Whole Food Lunch Box Ideas

School lunch boxes: over the years, I’ve changed my perspective from trying to work out how to fill them to looking at it as an opportunity to feed nutritious food to my kids. For me it stated with challenging myself to pack left over dinner items in the lunch box for a week (blogged about it over 3 years ago here) and later trying hot foods (read about it here).  Over the years I’ve fine-tuned my system to make it sustainable and you can find out more here.  
I’m still working on reducing sugar and refined carbs in my children’s lunch box so I’m always looking for inspiration. While I’ve been in NZ, I met another blogger, Claire from Dom’s Kitchen. Claire is a lawyer turned real food advocate and blogs to help and inspire parents with loads of quick, easy and delicious food ideas.  The key thing that came out of our conversations is Claire’s passion for breaking it all down so it’s achievable, because often parents can feel overwhelmed with packing and preparing nutritious lunch boxes every day.
Things haven’t always been this way for Claire.  In the past, she relied heavily on convenient processed foods, but in an epiphany moment, her mind-set changed and since then, she’s focused on making this type of lunch box accessible and possible for anyone. “It can start with replacing that packaged muesli bar with something nutritious you can whip up at home easily (and I can show you how to do that),” she said.
While Claire made a decision to stop using most packaged foods almost immediately she recognises this is not for everyone. Indeed her approach has caused its fair share of headaches at home with an initially sceptical husband and teenage step-daughter. But although life is still not plain sailing, Claire is convinced that eating whole foods is within the means of everyone and can actually be fun and rewarding. As she says “I think the key is recognising where you are on your real food journey and where you want to be and then taking steps to move closer to your objective. And definitely not beating yourself up along the way. For most people this is a gradual transition not an immediate switch. And that is totally OK.”
Whole Food Lunch Box Ideas

Below are some questions I asked Claire.

How do you keep the food fresh?

A common question I get asked is how to keep the food fresh for Dom’s lunches. The food once cooked (usually in the case of the meat this will be the night before) is cool on the bench for no more than 20 minutes and then placed as soon as possible in the fridge so that it cools down quickly. This is a bit of a balancing act between time cooling on bench (so its not too hot in fridge) and not leaving too long on bench (to allow growth bacteria).

The lunch boxes we use are stainless steel and regardless of whether or not I make the lunchbox up the night before or the morning I always try to put it in the fridge overnight so that it is cold to start with as the steel retains the cold for quite some time. (If haven’t made it up night before and I forgot to put in fridge then I put in freezer in morning before filling with Dom’s lunch.)

Typically I make up the lunchbox each evening using veggies prepared from Sunday and add the meat I’ve cooked that evening as well as some fruit and then put the lunchbox in fridge. In morning we take it out of fridge just before we leave and put into the carry bag along with an icepack. In our situation the time from being out of the fridge to being eaten at lunch is not ever more than 4 hours and usually only 3 hours.

Sometimes in the summer if I have given Dom chicken I might ask for his lunch box to go in the fridge but this is rare. I find that the combination of the icepack and the chilled lunchbox keeps the food cool (in New Zealand’s moderate climate) for the time we need.

The works well for us and has done for the past year or so. However, you will all be in different situations (climate wise as well as how long the time is from leaving home to eating) so you will need to work out what works for you and what you’re comfortable with.

Does the food fill kids up?

Most definitely yes! The foods in these lunch boxes are generally speaking Paleo inspired and tend to follow a LCHF way of eating (meaning Lower Carb and higher Healthy Fat). They’re very nutrient dense and filling being comprised 2-3 serves of vegetables, 1-2 serves of fruit, a serve of protein and a “treat” being olives or dried banana or a bliss ball made mostly with nuts and/or seeds and coconut oil. The lunch boxes cover Dom for morning tea and lunch. (He has more food separately for afternoon tea).

Most days Dom will finish most or all of his lunchbox. Some days he doesn’t eat much. It never really bothers me either way other than to ask him how he found it so I know if there is something he wasn’t liking. Depending on the food I am usually able to use leftover for dinner by reheating hot completely through.

Lunch box food vs same food on a plate

lunchbox vs plate - how much food is in the lunch box

Does it take a long time to prepare?

