Ten Unprocessed School Lunch Ideas

Shaina Olmanson is the home cook and photographer behind Food for My Family and Olmanson Photography.  Working from home as a freelance writer and raising her four young kids with her husband Ole, they strive to teach them the importance of growing, preparing and eating real food in a day and age where many people have turned to convenience foods because they are so readily available — and they hope to encourage others to do the same. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Fresh Produce Healthy School Lunch

A few weeks ago there was an aligning of the stars. Immediately after signing the October Unprocessed challenge, my son returned home from school with papers and activities for one of his first big social studies lessons, including a field trip form. Like his sister before him, he would be studying American history, starting with a look into what life was like for a child his age in the 1800s.

With one daughter already having visited Gibb’s Farm, a museum from a family who settled here in the 1800s, convincing my children that we would spend a week eating like pioneers wasn’t a hard sell. The younger two were easily convinced with promises of rolled fruit leather and unlimited apples for snacks.

A plan was instantly put into place that involved getting the entire family on board with our “pioneering week” of unprocessed where we would make our own butter and then use that and meat drippings as our oil for the challenge. The following weeks we decided we would focus on a more sustainable way of whole food eating and no processed convenience foods. Like Aimee, this is something that works well for our family.

A Hurdle to Unprocessed School Lunches

The first hurdle we needed to get over to truly complete the unprocessed challenge was looking at what was going to school in our lunch boxes. While my children are used to having lunches packed from home, there are a few items that we would be missing during the challenge that are sometimes used to help switch lunch up and make it interesting: A fruit rope here and there, a packet of organic yogurt or the conveniently packaged applesauce.

While these things aren’t really necessary and can be substituted, they do serve to make lunch more interesting and to keep the attention of three kids in a sea of school lunches, chocolate sandwich cookies, and juice boxes. Obviously we’d need to rethink our snacks and lunches to make sure opening their lunch would be more of a fun exploration than five school days of the same foods packaged in the exact same way each day.

Here are ten unprocessed snacks and meal ideas that you can pack in your child’s school lunch that will keep them interested and begging for you to pack it again the next day.

1. Fresh Raw Produce

This seems like the most obvious choice to include in a lunch, especially if your kids are interested in eating them. Our favorites include apples, berries, cherries, bell peppers, and carrots. Cutting fruits and vegetables into manageable, bite-sized pieces can help make eating them easier, especially when lunchtimes are limited.

2. Dried Fruits and Vegetables

When your kid gets sick of having an apple a day, try instead the dried version. These are more fruit-snack-like, and they taste sweeter because the natural sugar is concentrated. Dried apples or apple chips, bananas, mangoes, raisins and cranberries are all great options.

Get a recipe for maple apple chips.

3. Homemade Fruit Roll-Ups

If your kids are missing fruit snacks or gelatin fruit cups, impress them by cooking down apples and honey to make their very own. I remember the first time these appeared in our house, my kids proclaimed my status as the best mom ever. I’m okay with that.

Get a recipe for pumpkin pie fruit roll-ups.

4. Hummus

There’s something magical when it comes to dips for most kids, and equally as amazing and astounding is how making food with them can turn bland and boring into something they actually request. My formerly hummus-hating son declared homemade hummus his preferred protein of choice recently.

Get a recipe for roasted broccoli hummus.

5. Granola Bars

Granola bars make a great snack to add to lunch boxes, chock full of rolled oats, dried fruits, coconut, flax and held together with honey. They’re easily customizable to your child’s personal palate.

Get a recipe for chewy granola bars.

6. Popcorn

A popular snack around these parts, we make our popcorn over the stove generally, but it can also be made air popped in the microwave without any added fats. A bit of butter and salt over organic popcorn is a simple and fun snack for kids.

Get a recipe for paper bag microwave popcorn.

7. Eggs

I love sending eggs as a protein source. They’re easy to do ahead and then peel and pop in the lunch box the night before. I send them with a pinch of salt, or I’ll make deviled eggs with homemade mayonnaise and sandwich the two sides together to keep them from spilling or rolling around.

Get a recipe for hard-boiled eggs.

8. Homemade Yogurt

We love yogurt around here, and we love yogurt in lunches as well (usually frozen a bit before being sent to school.) Making homemade yogurt will require live cultures from already made yogurt, but once you have it started, you can make yogurt again and again and again.

Get a recipe for homemade yogurt.

9. Soups

Soup is a great unprocessed food. Sent in a preheated insulated container, it can be made with homemade stock, vegetables and leftover meats for a complete meal in and of itself.

