Packing a Paleo Lunch is Easier Than You Think

Thanks to Sunny, I finally have the motivation to make a post that’s been long overdue. I know one of the hardest challenges for us in the beginning of adapting a Paleo lifestyle (that’s removal of dairy, grains, legumes, sugar, chemicals and all processed foods) was figuring out what to pack for lunch. Breakfast was easy enough, since we love eggs. And dinner can simply be solved by replacing grains with salad on most meals we were making before. But lunch, what a challenge!

However, lunch really isn’t that hard – or at least it doesn’t need to be. It took a few weeks (OK, maybe months) for us to finally re-conceive what a packed lunch looks like – but now we’ve got it down and it’s not at all hard anymore. In fact, the sheer simplicity is what has kept us from making a post before this point. We realize there’s more options without bread, than there ever was with it. It was Sunny who asked us to guest blog a lunch box guest blogger series, featuring packed lunch ideas for the back-to-school fears keeping a few moms up late at night. Thanks for the gentle nudge and thinking of us!

I notice that most healthy lunch boxes I see online use images of glass containers, which are seriously fantastic in our home. However, I do not trust our boys with breakable items for school. If you met my jubilant and very active children, you would also agree that this would not be the best of ideas. As a result, we often use container lunch boxes, like those shown below, because they are convenient and store juicy items well. But, the boys prefer the “normal” looking lunch boxes above. We adapt using WrapMats, small BPA-Free containers and snack bags from individual sellers on Etsy for kraut, olives, guacamole, meats, fruits, etc.

True to my thrifty form, I got these Bento brand Laptop Lunchbox kits from Zulilly at 50% off several months ago. As a subscriber to quite a few “discount” sites (Eco Baby Buys is another good one), I see these and other brands regularly – if you really want some but aren’t ready to give up the gold I suggest joining as many sites as you can (create a new e-mail account just for sales if you want!) and then wait until you see them for a price you’re willing to pay. Otherwise, Amazon has some really cute ones too!  This particular brand does a fantastic job of keeping food and fluids in the box, but it also comes with a case just in case little hands forget to replace the lid perfectly.

These Goodbyn lunchboxes are my personal favorite. They have a handle, fit well into the front flap of Cole’s book bag and have a surprisingly huge amount of storage space. However, since the lids have to be put on carefully (or else spills will occur) we usually use these for picnics and events where we know adults can help secure the adorable customized lids (with provided stickers) for our boys.

When shopping for lunch meat look for brands without any ingredients other than meat and spices (like salt, not dextrose). We like Applegate Farms (their turkey bologna is the most affordable) and get wonderful buffalo and venison salami from our butcher and farmer’s market. You can also use your own roast chicken meat, roast beef or pork belly slices to make an equivalent to lunch meat – we’ve featured these examples to showcase how easy and simple lunch packing can be.

We find that the key to success with packing lunches is playing to the kids favorites. Our boys like lunch meat, black olives, fruit, eggs and avocado – so we figure out ways to always include at least one or two of their favorites. We have some seriously excited boys when we offer something with which to dip or wrap. It makes it fun, entertaining and something other school aged kids are curious about, instead of being grossed out and causing an “ewww” scene.

Whatever lunch you pack or carrying device you use, just make it fun and exciting for the kids. Write notes to them and make sure to pack one item they will be super excited to find. It’s hard enough to be different, but if the other children see that your child’s food is colorful and exciting because they always have something cool like dips or wrapped food, then the other kids will be curious (read: jealous) instead of mean about your child’s difference.

And remember, kids have days where they just go, go, go: always pack more than you think they could ever possibly eat!  Otherwise, they might come home and say they were hungry for a snack so the teacher gave them Goldfish, Ritz or Oreos.

If these ideas are a good start but still leaves you wanting more, check out the following posts to further provide inspiration:

*Note, the Anytime Cookies, Black Olive Tapenade and Pineapple Sauce recipes will be available (eventually), we promise – until then, use treats (Lara Bars) and dips your kids love (wholly guacamole brand is always a hit with our boys)

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  • Vasoccer

    How do you keep the avocado from turning brown?

