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Hello! I’m Anjali. I’m a board certified health coach, author, wife, mom and food lover from the SF Bay area (now living in Seattle, WA!); with a passion for delicious food and a desire to make healthy eating easy, tasty and fun! Learn more about me here and stay for a while!

Anjali Shah

Back-to-School Lunchbox Makeover: 5 Healthy Recipes

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roasted cauliflower salad on white plate, perfect for a healthy lunch

What’s in your lunchbox?

Every time back-to-school rolls around, I find myself reminiscing about my childhood lunches. My school lunchbox was standard, dependable: some sort of sandwich: PB&J on wheat, a fruit: an apple, pear, or orange, some veggies: usually carrot or celery sticks: and a drink: water or juice. Of course I didn’t make any of it, since my mom packed my lunch.

When I went to college and then started working, my lunch became all over the place: oatmeal one day, deli sandwiches the next. And frankly it was a challenge to find healthy options every day when someone (my mom) wasn’t packing my lunch for me!

Whether you’re making your own lunch (to take to work or class), or looking for something your kids will enjoy now that it’s back-to-school, coming up with healthy options for your (or your child’s) lunchbox can be so hard! Ideally, you want something that will keep you full (so you don’t end up with a candy bar in your hand at 3pm), and something that super fast and doesn’t require much cooking or prep time.

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered 🙂 Here is my back-to-school lunchbox makeover – 5 quick and easy lunch ideas that are tasty, good for you, and that kids will love!

LunchBox Makeover #1: Make a Sandwich

But not any kind of sandwich, a delicious sandwich that’s packed with flavor!

For a savory sandwich: Start with sprouted wheat bread like Ezekiel, and layer on some plant-based protein (mild cheddar cheese, hummus, baked tofu, etc.), any veggies you like (greens, tomatoes, sprouts, cucumbers, roasted vegetable slices, etc.), and add some flavor (salt/pepper, mashed avocado or guacamole, mustard, pesto, etc.) For kids, I like to “deconstruct” the sandwich and serve it bento-style since being able to hold a sandwich that big without everything spilling out can be hard for little hands. You really can’t go wrong with a healthy, filling sandwich, and you can change things up slightly every day!

lunchbox makeover: vegetarian sandwich on sprouted wheat bread with tomatoes, cheese and lettuce

This will literally take you 5 minutes to make every day.

For a sweeter sandwich, try:

This twist on a Peanut Butter Sandwich (this is one that kids just can’t get enough of either).

peanut butter banana sandwich on whole wheat bread, on a white plate

You don’t even have to use peanut butter – you can use almond butter, sunflower butter, cashew butter, and any combination of toppings: bananas, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, apples, pears, etc! Here is the recipe for my favorite combination, but the possibilities are endless.

LunchBox Makeover #2: Make A Salad

lunchbox makeover: healthy greek salad with peppers, cucumbers, greens, against a white background

You can pretty much do anything you want with a salad. For kids, I recommend chopping up the veggies/toppings/etc into smaller bite sized chunks so it’s easier to chew. And in general, there are a few rules to keep in mind to make sure any salad you make is both tasty & healthy:

  • Start with a TON of veggies – as many as you like! Greens, cucumbers, peppers, roasted veggies, tomatoes, and anything that’s in season is always fun to add in. Just avoid anything that’s already pre-dressed – like from a deli.
  • For protein, add a hardboiled egg (use more of the whites vs. the yolks), beans, lentils or 1 Tbsp nuts
  • To season your salad, use salt & pepper – they do wonders for flavor, and 2 tsp olive oil with 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • You can add in hummus or guacamole for extra flavor! Just stick to 1-2 tbsp per salad serving.
  • Avoid croutons, chips, dried fruit, and pre-made dressing – they are generally high in calories, low in nutrients and high in processed ingredients and/or sugar
  • If you’re using cheese, just watch the portions! 2-3 tbsp is enough for 1 salad.

This easy, chickpea and feta salad can be ready in 5 minutes, and you can find a bunch more salad inspo here!

Lunchbox Makeover #3: Have some Soup!

When it comes to soups, I recommend making a big batch one evening and using it a couple times during the week. It packs really well in a thermos for kids (or adults too honestly!), or you can pack it alongside other lunch items in my favorite bento box that incorporates hot and cold items in the same box!

