stone fruit or berry yoghurt concoction.
- – Opt for an unsweetened Greek yoghurt for best health benefit – even people with milk lactose intolerance can enjoy a serving of it from time to time, because the lactose is partially fermented and “digested” in culture-rich yoghurts.
When buying Yoghurt watch out for those two things:
- – Plain yoghurt should only contain 2-3 ingredients: milk, cream and cultures. Everything else is an unnecessary filler. Always read the ingredient labels to look for anything out of the ordinary – gums, thickeners, sugars, starches, fruit juice concentrates which is another name for fruit processed into nutrient devoid sugar. I’ve seen some “sugar-free” yoghurts filled with maltodextrin and fruit juice concentrate so much so that it contained as much sugar as that with cane sugar added, don’t be fooled.
- – Check the nutrition panel under the Per 100g section which will give you a percentage breakdown rather than a per serving breakdown. Serving sizes vary from brand to brand, actually sometimes they even vary for the same products depending on the overall size of the package.
8. Sandwiches and Wraps
Sourdough is our bread of choice. We don’t eat much of it – a loaf lasts us about a week so we store it in the freezer for freshness. We try to buy artisan bread from Sonoma Bakery or Brasserie Bread, but sometimes we also reach for Bill’s organic spelt sourdough or Abbot’s Village Bakery Light Rye.
- – For grain-free wraps try making some Nori Wraps like these.
- – Getting kids to eat multigrain, wholemeal or sourdough bread can be tricky if they are not used to them. Try swapping just one of the slices to wholemeal bread to start with. You could also use wholemeal wraps.
- – If you like pizza, you can also jaffle your sandwiches with a sprinkle of Italian herbs inside.
- – Check out this post for 22 delicious sandwich and wrap ideas.
Soups are nutritious and, especially in winter, provide a much needed comfort from the elements outside. In summer, soup can be enjoyed chilled as well.
- – For easy trasportarion either freeze soup the night before in a BPA-free container, or store in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. This way they won’t spill!
- – For school lunches, invest in a small thermos but don’t make the soup too hot, you don’t want anyone to get burnt!
- – Try one of these soups for a comforting meal.
10. Muesli Bars, Grain Snacks and Nuts
Most store-bought muesli and cereal bars are made using vegetable oils, sometimes hydrogenated, and loads of sugar. Ideally, you shouldn’t be getting more than 20% of your energy from sugars, which translates to around 6g per bar, or 20g per 100. I prefer to stick to around 12-15g and only make store-bought bars an occasional treat. Some schools are also nut-free so try to find bars that don’t contain nuts.
- – When catering for school lunch boxes, you may want to omit peanuts and nuts from the recipes, because most schools are nut-free due to the risk of allergies. Otherwise, almonds, cashews, brazil nuts and macadamias make for a healthy and nutritious snack.
- – Avoid muesli bars that have more than 20g of sugar per 100g, such as these – yes, the list includes popular LCMs and Milo bars, but Nutrigrain bars should also be on that list. They have very little nutritional value, contain loads of sugar and unhealthy hydrogenated fats.
- – Opt for home-made alternatives (we love the pumpkin muesli bars from Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar Kids Cookbook)
- – Our everyday muesli bar pick is Caraman’s Original, and for a more indulgent treat we like Brookfarm’s bars and the recently discovered Food for Health Fruit-free Bars and Fructose-free Bars which are also gluten-, dairy- and other common allergen-free.
- – DIY Popcorn – pop some corn in a warm pan greased with coconut oil and sprinkle lightly with salt or some cinnamon for a healthy, good-fat snack and little waste.
11. Keep Hydrated with Filtered Water
Most of the juice poppers available on the market are made from reconstituted fruit juice or concentrate. It means that the actual good fruit content, such as fibre and vitamins, is very minimal due to over-processing. Poppers and most fruit juices also often contain added sugar and preservatives too.
- – Get a good reusable BPA-free water bottle that is freezer safe. If you freeze it the night before, the water will stay cold for most of the day. It will also help keep your lunch box cool.
- – Many of the flavoured waters on the market are high in sugar and other nasties, so always read the labels. If you prefer your water flavoured, add some coconut water or squeeze in some lemon juice.
Fussy Kids? Try this!
Whether you like it or not, healthy eating habits take a while to set in, especially with kids. Rome wasn’t built in a day so there is no need to change every unhealthy like straight away. But it pays to make the changes sooner and getting your kids involved in preparing the food is one of the key ways to helping them toward healthier food choices.
- Start small; change one or two things at a time. Omit that unhealthy snack from the menu, or add some veggies for snacking. Swap the bread for wholemeal. Simple steps.
- Talk to your kids and explain to them the benefits of eating more fresh and raw foods. If you don’t know the benefits, have a look online, or ask someone who knows.
- Look for fruit and vegetables in season, they are cheaper and generally more flavoursome and nutritious.
- Reward your kids with a special treat one day a week: be it a small scoop of ice cream after school or a wholemeal raspberry muffin, homemade gummy bears or no added sugar Cherry Ripe in their lunchbox. This way you’ll get to control the amount of sugar, avoid nasty preservatives in your snacks and make sure that your kids understand the significance of sometimes foods.
Lunchbox Food Safety
Remember that it is important to keep your lunchbox cool, otherwise harmful bacteria might grow and spread in the food. This is especially true for meats and some dairy products.
- – Use well insulated lunch boxes or cooler bags with a small ice brick or a frozen drink to keep contents cool.
- – Prepare lunch the night before and keep it in the fridge until leaving. This way it will keep cooler for longer.
- – When at school / workplace keep your lunch bag in a shady spot.
Do you have any other mindful healthy lunchbox tips to add? Share in the comments below. Recipes, tips and your favourite brands.