    • We got that nifty holder for it at Marshall’s (I’m sure it’s available at a lot of places) that allows you to put it flat side down, which reduces its exposure to oxygen.  You can also rub it with lemon or lime juice, the citrus will keep it from browning for a while.  Then we just pack a spoon and let them eat it in the natural bowl of it’s own skin. 

      When we wrap meat around it or package pieces, we just make sure it’s air tight and it lasts several hours (with an ice pack in the box) without issues.  You can also turn it into guacamole, adding salsa and lime juice and then it keeps in an air-tight container for several days without browning.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the link! It’s great to be mentioned in such good company. 🙂 Good luck to everyone packing lunches this coming year! It’s a challenge worth tackling for sure.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the link! It’s great to be mentioned in such good company. 🙂 Good luck to everyone packing lunches this coming year! It’s a challenge worth tackling for sure.

  • Laurie Anne

    I am having the hardest time because my kids school does not allow any kind of nut butters, bananas, eggs or seafood due to allergies in the school.  Makes it REALLY hard.  Thank you for your post though, it gives me some fresh new ideas 🙂

    • Laurie, our preschool is tree nut free – but bananas, eggs and seafood, holy cow!  I know we use sunbutter and coconut flour to make “treats” on birthdays, maybe that’d work?  Cole would be SO upset if he couldn’t have tuna/salmon salad, it’s his favorite lunch!  Glad to have helped a little, let us know what inventive ideas you come up with 🙂

  • Susan

    great ideas! I’m going to be participating in Sunny’s lunchbox series too & so glad to have found your blog as I’m Paleo too! My company/website aren’t (though my kids eat more primal food than they realize!) but I also just started a Paleo recipe site…http://preppypaleo.blogspot.com/  Adding you to my blogroll!!

    • Thanks, Susan!  Feel free to grab our newly designed badge too 🙂

  • LeAnn Purdy

    Can you come and pack MY lunch ? 🙂

    • I a lucky woman, lemme tell ya.  If you think the kids lunches look good you should see what Matt packs for me!

  • I was just about to suggest that you guys do a lunchbox idea post because I really need lunchbox ideas!  Thanks for reading my mind 🙂  Now may I suggest a vlog where your boys eat lettuce and avocados so I can show it to James?

    • We’ve actually recorded a vlog with Cole talking about eating healthy, just need to edit and post 🙂

  • Heidi A.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this! I’ve been eating the Paleo way since April 1 and feel wonderful. I’m slowly moving my 5-year-old son that way too. The lunchbox is my last thing to convert over. I get stuck in a rut of bread. He does not have it every day, but I wonder if we cut it out if his allergies and minor skin issues would go away.

    • Oh how awesome, we’re so glad you found us and that we’re useful resources 🙂  I would definitely try to go 100% grain, dairy, legume free for skin issues – if you still have them try eliminating some other common problem foods, like eggs or nightshades.  Hopefully you can get it under control soon!

  • Conorkelly80

    You two have a fantastic blog!  We have a 3 and 1 year old and providing healthy lunches is becoming a concern.  I do have a quick question: do the two of you take any supplements regularly?  Fish oil, Vitamin D?  Keep up the great work!

    • We don’t. We try really hard to keep our omega-3 ratios in check with our eggs and seafood and limiting our nut intake. With Vitamin D, we may supplement in the winter, but we’re really outside all the time the rest of the year and don’t really feel the need. Mind you, this is without actually checking our levels so we may be on the verge of serious deficiency issues for all we know!

  • Sarah Hoffman

    I just stumbled upon your website and am so glad…I’m making the switch to Paleo and have been wondering how to convert my whole family to it.  I think my daughter who is 10 months old will be easiest since she only eats what I give her…my almost 3 year old son will be another story!  One question for you – how do you handle social events with your kids where there are many non paleo type of foods?  Thanks for a great website!!

    • It was hard at first until we got into a rhythm with it. First of all, we’ve tried to make sure that everyone we are close with is fully aware of what we don’t eat. Often, now, they’ll come to us for an okay before we go. We also volunteer to bring food to share. In other, more precarious situations (like birthday parties for friends from first grade we don’t know well), we’ll feed the boys before they leave, caution them about what they might see and hope for the best. We always bring our own cupcakes to eat instead of the cake that will be served as well. At the end of that, if the boys still eat something they ought not, we have to let it go. I’ve certainly not been 100% clean paleo since I started, and I’ve made it through fine. I have to accept that sometimes, stuff will happen, despite my best efforts.

