Healthy, Less Waste Lunchbox Ideas for School

If you send kids off to school every day, you know just how hard it is to come up with zero-waste, healthy school lunch ideas. If you’re trying to skip plastic products as well, it’s even harder. What’s a parent to do? I don’t know about you, but I find it easier to cook healthy meals at home than to pack a meal for when we’re on the go.

Originally published August 2015; this post has been updated.

several reusable boxes packed with healthy lunch options.

Healthy school lunch ideas

Thinking of the moms and dads making five lunches a week for the back-to-school crowd makes me thankful that my boys are grown, because that grind gets old fast. Am I right, parents??

As with dinner, though, the key to making school lunches with fewer headaches is to plan ahead.

Double Down

My favorite way to plan ahead is to simply double (or triple) something I’m already making.

  • A side dish pasta or grain salad: Add cubed chicken or lentils to up the protein content and you’ve got a main dish salad for lunches.
  • Whole roasted chicken? Pull the meat off the bone for chicken salad.
  • Making pizza? You might as well make an extra one to pack for tomorrow’s lunch.
  • Waffles for breakfast? Make extra and use them as “bread” for peanut butter and jelly.
  • Send leftover taco meat along with non-GMO tortilla chips for “nacho scoops.”
  • Leftovers like soup and chili can go straight into the lunchbox if your kids will eat them cold (like mine will). If not, heat them in the morning and send them in a Thermos.

three breakfast cookies stack near ingredients

Stock Your Pantry


Make sure that you’ve always got enough lunch packing supplies in your pantry for an entire week.

This will ease your lunch preparations when you have one of those weeks. Or when you’ve had an overly busy but fabulous weekend and there’s not a meal plan in sight.

Things to keep on hand:

Making school lunch healthy

  • One of my sons would happily eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every. Single. Day. That definitely makes it easy to stock the pantry.
  • Make a batch of my refried beans and roll up a bunch of burritos for the freezer. Pop them into the kids’ lunchbox while they’re still frozen; they’ll be thawed in time for lunch.
  • DIY Jello cups allow you to skip the plastic-packaging, plus they’re made with actual fruit.
  • Homemade hummus is easy to make and inexpensive. Pair it with carrot sticks and healthy crackers for a protein-packed lunch.
  • Make a big batch of granola bars for the freezer. They’ll be easy to grab and toss in the lunchbox on busy mornings.
  • These sweet or spicy — you choose! — crispy chickpeas are an easy, inexpensive snack that are high in protein.

gluten free apple muffins in a muffin tin

Make healthy muffins

Muffins are easy to transport, making them one of my favorite healthy school lunch ideas. Make a double batch of these and freeze them to last for the week.

Greener lunchbox ideas for school (and work!)

I cringe to think of all the plastic baggies I threw away when I was going to school. We were not a green family. Recent concerns about the safety of plastic in our kids’ lunchboxes (and other products) may be a wake-up call for many parents.

attainable sustainable book cover
Attainable Sustainablethe lost art of self-reliant living

Embrace handcrafting and homesteading with DIY projects, recipes, and gardening tips!

👉 Click here to get started 👈

Reusable plastic containers reduce the amount of waste generated from each lunchbox, but in the end they’re still plastic. Happily, non-plastic alternatives are becoming much more readily available, making a truly healthy lunchbox more accessible.

Consider making some of these reusable snack bags or some beeswax wraps for packing school lunches. They’re easy to make and can replace the plastic baggies and wrap you’re using.


Made of stainless steel, the hinged lunchbox opens to reveal five individual compartments of various sizes. It kind of resembles an institutional food tray (or, to date myself, one of those old fashioned TV dinners!).

The raised compartments in the lid allow you to fill the bottom tray generously and still close the lid. When closed, each food item is sealed into its separate compartment, keeping the sandwich from touching the fruit for finicky eaters.

Now, they’re not cheap. But the simple styling of the PlanetBox will last a kid through years of school lunches without becoming dated, like the My Little Pony box that is so last year. And bonus for the kiddos: PlanetBox comes with a set of magnets to decorate the outside.

