The Ultimate Paleo Back-to-School Lunch Guide

It’s hard to believe that it’s already time for the kids to head back to school! I know there are mixed feelings from parents about this time of year—sad to have less time with the kids, but happy to get back into a routine and have more adult time.

Whether you’re packing a Paleo lunch for yourself or for your child, making the transition back to school requires shifting away from mostly home-cooked meals towards a lunch box mentality: buying and packing Paleo foods that can be taken to go.

Big and little kids alike will benefit from homemade nutrient-dense lunches that emphasize good quality proteins, fats, and slow-burning carbohydrates. It can seem overwhelming to continually create new and exciting Paleo-friendly lunches, especially when you’re transitioning your family to a Paleo diet. When inspiration dwindles, it becomes all too easy to slip into eating the same foods over and over again.

15 Paleo Lunchbox Ideas

Here are several fun and healthy recipes and ideas for making quick, easy, and portable Paleo-friendly lunches and snacks.

1. Last Night’s Dinner

Last night’s dinner can be just as popular the second time around, even when served cold! Leftovers such as BBQ chicken, burger patties, or thin-sliced steak are delicious wrapped with lettuce, tomato, or onion, and served with pickles and baked yam fries on the side. Or try serving leftover meatballs with veggies or yummy Paleo pizza!

2. Sandwiches

Paleo sandwiches can be made with any Paleo bread, but try using our delicious Grain-Free Herbed Focaccia Bread. Alternatively, you can use a large lettuce, chard, or other green leaf as the “bread” wrapped around quality deli meats, tomato, onion, avocado, and spices.

ham

3. Rollups

Quality deli meats rolled around avocado or other veggie strips are fun and easy to eat. These Prosciutto Melon Wrap-Ups are like little bites of heaven. Or simply roll deli meat into a tube for easy chowing on-the-go!

4. Tuna, Salmon, or Egg Salad

Tuna salad is a breeze to whip together using wild canned tuna, avocado oil mayo, diced onion, celery, pickles, and fresh or dried dill seasoning. You can make egg salad or salmon salad in a similar fashion. Wrap these salads in lettuce leaves, pile them on leafy greens, or serve with a side of sweet potato chips.

5. Hot Dogs

Pre-cooked hot dogs, sausages, or sausage patties served with condiments on the side for dipping make great quick meals. Just be sure that you’re getting the highest quality meat possible. Some good brands are Applegate and Diestel. Pack in some blanched broccoli or cauliflower as a side, too!

6. Chicken

Chicken meat is finger lickin’ good, even when it’s eaten cold. Chicken legs contain more healthy fats than breasts and are also easier to eat on-the-go. Simply cover chicken legs in lime juice, salt, and pepper and bake in the oven or BBQ. Try Buffalo Chicken Wings in “Peanut” Sauce or Coconut Crusted Chicken, which are also fantastic when packed as a lunch. My favorite chicken salad is made with chunked chicken, grapes or apple slices, celery, onion, and cauliflower or broccoli chunks mixed with avocado oil mayo or smashed avocado, using curry powder as a seasoning.

7. Meat Strips

Simply slice chicken, beef, pork, and other meats into strips, marinate them overnight in Paleo marinade, then BBQ, bake, or fry. Delicious cold or hot, meat strips make for fun dipping in guacamole or a variety of Paleo dips. These Spicy ‘Breaded’ Chicken Fingers are also super tasty and are great for dipping and eating cold.

8. Salad

Make a Paleo super salad! In a container to go, add: greens, meat strips or cubes, shredded carrots, beets, olives, avocado, nuts/seeds, crumbled egg, cucumber, cauliflower, and other veggie chunks, topped with Paleo dressing. Or try a simpler Chef Salad or our salad version of the BLT, the BAT (Bacon, Avocado, Tomato).

9. Veggies and Dip

Pair raw veggie strips (carrots, celery, jicama, cucumbers, yacón, baked sweet potato fries, sugar or snap peas, blanched green beans, etc.) with Paleo dips on the side. For a leak-proof lunchbox, use these adorably tiny condiment containers.

10. Antipasto

Nothing goes better with sliced nitrate-free salami, pepperoni, or soppressata than olives, pickled veggies, sun-dried tomatoes, and Paleo crackers.

11. Fish n’ Chips

Wild smoked salmon pairs well with Paleo crackers. Or if you’re umami brave, try straight-up sardines or Kipper Snacks right out of the can! Or why not try making sushi rolls using cauliflower rice and sashimi-grade fish? Fish food is brain food!

fruit

12. Fruit and Nuts

Pack raw fruit (berries, melon chunks, apple or pear slices) with single serving packs of nut butter or seed butter, or make Ants on a Log.

13. Thermos to Go

Especially during the colder weather, I love packing Paleo soups, stews, and chilis in an insulated thermos. The thermos keeps food hot for several hours, so you can enjoy a piping hot meal hours after you’ve packed it. Try Pork and Noodle Soup or Chunky Turkey Chili for a hearty meal that will keep you feeling full.

14. Eggs and Bacon

Make deviled eggs or simply hard boil eggs and serve them sliced in half topped with salt and pepper. Cold bacon and hard boiled eggs together are another winning combo. Or pack an Omelet Muffin, which is super easy to eat on the go.