      Hope that helps!

  • tanya

    My question is, 🙂 how do you get your kids to eat kraut,avocados,olives,tuna,salmon. LOL – my kids (9,7,4 and 2) love veggies, but stray from the “norm” and they’d rather starve. And trust me, it’s not from lack of trying hahaah.  Love your website and your ideas.

    • We keep trying! We don’t ever modify our dinners for the boys and require one bite from each item. We’ve explained that your taste buds can be completely different every few months and stuff they didn’t like before they might like now. More than one food has gone from refused to loved overnight. Thanks for reading!

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  • this is great, I am a small chef that makes paleo meals for adults, but often I am asked about kids meals, but I don’t have anything at this time. I will email you to see where to get the images you use, they are also nice.

    • These are our images, taken in our very own kitchen!

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  • Casey

    Just discovered this blog, found out last July I was Celiac and this is awesome!!

  • One can dream!

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  • Melissa

    What is the avocado container?? I want one! 

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  • Srmaynard

    Just to add – about a year ago we stumbled on Laptop Lunchboxes, an awesome mom run company that makes incredible bento boxes. My kindergartner can open and close all the containers independently, and my second grader loves all the little “surprises” as she opens her lunch. http://www.laptoplunchbox.com

    •  Not only do we own some, but we’ve done giveaways with laptop lunchboxes and in the middle of this post is a photo of our Byntos!

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  • Susan

    Processed meat?

    • Yes? No? What’s the question?

      • pawimi

        I think she was disappointed you are offering lunch ideas for children including processed meat. Tons of processed meat because almost each single option presented here includes some sort of processed meat. Now, I must confess we also use process meat occasionally in our lunchboxes due to its convenience and because we are not perfect but I’m not proud of it and wouldn’t dare to advertise it on a “healthy” blog as a good choice for our kids 😉

        • Curing meats is how our ancestors survived winter. If you source ingredients properly you’ll find prosciutto is listed as “meat, salt” – we define this blog as paleo, which is grain, legume, dairy and refined-sugar free. Processed meat meets that criteria, but to each their own.

          Other people say their kids would throw these lunches away, you say they’re not paleo enough. We say, this is how we feed our kids – do with that information what you will…

          • pawimi

            I didn’t say your lunches aren’t paleo…all I did was kind of guessing Susan’s intentions of her post 😉 Also, curing meats by our ancestors unfortunately has little to do with how food companies (even the “healthiest” ones) are processing their meat now. Which is sad :/ I wish I could learn how to cure meat the way my grandma used to do it. She kept all her sausages and bacon in basement entire winter! No refrigerator and still her meat was the best! Love your blog btw 🙂

          • Leeanne

            @pawimi : just because you put smiley faces or winks doesn’t mean we all can’t tell your being a judgementle witch. This woman is just showing that there are simple ways to pack a healthy paleo lunch for your children. So find something better to do with your time then to pass your judgement where it’s not needed or necessary. It’s seriously rude. If you don’t like what she posts click on that pretty little “X” on the right corner of your screen and get over yourself.

            @Stacy & Matt: I find your blog inspiring and find many ideas here. Keep up the great work. There’s always going to be people like that who are so unhappy they try to bring others down. 🙂 I appreciate your site!

          • Erika

            Personally, i dont see cured meat as processed, everything we eat has, at some point has a modern facet. its not like they are giving there kids bologna sandwiches and calling it paleo.

            It’s there choice what they give to there children and sometimes when you have children its not 100% ease to get them to eat what you make, and you don’t always have time to shave away meat from the farmers market.

            If you are going as far as what your grandmother did?? her meats were probably bathed in salt. just like prosciutto and most dry sausage.

