Brown Bag Redo—Kids Edition

Paper lunch bags with red apple on school deskMost kids go to school about 180 days each year, which means you’re packing 180 lunches—or more, if you have multiple children. It’s natural about this time of year for old routines to get stale—for parents and kids.

Luckily, there are plenty of healthy and delicious Primal lunch choices for kids. Here you’ll find inspiration and a few helpful tips that will make packing kids’ lunches an easy task instead of a dreaded chore.

Leftovers Make Life Easier

Protein that can be eaten without utensils is perfect for school lunches, so make a double (or triple) batch for dinner and pack leftovers for lunch. Think chicken thighs and drumsticks, meatballs, skewers, meatloaf and sliced steak.

Maintain a Running List

It’s amazing how easy it is to blank out each week when it’s time to write a shopping list for school lunches. Here’s a simple trick: Make a list of lunches that you know your kids will eat and keep the list on your refrigerator at all times. Simply refer to your lunch list each week for lunch planning (instead of getting overwhelmed on Pinterest).

Keep the Sides Simple

If you have time to bake or cook homemade snacks, great! But there’s no reason to feel guilty if you don’t. Simple, whole foods are the healthiest and easiest option for school lunches. Fresh fruit, raw veggies, nuts, beef jerky, olives, cheese, and plain whole milk yogurt are all delicious options you can stock up on each week. For variety, include dip for fruit (like coconut butter) and/or dip for veggies (Primal Kitchen® Mayo and Salad Dressings, pesto, tapenade, guacamole).

7 Lunch Box Menus

Primal Aviary

1. Chicken drumsticks + Primal Kitchen Ranch Dressing for Dipping + Cherry Tomatoes + Olives + Carrot Sticks + Green Beans

Variations: Chicken thighs instead of drumsticks


Primal Aviary

2. Meatball + Cherry Tomato Skewers + Blueberries + Green Beans + Carrot Sticks

Variations: Add small mozzarella balls the skewers and pesto for dipping.

Tip: Make a few dozen meatballs and keep them in the freezer. To defrost, move meatballs into the refrigerator the night before.


Primal Aviary

3. Seaweed Snacks + Smoked Salmon/Lox + Avocado + Cucumber

Kids can assemble their own sushi wraps as they eat lunch!

Tip: To keep avocados green, drizzle a tiny bit of lemon or lime juice on top, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Pack a fork or spoon for kids to scoop out the avocado.


Primal Aviary

4. High-Quality Chicken/Turkey Deli Meat (or homemade deli meat ) Wrapped around Bacon, Lettuce, & Primal Kitchen Mayo + Hard-Boiled Egg + Olives + Fresh Berries with Coconut Butter 

Primal Aviary

5. Primal Pancake Sandwiches Filled with Nut Butter or Sunflower Seed Butter + Fresh Fruit + Beef Jerky


Primal Aviary

6. Salami Chips + Guacamole + Sliced Cucumber + Primal Cornbread 

Tip: Make salami chips by baking salami or pepperoni at 375º F for 8-10 minutes until crisp. Store overnight in an airtight container. Also, here’s how to keep guacamole green.

Variation: Pack bacon guacamole with cheddar chips.


Primal Aviary

7. Sliced Steak + Pesto + Mozzarella Cheese Sticks + Dark Chocolate + Nuts

Tip: Make steak the night before and pack leftovers for lunch.

Variation: Thread steak onto skewers with roasted vegetables, pack guacamole instead of pesto.

How do these lunches compare with your current routine? Ideas to add—for kids’ (or adults’!) lunch options? Share your favorite suggestions below, and thanks for reading, everyone. 

TAGS:  cooking tips

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44 thoughts on “Brown Bag Redo—Kids Edition”

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  1. If there were any left over steak in my house it certainly wouldn’t be going to the kids!

  2. Don’t children need more carbs than are present in these lunches?

    1. This only covers lunches. I’m sure you could account for “needed” primal carb sources at dinner.

    2. That was my thought too. Except for the one with the steak slices, there isn’t anything very substantial here. These meals look more like snacks than lunch, even for grade school kids. Also, I’m not so sure low-carb is such a great idea for rapidly growing children.