Send your kids back to school with a healthy lunchbox! Ideas for what to pack, how to pack it, and what to keep in your pantry for fast fixing lunches. Tiffins

Never heard of a tiffin? I hadn’t either up until a few years ago.

A tiffin is a stackable collection of several food containers that easily snap together into one easy-to-carry container.

Stainless steel containers

The kids will need something to carry these in, but the containers from Lunchbots are hard to beat. I have a friend who invested in one for each family member and they’ve been using them for years.

Drink bottles

I continue to be amazed at the number of people who rely on plastic water bottles on a daily basis. I am adamant about this: There really is no excuse to continue using disposable bottles.

It’s wasteful. It perpetuates the use of petroleum products for a container that will be thrown away (or maybe recycled).

And it’s becoming more and more apparent that it’s not healthy. There are a multitude of options for reusable water bottles out there, but I’m a fan of the insulated S’well bottles for kids’ lunches.

Though a bit larger, the Hydroflask wide mouth bottle allows the easy addition of ice. Because they’re insulated, these bottles don’t sweat and they retain the temperature (hot or cold) of the liquid you fill them with.

Sew up some of these reusable snack bags for packaging snacks!


Click to save or share!

About the author: Kris Bordessa is an award-winning National Geographic author and a certified Master Food Preserver. Read more about Kris and how she got started with this site here. If you want to send Kris a quick message, you can get in touch here.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Allison Tryk May 17, 2011 @ 11:33

    Love it! I tweeted your message and liked you on Facebook. We like you outside of Facebook too!

  • Amanda May 17, 2011 @ 10:49

    Love this lunch box! I “liked” your Facebook page a while ago 🙂
    I just subscribed via RSS and email, shared the post on Facebook and mentioned it on Twitter (5 entries)! My fingers are crossed!

  • Davie R May 17, 2011 @ 10:47

    Love this! I have Liked you on FB, shared a link, and subscribed to your e-mail. I would do the RSS feed but I can’t get it to work. :(.

    You have definitely inspired me! Going rogue in the neighborhood with clotheslines, garden, and coming soon ~~ CHICKENS!!

  • Rena Pollock May 17, 2011 @ 8:59

    Liked you on FB and signed up for email updates! Great lunchbox.

  • Julie Domms May 17, 2011 @ 8:56

    Hi, I subscribe to your emails and follow you on facebook 🙂

  • Simone May 17, 2011 @ 8:45

    What a great prize!! Here’s what I have done:
    Subscribed via RSS feed
    Signed up for Attainable Sustainable updates by email
    Clicked “Like” Attainable Sustainable on Facebook
    Mentioned on Twitter

  • Elizabeth M. May 17, 2011 @ 8:44

    4 entries for me, please! I just added your RSS feed, joined your mailing list, liked you on FB, and tweeted your message. Thank you!

  • Cristina May 17, 2011 @ 8:31

    Oh and I posted it on SMMC, Southern Marin Mother’s Club!

  • Cristina May 17, 2011 @ 8:25

    Hi here’s what I’ve done!I love this lunchbox!!

    • Subscribed via RSS (one entry)
    •Get Attainable Sustainable updates by email (one entry)
    •“Like” Attainable Sustainable on Facebook (one entry)
    •Share on Facebook

  • Debbie Kaplan May 17, 2011 @ 7:42

    and last, I just subscribed by email – I thought I was getting everything on FB, but apparently I’ve missed some posts.

  • Becky May 13, 2011 @ 7:56

    Get Attainable Sustainable updates by email

  • Jane McKinstry May 12, 2011 @ 21:50

    Great giveaway! I try to pack a zero-waste lunch for my kids everyday. I subscribed via RSS and also tweeted.

  • Dan Aminoff May 12, 2011 @ 15:35

    I have Tweeted, posted to Facebook, subscribed to the e-mail list, liked on Facebook. Great idea. I hope it does well.

  • Amanda Howard May 12, 2011 @ 14:45

    After a moments hesitation I also signed up for email updates.

  • Amanda Howard May 12, 2011 @ 14:44

    I also pressed the like button on Facebook. There is some really cool stuff on the Facebook page.

  • Amanda Howard May 12, 2011 @ 14:43

    This lunch box sounds really cool. I just subscribed to the RSS feed with myAOL. I didn’t even know I could do that.