            If you don’t like there blog, why waste your time.

            ps. stacy and matt, i applaud you for sticking to paleo with your children because I KNOW it can be difficult

          • Thank you for the support! Any deli meats that we use we try to ensure that they are high quality, with no chemicals. There is a big range of products out there, and those with clean, often organic, ingredient lists that read like a recipe rather than a science experiment, are just fine with us. We also have a great local butcher who offers deli meats that they make in-house with pastured/grassfed animals. While we say that we are paleo, that definition is different for each person. High quality deli meat fits into our paleo template as it does not affect our children’s health or behavior. It is hard to keep little ones on track with paleo, and this is how we have been successful, so we try to share what works for us. To each his own, and best of luck in your paleo journey!

  • Amy

    I am considering going paleo. Do you have any ideas for a child’s lunchbox for a kiddo who hates meat?

    • We’ve done quite a few lunch box posts on the blog. Search lunchbox on our site! Hope that helps!

  • Kimberly

    I’m a newish to paleo university student – and I found this oh so helpful! Thank you! I often struggle with lunches, and find myself getting bored!

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  • Ari

    I’m trying to start to eat paleo and real want my kids to be part of this lifestyle, but I am having trouble trying to get my kids to eat paleo. Not into the veggies. I feel that they are super young and a change can be still made. I needs tips in how to get my 2 years old and my 3.5 old to try and like veggies. I need to make a change. I find it very frustrating when they refuse to our paleo meals. i just need HELP. They like sweet potatoes, broccoli, peas, and love fruit.

    • Then serve sweet potatoes, broccoli, peas and fruit. And add a 2nd veggie to the table and ask them to try it every night – not a big deal, just “out of respect for the person who cooked the meal, we will try what their hard work made.” Then over time, as they get comfortable add butternut squash, acorn squash, caulfilower and other similar veggies. Lots of good tips for getting them involved in our parenting guide (check sidebar) and book – Eat Like a Dinosaur 🙂

      • Ari

        Thanks. I just brought the ebook Eat Like a Dinosaur. And will be looking at the side bar.

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  • Tricia Stringer

    We are working on getting our girls to eat Paleo. Our 9 year old has a lot of digestive issues and diabetes runs in our family. We’ve talked to them about these health risks and it has helped them to be more understanding and accommodating to the foods we give them. I bought the Ziploc rectangular divided containers. They are BPA free and leak proof. Do you have any opinions about them you would like to share?

  • Lisa@AllergyFreeVintageCookery

    Great ideas 🙂 If you have a minute, come on over and share this post at my weekly link party, Allergy Friendly Lunchbox Love. Perfect fit!


  • Salixisme

    With regard to the glass containers, I think it all depends on the age of the kids… there is no way I would trust my 9 yr old with a glass container, but my 11, 13 and 15 year old? Absolutely. They are old enough to be sensible about it.
    I have sent soup in mason jars to school for them, they remove the lids, put them in the microwave (their schools have microwaves for the students to use), and they get to eat hot soup for lunch…. The older 3 have never broken a jar yet. They have lost lids though Grrrrrrr
    We use Planet boxes to pack our kids lunches and absolutely love them. I was not so keen on the laptop lunchboxes because I just KNOW our kids would loose the lids!

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  • Alisa

    Thank you so much Matt and Stacy for your amazing resources! My daughter is 16 months and has eaten paleo exclusively since starting solids – so exciting to be able to protect her from the start like your little Wesley 🙂 I have seen you often mention that you give your boys canned olives and was wondering if you’ve found any information on them that you could share. It’s my understanding that they are ripened with lye and heated at a high heat in the can for a fairly long time. I would love to include black olives in my daughter’s diet regularly, especially since she loves them, but it’s just not sitting right with me. Thanks again for all of your hard work!

    • Not really sure about that – we haven’t personally had any problems, and our boys love eating them! When in doubt, buy organic? You can also buy them in glass jars if you are worried about the cans. 🙂

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  • Jennifer

    I know this may seem totally irrelevant to the point of the blog post, but along with your fun meal ideas, I also love your packaging/lunch/bento boxes. I think my kids would enjoy them. Where might I find these super cute lunch boxes?

  • JustMe

    Pepparonie can not be healthy…. It is very processed.

    • Applegate has one that is filled with only healthy ingredients and none of the garbage!