It's Back to School Season! Check out these Easy + Healthy Packed Lunch Ideas for School, Work + Busy Lifestyles, complete with eco lunch box + sustainable food packaging options.
This post is sponsored by Health Warrior and Whole Foods Market. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that make it possible for Root + Revel to provide free content and healthy living inspiration.
Whoa! It's officially Back to School season. How did this happen?! Even as a non-parent, I'm in shock by how fast this summer flew by. And I swear, every year, it seems like school starts earlier and earlier.
My much-younger brother-in-law started his sophomore year of high school on July 31st. WHAAAA?!
Whether you've got school-aged kids, are a busy working adult and/or have fallen prey to the stress of modern life, making and packing lunches (even just for yourself) may just be one of life's most demanding, tedious and inconvenient tasks. It's just so much easier to swing through a drive through or go out with co-workers or even just give your kids a few bucks for the cafeteria.
But we all know, just because something is easier does not mean it's better. And, if we're really being honest, the harder something is, the better for us it usually is, too.
I know… being a grown up is hard… you know I'd rather sit on the couch bingeing more episodes of The Handmaid's Tale instead of packing my lunch for the next day….BUT you know what? It will be so worth it when I have a delicious, healthy lunch ready and waiting for me in the morning. It'll save me money. I'll feel better. And it will be better for the environment because you know I'm not using toxic BPA-laden plastic bags,unsustainable paper products or one-use water bottles that will just end up in a landfill.
So how do I pack a delicious, healthy, eco-friendly, affordable lunch? Keep reading for my best healthy lunch ideas, tips + tricks!
Healthy Packed Lunch Ideas for School, Work + Busy Lifestyles
There are a few key concepts that I apply when it comes to packing healthy lunches.
- Love Leftovers. Easily one of the quickest, most convenient ways to pack a healthy lunch is to rely on leftovers from your dinner that night. In fact, make extras of your dinners specifically for this purpose. I try to skip anything that would get soggy in a microwave, unless you have a toaster oven handy, but pretty much any kind of leftovers work beautifully for lunch, especially soups, casseroles, big bowls of food (my personal fave!), pasta, and salads. Which brings me to…
- Separate Ingredients. When it comes to salad, it's a no-brainer that you shouldn't add the dressing before you're ready to eat. So always be sure to pack salad dressing and any other ingredients that get soggy separately.
- Keep it Simple. While I'm all about creative, innovative recipes, sometimes it's important to remember that simple foods are often the best, both for your health and your time. So you know what makes a great lunch? Classics, like healthy sandwiches–pile them high with lettuce, heirloom tomatoes, avocado and sauerkraut (get those probiotics in!), nitrate-free and/or organic deli meats (Whole Foods sells some amazing cured meats, like Vincenza Salami, Soppressata, Pepperoni and Chorizo (no antibiotics/hormones), to add some spice to your sammies. I always stock up on Applegate Organics Roasted Chicken Slices, which are a Step 3 on the Global Animal Welfare ratings, and some real cheese–Black Creek Cheddar is delicious! Another easy classic? Tuna salad. I love putting tuna salad over a bed of lettuce, sandwiched between two pieces of Canyon Bakehouse gluten-free bread, or even rolled up in some nori sheets with avocado and cucumber for a faux-sushi roll.
- Pack the Night Before: I know it's the last thing you want to do, but you'll thank yourself in the morning when you can breeze out the door by just grabbing your pre-packed lunch. Even better if you can just portion out your leftovers from dinner while they're still out.
- Let Someone Else Do the Work: While you can certainly save money by prepping everything yourself, if convenience is more important to you, buy all the pre-cut, pre-diced, pre-shredded produce, meats, cheeses, etc. that you can. Whole Foods has an incredible prepared produce department, where you can find items like pre-sliced organic apples, pre-cut fruit and veggies (perfect for hummus dippers), pre-washed and shredded lettuces. They also offer great in-house made burgers (just grill them up the night before and re-heat the next day) and I love their organic rotisserie chickens, which make great sandwich fixin's or chicken salads. In a pinch, I've been known to grab a few boxes of Bell & Evans Chicken Nuggets or Tenders–they're organic, gluten-free, easy to make, and always a crowd-pleaser (great for picky eaters, too!).
- Add Some Crunch: In my opinion, no lunch is complete without a little crunch. So I always pack a handful of organic, raw nuts (Whole Foods‘ bulk bin offers some incredible values!), gluten-free crackers (Simple Mills and Mary's Gone Crackers are my faves!), healthy chips from Jackson's Honest, and/or plenty of crunchy fruits and veggies, like apples, carrot sticks, bell pepper slices and celery.