15. Muffins

Who doesn’t love a muffin? They’re delicious and healthy when they’re Paleo, and you can Paleoize pretty much any type of muffin recipe. Try these Zucchini Berry Muffins for an easy snack that is also jam-packed with fruits and vegetables.

6 No-Cook Paleo Snack Options

No time to cook? Emphasizing protein- and fat-rich snacks will help to get through that mid-day slump with plenty of energy to spare. There are several easy or no-cook options for you!

1. Food Delivery: Companies like Paleo On The Go make eating Paleo super simple by delivering everything you need right to your door. Choose from meal plans or a la carte dishes.

2. Nuts and seeds: roasted or raw, or single serving nut butter or seed butter packs.

3. Dried meats: Free-range turkey jerky, chicken jerky, pork bites, grass-fed beef jerky, bison bites, lamb bars, or dry your own meats in a dehydrator.

4. Veggies: Sea Snax, Kale Krunch, or just eat an avocado with a spoon and a dash of salt and pepper.

5. Paleo Bars: Tanka bars, Epic bars, AMRAP bars, collagen bars, Larabars, or even make your own. Try DIY Larabars, Breakfast Bars, or even Paleo Candy Bars.

6. Crackers and chips: There are tons of Paleo crackers to choose from. Try Sprouted Pizza Crackers, Jilz Mediterranean Crackers, Sweet Potato Chips, or make your own kale, beet, or apple chips.

9 Lunchbox Pitfalls to Avoid

lunchbox

Here are the basics of things you won’t want to do when packing a healthy lunch.

1. Avoid the junk

It goes without saying that most school hot lunches are barely suitable for Oscar the Grouch, and may be best served directly into the trash can.

2. Skip the sugar

Eating a sugar-rich breakfast (i.e. fruit eaten alone) can lead to a midday energy crash. Load your loved ones up with protein and fat in the morning for a successful day away!

3. Limit fruit

Did you know that one banana contains as many as 30 grams of carbohydrates? That’s a large dose of sugar coursing through your veins all at once! Consider spreading out fruit consumption and limiting yourself to a few pieces per day.

4. Restrict dried fruits

Dried fruits are even much more concentrated in sugar than fresh fruit. Use them in moderation and pair them with a fat and/or protein to slow the delivery of glucose to your blood. Trail Mix works well for this!

5. Limit raw nuts

The anti-nutrients in raw nuts and seeds can cause intestinal issues. Rotate raw with roasted nuts and seeds. Sprouting or soaking raw nuts overnight in water decreases anti-nutrient content while increasing nutrient bioavailability.

6. Skip sugary drinks

Sports drinks and other sugary drinks should be avoided altogether. There are lots of healthier drink options out there!

7. Say no to candy and junk

Candy, chips, and other junk foods should be avoided. These processed foods are a recipe for diabetes and won’t give you the sustained energy that your body is actually craving.

8. Watch out for nitrates and chemicals

Unfortunately, most brands of deli meats and processed meats are loaded with chemicals and come from unhealthy animals. Considering that we are what we eat it’s wise to avoid deli meats preserved with nitrates and other chemicals. Try Applegate or Diestel Turkey instead.

9. Avoid low-quality dairy products

Some kids (and adults) tolerate dairy better than others. Lots of us have unknown dairy intolerance which is difficult to discern until you’ve removed dairy from your diet for at least 30 days. If you do choose to use dairy, opt for grass-fed, raw, non-homogenized, and organic dairy sources.

How To Take Your Paleo Lunch On the Go

lunch to go

If you’re taking your lunch to go and it will be more than a few hours until you eat it, you’ll benefit from having a cooler, lunch bag, or lunchbox that’s well insulated to keep your food fresh for hours and out of the danger zone. You may also want to grab some non-toxic ice packs, eco-friendly to-go containers, and perhaps some stainless-steel containers for packing liquid.

Lunchboxes

Lunchbox Accessories

18 Paleo Lunch Recipes That Are Kid-Friendly & Quick to Prep

pizza bites

1. Zucchini Pizza Bites
2. Mini Parsnip Cakes with Creamy Buffalo Dip
3. Crispy Paleo Fish Sticks
4. Chicken Salad
5. Chicken Apple Sausage Patties
6. Guacamole Deviled Eggs
7. Baked Popcorn Chicken
8. Simple Tuna Salad
9. Stuffed Avocado
10. Coconut-Crusted Chicken Fingers
11. Ants on a Log
12. Chicken Nuggets
13. Avocado Bacon Burger
14. Pigs in a Blanket
15. Turkey Meatballs
16. Paleo Pizza
17. Crunchy Almond Chicken Fingers
18. Coconut-Crusted Shrimp

Bottom Line

Packing Paleo doesn’t have to be complicated, but planning ahead will save you a ton of time and energy. My routine works well with two chop and cook sessions each week on Wednesdays and Sundays. It takes between one and two hours to prep all of my veggies and cook up meats to have on hand. This preparation makes throwing together lunch boxes a breeze, so you can spend your mental energy focusing on other things, like helping your kids with homework!

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