Healthy Lunchbox Alternatives, a Guest Post for And Love it Too

If you recall, last year we did a guest post for Sunny of And Love it Too on packing paleo lunches for school. We’ve included those ideas for you at the end as our daily suggestions.  As a quick reminder, we also discussed the topic of healthy lunches quite extensively on the first episode of our podcast, The Paleo View. We also cover this topic in our book, Eat Like a Dinosaur.

Due to our personal experiences last year with lunch packing, when Sunny asked us this year to contribute to her annual round-up, we wanted our annual post to focus more on food “replacers” as an option for alternative choices. Otherwise known as, food that looks the same as what the other kids are eating.

As our oldest child moved up in grade school, the challenge of packing a “normal” looking lunch in order to avoid being “different” and teased became more complex. So, this post is full of ideas for dealing with the emotional emergency of Johnny says I’m weird and teases me because I don’t eat yogurt and chips.

Also, it’s a very real and overwhelming problem of converting to always homemade real food for so many people. Going from prepackaged foods like chips, yogurts, cheese sticks, and fruit cocktails and instead using whole ingredients and packing from the fridge instead of the pantry can be quite daunting in the rushed morning. Even worse, many people don’t know what to do in place of that old lunchroom standby, the sandwich. I thought it might be helpful to share some of our best tricks t0 replace those easy-on-hand products with better* versions.

Replace Sandwich Bread with Pure Wraps

Let me address the biggest hair-tearing quandary straight off. So many people tell me they can’t imagine packing a lunch without also packing a sandwich. Unfortunately, regular bread is the most gluteny, high-carb food product you can buy (not to mention that most grocery store breads are full of all kinds of crazy chemical preservatives. The gluten-free replacements aren’t much better: they’re usually based on other grains like rice or heavy starches like tapioca or potato, along with containing the same preservatives. Not only that, but they often have seed oils and bean products (like guar gum), and don’t even have the texture and mouthfeel of real bread anyway. What’s a parent with lunchmeat to do?

Enter a favorite of ours, Pure Wraps. Somehow, the folks at Improv’eat have figured out a way to make a tortilla using only coconut meat, coconut water, and salt. They’re like tortillas with a slightly stiff bite and are pretty delicious on top of it! Use it like you would any wrap! We like to use ham or turkey wrapped with avocado slices or use them for tuna salad.


Replace Pudding or Yogurt with Almond or Coconut Milk Yogurt

If you’re dairy-free like us, losing Bill Cosby’s favorite treat and the staple of yoga moms everywhere was very hard for us. I believe the human palate has a desire for different textures even more powerful than its desire for different “food groups” and yogurt and pudding hit that creamy spot and are very hard to replace without the whole lot of effort of cooking custard on the stove or fermenting your own yogurts over the course of several days.

Luckily, you can now find coconut milk and almond milk yogurts in most higher quality and health food stores (including Whole Foods), many grocery stores (like Wegman’s) and even on Amazon. The texture is practically identical to regular yogurts and there are the same variety of flavors Dannon and Yoplait will give you. They’re even free of evil soybeans! So when your kids become jealous of their friends’ strawberry yogurt, you can confidently send them to school with a strawberry coconut yogurt.

Replace Chips with Banana Chips or Healthier Potato Chips

Nothing says empty calories and rancid seed oils more than Doritos and cheese puffs! Then again, nothing appeals the child’s palate more than a salty crunchy carb! Instead of potato chips, why not give them a crunchy food that also contains some mineral and vitamin content? Still not the best choice, but a really special treat your kids will love!

We are able to find a plain brand like this one in our regular grocery store, but try to plan ahead by ordering online and choosing brands that cook with safe fats & oils – these Avocado Oil Potato Chips and Banana Chips in Coconut Oil are always big favorites with our boys. They love using cool reusable baggies, which saves the environment and our money!

Replace Crackers and Popcorn with SeaSnax, Coconut Chips or Trail Mix

No, really! You’re already thinking that your kids won’t like seaweed, but these green wonders are actually really delicious! They’re salty, but contain all the mineral content you’d ideally want from a snack. Did you know that seaweed is one of the best sources for iodine, a key mineral in thyroid function, that we can find? We buy cases of SeaSnax and pack them several times a week.

Coconut and fruit and nuts are also much more nutrient dense sources for snacking, our boys LOVE making their own trail mix with their favorite nuts, dried fruit and coconut – or there are plenty pre-made options available at Trader Joe’s or Amazon.