      1. One meal a day that isn’t high carb does not hurt kids. My youngest blocks his carbs with dinner – he just does despite what I serve him. He just won’t eat potato, starchy veggies, or much fruit until dinner time. He has no issues with growth. Heck, even his friend who is on a medical ketogenic diet doesn’t have growth issues!

    3. They get carbs from their friends and vending machines. They have to consciously avoid them to not get them.

    1. I thought it looked pretty good too, but I don’t think many kids would like it.

    2. LOL beat me to the punch Elizabeth! The #3 looks great followed by immediate consumption of the #2. 🙂

    3. I have to agree. If an adult wants to eat a healthy lunch it’s hard to argue about these suggestions.

  3. These sample lunches strike me as totally unrealistic. Seaweed? Lox? Pesto? C’mon… Most adults won’t eat that stuff, much less ultra-picky kids. A lunchbox redo from the old standard PB&J is probably a good idea, but few of these meals would make the grade. You have to give kids something they’ll actually eat, versus dumping in the trash, or you’re wasting both your time and money. If what they’ll eat isn’t as low carb as you’d like, then so be it.

    1. It is sad that we’ve decided our kids will only like “kid approved” foods. Kids are capable of eating the same variety of foods as adults and do so all over the world. There is nothing in the meals above that my kids would refuse to eat (they actually had sushi for dinner tonight, their request). One of my kids has severe sensory processing issues too, but we never allowed her to conform to “kid approved” foods because we just never fed them to her – we taught our kids how to eat a large variety of foods by not allowing them to decide they hated a food the first time they tried it. Really, it takes 15-20 tastes of a food before a child really knows if they like it or not.

    2. Kids we eat whatever you program them to eat in the first few months of life – its totally true and I’ve observed this for myself.

      It is as if there brain is absorbing what foods are safe to eat based on what the parents feed in the first few months (even weeks) – this makes sense from an evolutionary point of view.

      If you program your kids to eat junk food, its neigh impossible to reprogram them later.

      1. Kids will eat whatever they are programmed to eat only as long as you have total control. Once they reach school age that all changes. Have you ever noticed all the fast food joints within a block or two of the schools? They are well aware of what you turn a blind eye to. I’m not suggesting kids should be allowed to eat junk, but I’m not an advocate of carb restriction for growing kids either. There’s plenty of time for that later in their lives. Meanwhile it might be a better idea to increase the carbs needed for growth and energy while still controlling the quality.

    3. My kids are 5 and 3 years old and this is exactly what their lunches look like and there is barely any waste! I’ve brought them up eating the foods I eat, not processed “kid approved” crap.

    4. I dunno. It’s all in how you introduce them to foods when they’re babies. If you just give them normal food rather than assuming they won’t like it, they’ll eat normal food.

      My two year old eats whatever we eat. When we first introduced her to solid foods at 6 months, we just gave her whatever we were having. She has her own likes and dislikes, of course, just like any other person, but she’s got a pretty broad range of foods she likes. Just yesterday, she was “helping” me with the cooking and munching on raw onions and garlic.

  4. I want to eat all of them RIGHT NOW! Wish I’d had these when I was a kid.

  5. Love this! I often hear parents say, “Oh, but my kids would never eat primal/paleo”. Oh, come ON! You know what your kids will eat? They’ll eat what you feed them. Period. Great to see a post focusing on kids. Because, Mark, you’re not going to amass that Primal army without the next generation.

    1. Well, sad to say I’ve retrieved black not eaten wonderful meals from the bottom of the back pack too many times to believe he’d ever eat anything that is remotely good for him, but he’s a teen so I’m not throwing my $$ away until he actually eats the real food……. maybe when he gets a girlfriend and wants the skin to clear a bit?

  6. I don’t have kids either, but this is a great set of ideas to help with hubby lunches. These are also good for traveling lunches (we RV a lot) or knowing you have to take something along in a cooler. I’m good with a salad and protein, but husband is more traditional about lunch. These would all pass muster with him. Sure, I could spend time thinking of these ideas myself, but I so appreciate a set of ideas all in one place!