Well yes and no. Daily I spend about 5 minutes in the morning putting the lunch box together. However, that’s only possible because I’ve prepared beforehand. After over a year of preparing a real food lunch box I’ve got my preparation and assembly pretty streamlined! Like everyone else, I’m a busy Mum! I work a corporate job as well as looking after my son and running a blog. So I definitely appreciate the need to get the most out of out each day!

So what’s my total time investment? Well I generally do a morning shop at the markets or supermarket on Sunday and then around 2-4 hours preparing food on the Sunday afternoon/evening. If I’m working quickly by myself and not doing any baking it’s closer to the 2 hour and certainly can be 1 hour if I need it to be. I usually always have one weeks worth of foods made up in the freezer so if something happens and I can’t do preparation on the Sunday we’re still OK.* If Dom is “helping” me and/or we’re baking then it would be more like 3-4 hours. I store the food in air tight glass containers in the fridge. This means a lot of the food is prepared for the week ahead by Sunday so that on weekday nights meal prep takes 15-30 minutes max.

* This is generally what happens. Of course there are always those days or weeks when things don’t go to plan and that is when it will get stressful. There is always something I can find but for sure if you cannot do the earlier prep or miss it and haven’t got stuff in the freezer or fridge then it will become hard to make the lunch box!  So there are times when I’ll use packaged food but it will still be real food just processed to an extent – like kale chips in packet or store bought coconut wraps.

There’s no denying that eating real food requires an investment of your time but my thoughts are that it is well worth it as you will reap the benefits back many times over for what you can put in.

Is it expensive?

I looked into this and compared the cost of a typical lunch box with pre-packed processed foods and a piece of fruit to a whole food lunch box, and the cost comes out similar. The lunches I packs are slightly more expensive due to a generous serving of organic/free range protein items, but even so are still comparable to an average school lunch box. I will do follow up post focusing on just this aspect of costs and we’ll have that up on the blog soon.

Below are a selection of bento-style Lunchboxes prepared by Claire and her 4 year old son Dom. If you’re interested in learning more about breaking this all down and making it achievable, head over to Dom’s Kitchen for tips and inspiration.

1. The Cheese Please Lunchbox:

  • Oranges 
  • Egg Sushi Rolls 
  • Oven Baked Broccoli with Coconut Oil
  • Blue Cheese & Cherry Tomato Kebabs
  • Pan Fried Haloumi & Roasted Red Capsicum
  • Green Olives 
Paleo Inspired Lunch Box

2. The Summertime Lunchbox

  • Sliced Watermelon
  • Oven Bake Herb Fish on Lettuce
  • Hard Boiled Egg
  • Tomato
  • Sauerkraut
  • Banana Bread
Paleo Inspired Lunch Box

3. The “Nice Block” Lunchbox:

Paleo Inspired Lunch Box

4. The Meat Ball Lunchbox:

Paleo Inspired Lunch Box

5. The Sweet Treat Lunchbox:

Paleo Inspired Lunch Box

6. The Roast Veggies Lunchbox:

  • Pear Slices
  • Lamb on the Bone
  • Easy Roast Pumpkin & Sweet Potatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Olives
Paleo Inspired Lunch Box

7. The Sausages & Cauliflower Popcorn Lunchbox:

  • Madarins
  • Red & Yellow Capsicums
  • Buttered Broccoli (steamed in butter)
  • Gluten Free Chicken Sausages
  • Sauerkraut
  • Cauliflower Popcorn
Paleo Inspired Lunch Box

8. The Fish Lunchbox:

  • Kiwifruit Halves
  • Egg Wraps
  • Easy Herb Crusted Fish
  • Persimmon
  • Cherry Tomatoes & Avocados
  • Olives
Paleo Inspired Lunch Box

9. The Sausage & Fries Lunchbox:

  • Kiwifruit
  • Sweet Potato Chunky Fries
  • Red Capsicums
  • Gluten Free (filler free) Sausages
  • Blue Cheese & Tomato Kebabs
  • Baked Broccoli
  • Sauerkraut
Paleo Inspired Lunch Box

10. The Dinner Party Left-Overs Lunchbox:

Paleo Inspired Lunch Box

About Claire

Claire started her blog on Facebook less than a year ago and now has over 12,000 people following from all over the world but predominantly in NZ and Australia. She is about to launch a brand new online club where members will receive exclusive recipes, checklists and challenges, access to private Facebook group for fun and accountability and discounts with real foodie suppliers. 
To be first to know about the club and to grab your free real food giveaway (at this time a Real Food swaps eBook) visit: www.realfoodswaps.com.