Replace Fruit Cocktail with Apple Sauce Pouches

If you ever look at the side of a fruit cocktail cup and actually read the ingredients and nutritional content, you’ll find that this is not a healthy fruit source of vitamins and minerals, but rather an insidious sugar delivery system that amps up the sweetener, especially the corn syrup, content. So, instead, I pack him an all-natural unsweetened apple sauce squeeze pouch. It’s fun to suck up applesauce from a straw! Plus, a natural applesauce is much lower in sugar than indeterminate fruit pieces cased in syrup!

Replace Granola Bars with Larabars

Nothing, to me, is more overhyped as a health food than ye olde granola bar. When I was growing up, this was the healthy alternative to candy bars and moms were always using it as the default snack. Unfortunately, soon the default granola bar was the Chewy brand, practically a candy bar with HFCS and chocolate chips and marshmallows.

Even the healthy and natural versions have added sugar and, of course, grains. Larabar takes a different tact. All the ingredients in this delicious snack are dried fruit and nuts. All you do is mash together all these ingredients and you’ve got a real whole food snack to replace your granola! We have recipes to make your own Fruit & Nut bars in Eat Like a Dinosaur, but even we take shortcuts too!

Replace Cheese Sticks with Black Olives

In our preschool, the default snack that parents provide seems to always be cheese sticks. Unfortunately, I know that nothing good will come from my son eating that processed cheese stick. What are they really getting from cheese anyway? Mostly fat. So why not replace that fat source with heathy olive oil? The sacred olive fruit is a perfect snack and we eat them by the bowlful! Best of all? We can subscribe and save some cases of BPA-free cans!

*Please note, some of these options aren’t the best choices. However, when you’re converting to whole foods from processed, when you’re dealing with children’s emotions and the trauma of being teased, or simply about to give up all together if you can’t find shortcuts – these foods are much better choices than their alternatives.

Here is what our children’s lunches usually look like, when we’re able to plan and everyone’s feeling strong about their healthful looking lunches. You’ll note, half the battle is with the cool accessories, which we post on our site here!

I hope this post has been of use to you and you can now be less stressed about leaving behind your formerly standard packed lunch items; time doesn’t have to be a limiting factor from having a nutrient dense and wholesome kid-friendly lunch!

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  • Kati

    These are great lunch ideas! Can’t wait to explore your site some more. Thanks!

  • AheadofStraight

    Fab ideas! I never heard of the wraps before and will have to check them out. Have you ever tried the Paleo Bread? I buy the So Delicious yogurt too but the ingredients list is not great at all…

    • Paleo Bread is made with psyllium, so we don’t buy it. We agree on the yogurts, but they’re very occasional choices, and are no worse comparatively than regular yogurt.

  • Thank you so much! I was just pondering lunch ideas. I have 5 kids who need lunches and it can be a bit daunting. I have a system figured out and am ready to get started! these tips are fantastic.

  • scapegoated

    I just tried those Pure Wraps this weekend! They’re great! I found that tomatoes weren’t the best as one of the fillings because they’re so moist that they made the wrap get into a kind of almost dissolving state by the time I went to eat it. Other than that…delicious!
    Lots of great ideas here, your kids must LOVE their lunches!

  • This makes me want to pack a lunchbox for myself!

  • Lisa W

    Packed my son a Lunch with those Pure Wraps one day after trying them and thinking they were great. Turns out lunch is too far away with moist insides and the wrap sort of dissolved like the PP said. I suggested to your readers packing it separately in a dry ziplock or something.

    • Hmm, we haven’t had the product, but we don’t put tomatoes or anything super juicy on his wraps. When we picnic, though, we do assemble on-site.

  • christin

    Where do you buy the cold cuts that dont contain sugar or any other preservatives?

    • USWM (in our sidebar) and applegate, available at almost all grocery stores, are what we use.

  • Andie

    Yikes! The long list of ingredients in the So yogurt is not appealing…Xantham, Guar Gum, cane sugar, carrageenan. I get that regular yogurt isn’t much better, but that recommendation is scary.

    • To each their own, although we did provide a disclaimer.

      It’s important to do what works for your family, and with a 2nd grader desperate to feel normal and highly intolerant to casein, we take no issue with the occasional consumption of this product; by no means is this “scary” to us, but we certainly call it a treat.

  • Loretta

    Did you realize the title of this post has lunchbox spelled wrong? Love all of these replacements, by the way!