Get a recipe for creamy turkey and wild rice soup.

10. Seeds and Nuts

Seeds and nuts are always a great option to get protein and healthy fats into your child’s diet. Plus, they’ll help keep them full longer, avoiding midday hunger pains. We buy your seeds and nuts raw and roast and flavor them ourselves. Seeing as it’s pumpkin season, pumpkin seeds are the obvious choice of the moment. Bonus points if the kids scoop them out of the pumpkin they’re about to carve.

Get a recipe for toasted pumpkin seeds three ways.

What unprocessed lunch ideas do you utilize to keep your kids interested and engaged while going through the challenge?

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43 Responses to Ten Unprocessed School Lunch Ideas

  1. BreAnna | Crafty Coin August 15, 2015 at 9:36 pm #

    Such simple, but great ideas!!

  2. hillary October 10, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    Love all of these ideas. Do you have another granola bar recipe? I tried the one you recommended (and really followed the recipe exactly) and I ended up with a pan of granola crumbles…so sad!).

    • Andrew October 10, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

      Hmm. I don’t have another granola bar recipe handy, BUT, I’m going to be running a post on how to make your own Lara bars within the next few days. Stay tuned!

  3. The Healthy Apple September 13, 2012 at 5:34 am #

    LOVE these ideas, Andrew. Miss you and hope you are well. Sending you hugs from the East Coast.

  4. Teresa September 3, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

    I have a child that has sensory issues along with other things and he has difficulty with textures! He will only eat things that have crunch . He can’t tolerate anything soft or mushy. He is very picky. He wont even eat a sandwich. Last year, for kindergarten, I practically sent him to school everyday with chicken!! With school approaching again, I just dont know what to do….any suggestions?!?!

  5. Laurie Endicott Thomas November 6, 2011 at 7:57 am #

    There’s no need whatsoever to include animal protein, such as eggs and dairy products, in a child’s diet. Nor is there any need to worry about “protein sources.” Gorillas somehow manage to get enough protein from eating nothing but salad. Human beings, on the other hand, thrive on a diet that is based on grains and starchy vegetables. http://www.gorillaprotein.com/protein_deficiency.html

  6. Susie October 20, 2011 at 9:47 pm #

    Great ideas! Do you have a recipe for the crackers in the picture? Or any other tasty homemade crackers?

    Also, I cut up apples and squeeze a bit of orange over them. They stay crispy and don’t brown. My kids love them this way!

  7. sarah henry October 19, 2011 at 11:06 pm #

    Working on a story about school lunch ideas right now. Will add this link to the mix.

  8. Kati @ Around the Plate October 17, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    These are such delicious options for any school lunch! Yum!

  9. Jen October 14, 2011 at 8:48 pm #

    Great post, thanks for sharing! I generally incorporate these types of foods in my daughter’s lunch (she’s in preschool and a very adventurous eater!) I hadn’t thought about adding eggs or hummus, which I think she’ll also love. A couple of unprocessed items I also include are beans and lentils, as well as slices of whole-grain breads.

  10. Andrea Omgard October 13, 2011 at 11:38 pm #

    I love your ideas! From my experience most children like fruits,
    but often don`t want to eat vegetables. To cut it in a different way, than usually might help. Cutting a carrot lengthwise, to get long sticks, or small red radishes into flowers, doesn`t take long
    and looks interesting to small kids.
    Here in southern Germany we have a special kitchen tool, used for cutting big white radish into long helices. Also cucumbers or carrots can be cut like this.
    As my daughter went to a multiculti school her radish “garlands”
    used to be THE attraction, as many kids from Turkey, Russia or Vietnam hadn`t seen a radish necklace before, that could be eaten.
    It was contagious. A Romanian mother called me at home, how I cut this radish and I had a long talk with a mother from Iran.
    Well it took so long, because she couldn`t speak German, but wanted to buy the radish cutter.
    Telling kids, how healthy vegetables are, is boring.
    Kids feel healthy, they want to play.
    So why not let them play with food, let them cook…

    • Shaina October 14, 2011 at 8:02 am #

      Thank you, Andrea! We completely agree. If kids are involved in their food choices, they’re much more likely to try and like them. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with getting your hands dirty and making food fun, either.

  11. Char October 12, 2011 at 4:20 am #

    Two items that have proven to be big hits with my kids this year are sugar snap peas (or snow peas) and Clementine oranges. My kids eat the snap peas like most kids eat chips and the Clementine oranges are just too cute not to love.

  12. Veronica October 11, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    Does anyone know where the “lunch box” featured in the image is from?


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