Brown Bag Lunches – Part 1

Brown Bag Lunches

Brown bag lunch. Sack lunch. Cold lunch. Picnic lunch. Doggie bag. There are many names used to describe a meal you pack at home with intent of eating somewhere else later.

Brown bag lunches can help save money by eliminating the need to eat out at fast food restaurants. They can help encourage healthier living by reducing calories and increasing quality of food. They’re also great for people with food allergies because they can control what foods are going in their lunchbox and what those foods come into contact with.

Among the list of positive qualities, sack lunches also have their drawbacks. Unfortunately, cold lunch options can get boring and lack diversity. They can feel overwhelming and time consuming when unplanned. In addition, what type of food can be packed largely depends on what equipment is available at your lunching destination (microwave, refrigerator, freezer, etc.).

Fortunately for you, I’ve had two kids and a million years (or at least it feels that way) of cold lunch experience that has prepared me for this very moment! Huzzah! LOL! But…before I dive head first into my golden bento boxes of knowledge, I have a little confession to make.

My Confession

I am only human…I’m not a morning person…And it’s very unusual that my kids’ school lunchboxes ever look as pretty as the photos in this post. Actually, that may have been 3 confessions. Wink!

Like most other parents, my weekday mornings are filled with running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Carnage of the hustle usually involves flying clothes and hairbrushes, alarms that didn’t ring, homework that may have been forgotten, and lunchboxes that did not get washed the night before. The sad reality is that school lunches can fall to a dismal place on the list of priorities.

So, take heart. The goal of this post is not to shame you because your kids’ lunches don’t look like this or that you drive through Chick-Fil-A for lunch every day at work. I’ve been there!

The goal of this post is to inspire creativity when packing cold lunches as well as motivate you to give it a try. Keep in mind, I’m preaching this to myself just as much as I’m preaching it to you…

So, without further ado, please enjoy the first five of 10 brown bag lunch ideas, complete with suggestions on how to make each lunch idea paleo, allergy friendly, or appealing for picky eaters.

Charcuterie Box

Whether you call it a lunchable, or you call it charcuterie, doesn’t really matter. A tray of meats, cheeses, veggies, fruits, and sweets will make anyone feel excited about lunchtime.

Charcuterie can be fancied up for adults by adding a variety of flavored cheeses, dips, or exotic meats. Add expensive chocolates or beverages to make your mealtime feel like a little dose of self care.

For kids, keep it simple with cheddar or mozzarella cheeses, pepperoni, salami, and their favorite fruits and veggies. This is an especially great way to get balanced nutrition into kids that prefer snacking and grazing over eating big meals.

Brown Bag lunch

Make It…


  1. Purchase grass fed or uncured meat options.
  2. Instead of crackers, substitute cucumber slices or add extra veggies.
  3. Use vegan cheeses or eliminate cheeses all together.
  4. Add dark chocolate squares as a sweet treat instead of chocolate chip trail mix.

Allergy Friendly

  1. Eliminate cheeses or use a dairy free alternative.
  2. Use gluten free, or wheat free, crackers.
  3. Replace trail mix with free2B sunflower seed butter cups.

For Picky Eaters

  1. Cookie cutter cheese slices, meats, and veggies into fun shapes.
  2. Choose a favorite food from each category (meat, cheese, veggies, fruits, etc.) and create a charcuterie box from those.
  3. Keep foods separate by using the “tackle box” method or with bento boxes like the ones listed below.
  4. Add one new food item to expose your child to new textures, shapes, and smells.

Burger And Fries

No need to drive through for a juicy burger when you can just bring one from home! Less preservatives, less grease, and just the way you like it. You’ll never wind up frustrated that the restaurant forgot your fries or left the tomato on your sandwich. In my opinion, hamburgers are an underestimated, overlooked brown bag option.

I love packing my son hamburgers in his cold lunch. They’re quick, easy, filling, and can be made in bulk ahead of time. Don’t want to make your own? Aldi has a dozen frozen 100% beef patty packages for only $12. That’s a steal when compared to the $10 value meal at a fast food joint.

Pair your hamburger with your favorite fries, or side of choice, to create your own value meal. Spice things up with different seasonings and sauces to keep things new. Need inspiration? Check out 30 Fun Burger Toppings and Ideas for lots of unique ideas.

Brown Bag Lunches

Make It…


  1. Replace bun with an iceberg lettuce leaf.
  2. Top with sugar free, or honey sweetened, ketchup.
  3. Substitute sweet potato fries for the French fries.
  4. Place diced burger patty on a bed of spring mix lettuce and top with toppings for a nutrient rich burger salad.

Allergy Friendly

  1. Melt vegan cheese on top of the burger patty.
  2. Purchase gluten free or grain free buns (or use a lettuce leaf instead).

For Picky Eaters

  1. Make mini sliders instead.
  2. Leave burger plain with topping options off to the side.
  3. Add one new food item to expose your child to new textures, shapes, and smells.