  • Lisa Jaffe Hubbell May 12, 2011 @ 14:28

    Tweeted and am just going to share on Facebook. I won’t, however, share the lunchbox with my son. It’ll be ALL MINE!

  • Kim Eggerton May 12, 2011 @ 13:54

    I subscribed via RSS and liked Attainable Sustainable on facebook!

  • Alexandra May 12, 2011 @ 13:43

    I just ordered one in Perfectly Pink, my granddaughter’s favorite color. Thanks for letting me know about this product.

  • Marilyn May 12, 2011 @ 13:25


    I just shared you on facebook and subscribed via email. Thank you for offering such a neat prize. I checked out the lunch box website. Very cool.

  • Alexandra May 12, 2011 @ 13:20

    Great contest! I have lost count of what I subscribe to, so will not enter the contest, but thanks for alerting me to this. Looks like a perfect b-day present for my granddaughter!

  • Lulu May 12, 2011 @ 12:22

    Love it – and know a heap of friends who will love it!
    Already a member – and have shared you as a status update for my fans 🙂

  • Melanie Haiken May 12, 2011 @ 12:00

    Love this lunchbox, which would be perfect for my daughter, who’s broken two regular cheap metal lunchboxes by sitting on them when the ground’s dirty at lunchtime!
    I believe I’ve met the criteria — great idea for a giveaway!

  • Elaine May 12, 2011 @ 11:57

    Liked you on FB and shared the link as well. Thanks!

  • Madeleine Booth-Smits May 12, 2011 @ 10:28

    Great website. subcribed via RSS, get Attainable Sustainable updates by email and liked attainable Sustainable on Facebook. Great site too.

  • Lynn Abbott-McCloud May 12, 2011 @ 10:17

    Here’s what I’ve done!

    •Via RSS (one entry)
    •Get Attainable Sustainable updates by email (one entry)
    •“Like” Attainable Sustainable on Facebook (one entry)
    •Post this link on your blog (one entry)
    •Share on Facebook
    Plus, I’m a COTC subscriber. Whew! I’m tired! 😉

  • Elise May 12, 2011 @ 10:08

    What a great product!!! I’m always looking for better lunch box options. I just “liked” you on Facebook and subscribed to your email list. Now, I’m crossing my fingers!!

  • Jenny Johnson May 12, 2011 @ 9:59

    Very cool lunchbox! I’ve never seen one before. We are using the tiffins like in India for leftover/meal lunches or regular lunchboxes with cloth sandwich wrappers. But yogurt wouldn’t work in these, eh?

    I LIKED this on facebook. It’s a great place to share new ideas!


  • carey May 12, 2011 @ 9:59

    Liked you on facebook

  • Jane Boursaw May 12, 2011 @ 7:29

    These are so cool! I’ve Tweeted and FB’d. Thanks for the great contest, Kris.

  • Lisa May 12, 2011 @ 7:28

    Love the blog and the lunchbox! I liked you on FB, tweeted and signed up for e-mails. Great info, can’t wait to hear more.

  • NoPotCoooking May 12, 2011 @ 7:24

    I had a metal Hardy Boys lunch box in first grade. It’s been a long time since i’ve seen a metal lunch box! Very cool! Don’t enter me though – my kiddos are too old for this.

  • heidi May 12, 2011 @ 7:03

    I already subscribe to the RSS feed and I just liked you on facebook.

  • carie May 12, 2011 @ 7:01

    I “Liked” Attainable Sustainable on Facebook and I also Shared the post about winning the lunch box with the link to your FB page. I really like the look of that lunch box! Thank you for the opportunity!

  • Anne B May 12, 2011 @ 6:59

    Love these!!!!

  • Christine May 12, 2011 @ 6:47

    Looks great! I already subscribe to your RSS feed, and I just “liked” your page on FB.


  • Jody May 12, 2011 @ 6:39

    Cool prize! I subscribe by email, like Attainable Sustainable on Facebook, and shared a link to this post on Facebook.

  • Kristen Hains May 12, 2011 @ 6:34

    Great contest, Kris! Just subscribed to your RSS feed, posted you to FB, and tweeted. 🙂