You have a bunch of options when it comes to soups, but one of my favorite go-tos is this one-pot vegetarian chili. Make it the night before and pack it up with some whole grain chips or toasted sprouted grain bread. Kids go crazy for this chili, and it’s adult-approved too 🙂

healthy vegetarian chili recipe, served in white ramekins

Lunchbox Makeover #4: Make a Healthy Burger

vegetarian black bean burger on a sprouted wheat bun with greens, tomatoes, onions and tahini sauce, against white background

Veggie burgers are a great source of protein, and you can really dress them up so they don’t taste store-bought! I recommend making the patties ahead of time and freezing them, so you can spend 5 minutes warming them up and assembling before you head out for the day. For kids, I pack a deconstructed burger with the patty in one compartment, toppings in another and the bun cut in half in the third. That way it doesn’t get soggy by the time they eat it and it’s easier for kids to eat without getting messy! Here are nine recipes that will take your lunchtime burger to the next level.

Lunchbox Makeover #5: Throw together a Burrito Bowl

black bean burrito bowl served in a white bowl against a wood background

This is almost a no-cook meal. All you need is the ingredients here, and you are pretty much good to go! Cooking the black beans is optional, so if you are really short on time you can always omit the cooking step. This also tastes great hot or cold, so it works well in kids’ lunchboxes if they don’t have a place to reheat it.

And that’s it! 5 ways to completely makeover your lunchbox that will leave you and your family feeling satisfied, happy and full!

Posted In…

Entrees ·

From healthy versions of favorites to cozy curries, these main courses are sure to bring some new recipes to your family’s table.

38 responses to “Back-to-School Lunchbox Makeover: 5 Healthy Recipes”

  1. I have a picky eater and making school lunches are a nightmare. I’ve tried many things. Have to keep at it trying different things. Some of these look good.

  2. These look yummy! I tend to pack pb&j most days, but will have to try some of these to change it up. I think my youngest would like the pb and banana sandwich. I never thought to send a deconstructed hamburger for lunch!

    • Thank you so much Patrice! I can’t wait to hear how your kids like these lunch ideas! And yes – I’m all about deconstructing things for little hands — makes for less messy eating that’s still tasty and satisfying! 🙂

    • Haha! That’s awesome – and yes! These are great lunch options for adults too 🙂 Thanks Tammy – enjoy!

  3. thanks for the ideas…peanut butter sandwich looks like a melt in mouth…yumm…
    i have never grilled a PBJ sandwich before…now i am thinking of buying a panini press to make it goey…your pictures are really a treat :-))

    • Thanks Jyo!! And yes omg – grilled PBJ is seriously the best ever. You don’t need a panini press to make it either, you can just use a regular pan and a spatula – just flip it over when one side is done and press down with the spatula on the side facing up to make it flat and crispy! Enjoy!

    • Oh! Trader Joe’s has an Ezekiel bread knockoff – it’s basically the same thing – they have a whole “sprouted wheat bread” section – just look for it in the bread section (they have a ton of varieties, so just pick the one you like 🙂 ). I’m not sure if Sprouts has Ezekiel – since they’re a health food store I’d guess that they would, but Whole Foods definitely has Ezekiel. Hope that helps!

  4. Thanks for these amazing recipes – and great pictures! I’m suddenly hungry at 11.23 pm!! I do healthy recipes on my website – do check out our recipes; would be great to connect!

    • Thanks Vandana! So glad you like them! I’ll be sure to check out your website too – looking forward to connecting more through our blogs!

  5. Thank you so much for posting these meals! I’ve been trying to make a weekly meal plan that includes a short grocery list and minimal prep/cook time. Your blog has made this really easy! Thanks again! 🙂

    • Yay!! No problem at all – I’m so glad it’s helpful! Good luck with your weekly meal plan – let me know how it goes! 🙂

  6. Some fantastic ideas and quick meals at that.. Nor reason that ‘Healthy’ has to take ‘longer’ to prepare. I’m going to be trying the peanut butter sandwich reinvented today.. Thank you Anjali…

  7. Makeover #1 is making my mouth water … it looks so good! There’s something about a colorful sandwich … just makes one happy to take a bite! Thank you for sharing … I can’t wait to try some of your ideas!

    • Totally agree – I try to make my meals as colorful as possible, they’re so much more fun to eat that way! Hope you enjoy these recipes when you try them! 🙂

  8. Thanks for this, Anjali! The first one is actually my most favorite sandwich, ever (with some kettle cooked jalapeno chips on the side. :)) Also, in addition to the hummus I add pesto. It’s so flavorful my stomach is actually grumbling just thinking about it!

    • Oooh those additions sound fab 🙂 I like eating it with the Baked Kettle BBQ chips since they’re slightly more guilt-free – but I’ll have to try the jalapeno chips soon!!

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