  7. My carb loving kiddo is having a hard time letting go of his favorite snacks (goldfish, popcorn, crackers, granola bars). We finally phased out bread for sandwiches and do ‘sandwich rollups’ now: havarti cheese, chicken breast, and cream cheese rolled up and cut into 4 two bite pieces – or some other variation on this. We have also started putting hard boiled eggs or egg salad in there – he was surprised to find he liked these. We discovered he likes cashews, so those are getting placed in there instead of the previous staples. We are replacing items in stages so it isn’t as obvious we are making a permanent change….

  8. Same as the last time:
    I am supposed not to eat today for 24 hours

    Now I am hungry 🙁

    Good that I read this at this time (5pm), only 3 more hours to go 🙂

  9. I’d just been thinking about this the past week, not for the kids but for me since I have to bring a lunch every day. Great suggestions to perk up the normal routine with something different.

  10. We have a number of hits. Deli turkey rolls with almond butter (or sun butter) and strawberry preserve (we use a brand that is fruit only or make our own); tuna salad (with mayo, strawberries, blueberries, pickles and a dust of cayenne) and carrot sticks; and leftover paleo pizza, which you can make the crust with cauliflower, or you can do plantain and turn it into a mexican pizza. I do a lot with making it attractive, including using little shape cutters on fruits and vegetables, special little cups for dressings or separating items – just that sort of thing. My kid is sadly up against some kids that make fun of her food options at lunch, so I aim to make them envious they didn’t get her lunch. The more effort I put into making it look better, the more of it seems to get eaten, so I hope it is working!

  11. My 10 year old grand daughter would eat most of the the stuff in these lunches although it might not be in the same order/combinations as suggested. I personally like the idea of limiting carbs at lunch especially if you want them to stay awake for the rest of the afternoon.

  12. I love this post for the whole family! We already do versions of the chicken, salmon, and jerky. However, the salmon and meatballs are much-needed new ideas to throw into the mix–thanks. Also, for those hesitant to try these with their kiddos– don’t doubt the power of a cute bento box. Like the sample trays at the grocery stores, they magically break down food barriers. Also, it does take time to develop new habits, but these types of lunches are something we now can pull off pretty easily most weeks. We just put aside sliced veggies while prepping before dinner, pack up leftover protein after dinner, add some treats like fruit or dark chocolate, and voila!

  13. This rather makes me wonder if Mark has considered the purpose of lunch boxes. They are not a cute way of presenting dinner at home, but a method for carrying ready-to-eat food around. Not only do lunch boxes get jostled around in transit (which means that everything will get hopelessly mixed up unless packed tightly), they are also stored for long periods of time at room temperature or, if you are unlucky, next to an overheated radiator (in case you don’t know, brown and slimy apple slices are disgusting, and depending on how old leftovers are, they might become dangerous). Also, the lunches might have to be eaten in crowded environments. Imagine having to handle umpteen sticky lids and spoonfuls of goo while surrounded by a huge mass of small children, or having to eat standing up because there are too few seats and the whole place is slimy with spilled juice and chewing gum. I myself didn’t sit down for lunch during all my teenage years for precisely that reason.

    1. lol! Thanks for the trip down memory lane!! Can’t you just see the face of the cafeteria monitor when a bunch of kids start pulling out chicken drumsticks dripping in multi-colored sauces then setting them down on the cafeteria table waiting for whoever to clean up—
      It’d be even more fun when the kids start sharing or trading their stuff.

      1. Haha, yes. And I can vividly imagine the face of the next kid who has to sit in that place and is probably the one to have to clean up… Glad to know I’m not the only one who’s had this experience.