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Kelly loves life at both ends of the spectrum: wearing high heel shoes one day and hiking boots the next; sipping tea out of a pretty cup and slurping hot coffee from a camping mug; challenging herself physically and stopping for quiet unhurried moments to feel the wind on her face. Kelly and her husband Matthew seek to live a fun and adventurous life with their four children and pet bird.

Latest posts by Kelly - Be A Fun Mum (see all)


    • says

      Hi Kelly – the school Dom goes to is only peanut free. Other nuts are allowed. Having said that these days I rarely would send him with any nut. I think there are a few lunch boxes from earlier days where we had some baking using almond flour or some bliss balls with nuts. But these days I don’t tend to send baking or if I do then with coconut flour (which is a drupe not a nut).

      I have a recipe will post on blog shortly for a nut free, grain free, gluten free, dairy free (i.e. free most allergens) for biscuit and bar. These are made with seeds.

      Claire x

  1. Kelly says

    Inspiring yes. Practical…unfortunately not as my kids wouldn’t eat half of this. My kids lunches normally contain real food- fruit/veg/nuts/ham salad sandwiches on whole meal bread/fruit free bliss balls etc. but I always need to add crackers or something else…would love it if my kids are eggs/fish/broccoli/olives/cabbage/Kumera etc. would be able to add more good stuff!

  2. Stephen says

    If my mum ever packed that into my lunch. I would probably cap myself.
    Let kids be kids.
    This health trend is going overboard, I really doubt that any of this food will A.) Increase the longevity of your child’s life or B.) Lower the chances of health problems later in life.

    Waste of time, “Be A Fun Mum” – lol

    • Jill says

      Oh, my goodness, Stephen. I guess you believe that filling your kids with highly processed foods and junky take aways will give them a long and healthy life…………….poor kids.

    • Natalie says

      Oh Stephen, what foolishness!
      I work with kids and the ones that eat processed foods crash and burn really quick in class. The kids that eat healthy thrive.
      The proof is in the “pudding”.

  3. Eliza says

    When you say “I usually always have one weeks worth of foods made up in the freezer so if something happens and I can’t do preparation on the Sunday we’re still OK” does this apply just to the meat and baking parts?
    Thanks for your post, feeling inspired :-)

    • says

      Hi Eliza sorry I didn’t see these comments on this site! Yes I was talking there about the meat and baking. I would still make up the veggies that week. But I usually choose veggies that easy to prep – like cucumber and tomatoes / carrots / capsicums. Hope you’ve been going well with it! Dom just started school last week . Claire :-)

  4. Liz says

    I have to ask – where do you get those super lunchboxes that are metal with all the compartments?? I haven’t been able to find anything like them!

  5. Louise Broad says

    Hi Claire, great site! I used to be the only mum around to send my daughter to school with real food, it’s so nice to see people like yourself advocating such a healthy way of life especially for our kids. Coming into winter, I sent my Phoebe with thermos of homemade chicken and vegetable soup, and she also loved hot spaghetti with zucchini noodles yum! Sometimes also a impossible pie ( which is a crust less egg quiche) was a great hit with a salad of cold vegetables . Just a hint of what got us through oh and my husband ate all this too just in bigger amounts. Cheers and great work. Louise

    • says

      Hi Louise. Thank for your comment. THis is Kelly’s site it’s great isn’t it. This is a sort of guest post I did for her a while back. Sounds great what you’re doing – yes the more people do it now so the more “normal” it can become. I’m actually starting a tour of NZ and Australia. Mothers On A Mission (For A Real Food Revolution). We’ll have more info coming soon on my blog http://www.domskitchen.co.nx :-)

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