I LOVE Mexican food! But there is something fun about getting messy and scooping up a mound of meat with a fresh tortilla chip. As a bonus, unlike nachos, haystack chips stay nice and crunchy since they are served on the side instead of on the bottom.

Haystacks are highly customizable. They can be kept plain, or topped with everything under the sun. Cheese, sour cream, lettuce, olives, jalapeños, salsa, guacamole…options are endless! Mix them in before packing, or pack them separate for an interactive lunching experience.

Thanks to Siete brand, this spicy delight can easily be served paleo. They have the best chips, seasonings, sauces, and more! You can even pack one of their tortillas separately to turn your haystack into a full blown taco.

Make It…


  1. Use Siete brand taco seasoning and tortilla chips.
  2. Substitute unsweetened coconut milk yogurt for the sour cream.
  3. Buy vegan cheese or eliminate cheese completely.
  4. Reduce meat amount and place on a bed of spring mix lettuce for a nutrient dense salad option.

Allergy Friendly

  1. Swap cheddar cheese for vegan cheese.
  2. Eliminate sour cream or substitute for unsweetened coconut milk yogurt,

For Picky Eaters

  1. Keep food items separate in the “tool” box (under the charcuterie) or package separately in 2oz disposable containers with lids.
  2. Add one new food item to expose your child to new textures, shapes, and smells.


Who doesn’t love pizza for lunch? Actually…my kids when being served a slice of school cafeteria pepperoni pizza.

As someone who used to love school pizza, I didn’t understand what would make my kids suddenly drop this item off their “school favorites” list. That was, until the day I visited my daughter’s school for lunch.

The slice that ended up on my plate was not the same as I remembered it as a child. It was chewier and tasted more like processed chemicals than crust, sauce, and mozzarella cheese.

Fortunately, I found cheap mini pizza crust (comes in 3 packs with sauce packets already included) at Aldi. These packs make it super easy to make your own lunchtime pizzas at home.

Simply pack your favorite cheese and toppings in your lunchbox. Assemble it as school or work and then pop it in the microwave. No microwave? Not a problem! Pre-bake the pizzas at home to be enjoyed later.

Brown Bag lunch

Make It…


  1. Use a mushroom cap for the crust.
  2. Either eliminate cheese, or replace with vegan alternative.
  3. Purchase uncured, organic pepperoni
  4. Select a sugar free, or homemade, pizza sauce
  5. Add a side salad for extra nutrition.

Allergy Friendly

  1. Choose your favorite dairy free, or vegan, cheese substitute
  2. Find a gluten free, or wheat free, crust alternative.

For Picky Eaters

  1. Use a small circle pizza cutter to make mini pizzas, or, use mini bagels to make your own bagel bites
  2. Send pizza toppings and sauce in small, separate containers for a build-their-own pizza lunchable option.
  3. Pre-bake your pizzas at home, but arrange the toppings to look like a smiley face.
  4. Include one new topping option to expose them to a new texture, taste, or smell.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

Easy, classic, and a crowd pleaser. The peanut butter and jelly sandwich is the super star lunch that’s perfect for busy mornings. Yet, even though peanut butter and jellies are a popular lunchbox item, they’re not exactly filling, nutritious, or allergy friendly.

To combat the “not exactly filling” portion, I make my family’s peanut butter and jellies slightly different. I actually add a third piece of bread in the middle to make it a double decker sandwich. The two ends have the peanut butter, while the middle has jelly on both sides. It’s a cheap, easy addition that makes a big difference. This also helps me feel more like a grown up when eating one. LOL

Also, I actually don’t use peanut butter. I always substitute it out for SunButter because of my son’s food allergies. But not just that…I’ve actually come to prefer the taste.

Brown Bag lunch

Make It Paleo

  1. Replace bread with my Grain Free Charcuterie Bread or other paleo friendly bread.
  2. Buy a sugar free jelly or make your own clean homemade version like my Black Raspberry Sauce.
  3. Substitute sugar free SunButter.
  4. Add a side of spinach, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, or a side salad for extra nutrition.

Make It Allergy Friendly

  1. Use SunButter instead of peanut butter.
  2. Replace bread with a gluten free, or a wheat free, alternative.

Make It For Picky Eaters

  1. Use a fun shape cutter, or uncrustable cutter, like the ones below to make food fun.
  2. Surround the sandwich with some of their favorite sides to make them excited.
  3. Add one new food item to expose your child to new textures, shapes, and smells.


As kids’ go back to school, and work-life finds it’s new routine, the need for easy and fun lunchbox ideas are in high demand. I hope these first five cold lunch ideas have shown that packing food at home doesn’t have to be boring or take a lot of work. However, if you’re still overwhelmed, there are many ways to set yourself up for a week of lunchbox success without the added stress.

For example, one of my favorite ways to prepare is...TO BE CONTINUED

…Find the next 5 lunch box ideas, along with how to set yourself up for weekly success, in installment 2 of the Brown Bag Lunch series.

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