    2. Since I posted this, I’ve been thinking about how to mitigate the problems I mentioned above, and hit upon the following:
      1. Smoothies and drinkable chilled soups with cooked produce. The cooking stops the produce from oxidizing and something that can be drunk minimizes mess, if you choose the right container. Also, it is easy to add extra calories from things like cream or olive oil. Chilled, soups, by the way, are great: I used to think I hated soup until I tried to eat some cold. Most soups can be eaten chilled, and there are also dedicated recipes online.
      2. Lactofermented vegetables. I just made an experiment where I left a fermented cucumber sit on the kitchen counter for above 24 hours, and it tasted just fine. Sliced fresh cucumber left out for the same time would be compost material. The downside of this is that they are moist, but if you choose non-juicy veg like carrots or cauliflower the moisture should be largely salt water and not too messy.
      3. Produce small enough to eat whole. This includes naturally small things like blueberries and grapes, but also small versions of vegetables like carrots and cucumbers, which are small enough to eat without cutting. This prevents both spoilage and mess from contact with juicy cutting surfaces.
      4. Dried foods. Dried meats and nuts are actually mentioned in the article, but certain types of produce also become non-sticky when dried, such as strawberries. Dark chocolate is not sticky either (unless you hold onto it too long). Dried foods are remarkably resistant to spoilage, so they can be used as backups if your children tend to eat different amounts of food on different days.
      5. Onigirazu. These Japanese rice sandwiches make use of the fact that nori sheets, after becoming tough and chewy, will eventually become soft and easy to chew when exposed to moisture. I’ve had a bit of trouble getting the rice right, but the results in recipe videos seem easy enough to eat. This might be a good choice for sports days when more carbs are wanted.
      6. Foods which can be packed tightly into the available container. This in another tip from Japanese bento box making. Tightly packed foods will not bruise or break apart even when running to the bus.

  14. I highly recommend the PlanetBox for school lunches. We used the one that opens up like a clamshell and just stays sitting on the cover. I would make a sandwich on Aldi brand sprouted bread (conformity!) using homemade nut butter and raw honey, uncured meat and cheese, or salmon or tuna moistened with avocado oil. One spot was usually filled with cubes of Kerrygold Dubliner, one with grapes, raisins or other dried fruits, or apples if I had time to dip them in lemon water that morning, and one with raw veggies. The little tiny spot in the middle held a piece of Schogetten dark chocolate from Aldi. The “Big Dipper” went in the outside pouch holding pistachios or macadamia nuts, or sometimes large coconut flakes. Every day, my son would carry a large Klean Kanteen full of water with Concentrace drops in his backpack and a small KK with unsweetened green tea or coffee would go in the PlanetBox for lunch.

    His teachers always remarked on how healthy his lunches were but especially how impressed they were that he actually devoured every bite! So yes, even uncultured American kids can eat well if they are presented with good whole food at home as the norm.

  15. I’m actually surprised (but I guess I shouldn’t be) that there were negative comments to this post. I thought it was great! Thanks Mark!

  16. My 11 year old probably needs 3 x the food shown in these lunches! And no nuts of any kind are allowed, and the 11 year old will eat nothing with coconut in it which really makes things tricky. I never have an issue getting my kids to eat lots of veggies and fruits, but getting anything with a substantial amount of calories into them can be tricky. I’ve tried sending dips to school, but they always seem to forget about them and they never get eaten. Despite eating primal for 8 years, neither kid likes cold meat. Any meat sent to school usually comes home at the end of the day to be reheated and then eaten after school. They will occasionally eat/take deli meat, but I really try and limit how much of that they have.

    One of their favourite lunchbox treats is gummi bears – I bought some cute little molds and mix 2 1/2 cups of fruit with 1/2 cup lemon juice and a TBSP of honey and then add 1/2 a cup of gelatin and have the kids pipe it into the molds. They make a nice tart/fruity candy that I don’t mind the kids eating.

  17. Chopped quinoa salads are great portable lunches. A little bit of quinoa goes a long way. A half cup is only 20 grams of carbs and is there just to soak up extra liquid and favors from the good stuff. Some favorites are chicken pesto, Greek (feta cheese, chopped cucumber, tomato, red onion, fresh dill) Mexican( pico de gallo, shredded cheese, taco seasoning). It all fits in one container and all you need is a spoon to consume it.

  18. I have my 2 young grands every other week. They each have a short wide mouth thermos. I warm up, home made soup, chili, chicken and rice, meat balls, what ever left over that will fit nicely in the thermos. The week I don’t have them, I do freezer cooking so there is always a good hot meal for school lunch. Ad some home made trail mix, cheese chunks, fruit and a spoon, they are good to go.

  19. The state of kids lunches today is horrendous! I went to sit with my preschooler the other day and I saw a sea of Doritos, cookies, cheese puffs, all processed crap! It’s amazing to me, when they are that young you still have control over what they eat, so why feed them junk?? My poor kid with his fruit and avocado sandwich. I know bread is bad too but I’m not perfect.

  20. Does anyone know what lunch boxes/ bento boxes are pictured in this post? Thanks!