  • This is great. My oldest starts full day Kindergarten next week and this is my first go at making lunches! Thanks for helping our little Primal family make this easier!

  • SpecialK

    Thanks so much for these ideas. I have three young boys and really want them to eat as Paleo as possible.

  • Lisa

    Did you find it hard to transition your older kids to the Paleo lifestyle? My 4.5 year old LOVES bread, and is a very fussy eater and can’t imagine how I could change that, but really want to!

    • We’ve got LOTS of information on the site (kid centric tag in the right sidebar) and in our book, Eat Like a Dinosaur, on this exact scenario. Also video blogs and podcasts focused on this topic 🙂 It can be done with patience and love – good luck!

  • Julialyn

    Are you aware of a almond or coconut milk that doesn’t have carageenan? My kids and I are all pretty reactive (moderate to strong intolerance) to corn…..carageenan and tocopherols seem to be problematic more often than not. Would love to know if there are any that you know of as I haven’t found any :(. Tx!!!!!

    • The Urban Poser

      W make them homemade. Or use Natural Value canned guar gum free full fat coconut milk and cut it with water to desired thickens. It just has to be shaken before drinking and it thickens in the fridge some. We make ours a day ahead so I can account for the thickness.

  • Vanessa Coughlin

    you speak of wegmans…I <3 this blog. 🙂

  • Melissa Farrington Boals

    Where do you get the cute lunch boxes? Thank you

  • This year I’ll be packing four lunches a day (yikes) for kids ranging from 4-14. I find the lower grades aren’t so bad b/c kids are more accepting, but the higher grades present a challenge. A divided lunch container is a must IMO!

    I tend to bake a lot of snacks since it’s more economical, and here in Canada we don’t have access to as many store bought items that are GF/Paleo. I also do homemade nut free trail mix, since schools in Ontario don’t allow nuts of any kind. I would love to have the option of tossing a Larabar in their lunch some days!

    I don’t buy a lot of packaged snacks, but a little container of applesauce or packaged fruit leather go a long ways towards making a kid’s lunch look “normal” and the time savings is a plus on busy mornings.

  • Matthew Turland
  • Shannon

    Don’t most schools have nut free policies? Our school is not only nut-free but coconut free. This has made replacements pretty tricky as all the baked goods I make at home are made from coconut flour/oil. We are having a tricky time with school lunches because of this!

    • It seems like in the States many school allow nuts, although not always peanuts. I guess it depends on your area. Our schools allow coconut, but no peanuts, tree nuts or (and I hate this) anything that may look or smell like a nut “just in case”. So no pumpkin seed or sunflower seed butter, hemp hearts in baking, etc. Very limiting when you already don’t do grains or processed foods like lunch meat :/

  • jodie

    We are gluten-free and mostly dairy-free in our home and just transitioning to paleo. My kids are doing fine and really adjusting well, they never really got bread so they don’t miss it. My biggest road-block with packing lunches is that my kids’ preschool is nut-free. No nuts of any kind and they discourage food that was packaged on shared equipment. I’ve even been told that coconut is not okay because the child attending has a tree-nut allergy:( Does anyone else have kids in nut-free schools and how to you address that??

    • Schools in our area are also nut free, although they do allow coconut. Any packaged snacks need to be made in a nut free facility. It definitely presents a challenge, although I appreciate that they want to keep kids safe.

      In the past we’ve also had bans on eggs, fish, pineapple, bananas and kiwi… between the schools restrictions and our own dietary needs/restrictions it can be tough and requires a lot of planning and prep!

  • Deb

    I have to ask – when you pack an avocado, does it not get too brown by lunchtime for kids to eat? Can’t pack knives – everything has to be pre-cut, and my little one hasn’t got nearly enough lunch time to eat a whole avocado, not unless it’s the whole lunch. If you’ve found a way around the “Mom, I didn’t eat the avocado because it was brown and gross!” thing, especially if it doesn’t involve plastic wrap that’ll join the waste stream, I’m all over that!

    • MaryD

      It’s my understanding that if you put part of the seed in with the slices, it’s not supposed to turn brown. Some people place the seed as decoration in the middle of a bowl of guacamole to keep it from browning, or grind a tiny portion of the seed in the guacamole.

  • Shan

    Thanks so much for this post! I am transitioning my kids and my husband-kid into better eating and this will help so much!

  • Kristin Thompson Reber

    how do you get a picky eater to go along with this?