- Eat Mindfully: Whatever you decide to pack for lunch, choose foods from eco-friendly and sustainable brands that support the health of the planet. For starters, that means choosing organic whenever possible. Organic agriculture protects everyone’s health by reducing CO2 and the toxic pesticides, herbicides, and chemicals that go into the air, soil, water, food and ultimately US. Organic farming also preserves the earth's resources for future generations. Likewise, eat as many whole foods as possible, and try to minimize the amount of packaged foods, like pre-made meals, snacks and frozen heat-and-eat items. Always read your labels! Not only is real food better for you, but they're better for the planet. Some things to look for: wild caught (Whole Foods has an awesome selection of wild-caught seafood, like salmon, swordfish, cod and shrimp–look for the Whole Catch label–which is way more sustainable and healthy than farm-raised) and Step 3+ on the Animal Welfare Rating System.
- Embrace Healthy Packaged Snacks: Yes, healthy packaged snacks actually DO exist! I know we all love making our own energy balls, granola bars and the like when time allows, but seriously, most of us just don't have time to make extra goodies like this, and then find ourselves reaching for something less than healthy come snack time. In the spirit of keeping things simple, I like stocking up on healthy snack bars like Health Warrior's Chia Bars made predominantly from superfoods. These bars actually satiate my hunger and have only three grams of sugar, which frankly is quite amazing and makes them standout as a top pick compared to the vast majority of bars out there that are laden with excessive amounts of sugar. They're also 100% plant-based and free of gluten, dairy, GMOs and soy. Get 20% off your Health Warrior order with the code rootandrevel20 on their site, or snag 'em at Thrive Market or on Amazon.
eco lunch box + sustainable food packaging
Of course, healthy packed lunches don't stop with the food. Just as important is what you're packing that food in. Here are my favorite eco lunch boxes and sustainable food packaging choices:
- Eco Lunch Box: While you can certainly take advantage of all the cutesy, themed lunch boxes, I prefer something timeless and classic that won't be “out” by the next school year. LOVE BAGS use high-quality, durable, washable and reusable fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles, which will withstand a lifetime of use. They're lined with an environmentally friendly PEVA coating, many include an insulated thermal cooler, and all materials are lab tested for consumer safety. And they come in fun, trendy patterns if that's more your style.
- Glass or stainless steel lunch containers: Step away from the BPA and single-use containers. Save the planet and your health by relying on glass or stainless steel lunch containers. Whole Foods sells Lifefactory tempered glass storage containers with cute sleeves. They're oven, microwave, freezer and dishwasher safe, and the medical-grade silicone sleeves provide protection and include button tabs to secure the lids during transport. Even the lids are made of BPA/BPS-free polypropylene (PP#5) and are dishwasher safe.
- Reusable Glass Water Bottles: There are few things worse for the environment than single-serving bottled waters. Just say no! Instead, spend the $20 it costs to buy a reusable glass water bottle and pour your drink of choice into that for lunch every day. Whole Foods sells Lifefactory Glass Water Bottless with colorful silicone sleeves.
- Recyclable Paper Products: If you do have to use single-use bags and paper products, opt for brands that make theirs with recycled materials, like If You Care Unbleached Paper Sandwich and Snack Bags, which are made exclusively from the unbleached pulp of Scandinavian spruce trees—a natural, renewable resource. They are not treated with petroleum-based paraffin wax or any other wax. The pure wood pulp is specially ground and pressed to form a natural barrier that prevents grease or fat from penetrating, making them ideal for sandwiches that use mayo or oil. Like all If You Care® paper products, these sandwich and snack bags are gluten free, allergen free, chlorine-free, and are certified compostable for home/backyard and industrial/municipal composting. And instead of packing paper napkins, hit up a thrift store for some reusable cloth napkins you can pack and wash between uses. Whole Foods also sells Recycled Cutlery, like Preserve, that's BPA free and made in the USA.
- Eco-Friendly Baggies: If you love the convenience of Zip Lock, but hate the harmful consequences of plastic, check out some of the eco-friendly alternatives to plastic bags sold at Whole Foods. BioBag's Certified Compostable Resealable Sandwich Bags are made without plasticizers or other harmful additives, while Natural Value's Reclosable Sandwich Bags are BPA and PVC free, made without plasticizers, and packaged in materials made from 100% recycled paperboard.
Whole Foods is my go-to grocery store for healthy packed lunches. Find a store near you, or order grocery delivery to your door through Instacart.
There you have it. Easy + Healthy Packed Lunch Ideas, complete with Eco lunch boxes and sustainable food packaging. What are you packing for lunch tomorrow? Share in the comments below!
Photo Credit: Heidi Geldhauser
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