The Art of Packing Lunch: Six Nutrition-Boosting Tips

Now’s the time to rinse the sand out of your hair, pack up the beach gear, and honor the rhythm of fall. Yes, campers, it’s time to get back to school and recommit to work and career. It’s also an excellent time, during this transition of fall, to consider taking regular time out to be quiet and rest, as work has a way of taking over every spare moment and drop of attention you provide. Rest and repletion are non-negotiable.

One way to take care of yourself and your family is to pack beautiful and balanced lunches—gifts you make by hand to be unwrapped throughout the day. Packing lunch is part of a morning ritual that determines overall nutritional wellness.

When it comes to packing nutritious lunches, we as a nation have room for improvement. A recent report by the School Nutrition Association noted that only 27 percent of packed lunches that kids brought to school met even some of the national recommendations for balanced, quality nutrition. We can do better!

Here are six tips for transforming your brown bags into nutritional care packages.
  1. Embrace the challenge. You’re the chef, and every choice you make in favor of nutrient density (a measure of food quality—nutrients per calorie) in place of processed, sugar-heavy foods will help build resilient genes, bodies, and minds.
  2. Think balance. As you plan and assemble packed lunches, imagine the food on a plate—is half the plate made up of colorful fruit and vegetables? Is there a serving of high-quality protein (beans, tofu, or plant-based or grass-fed animal foods, for example)? Are there a variety of colors and flavors? Does it give a nod to the season via the plants and flavors you choose? (For fall, try yellow squash with cinnamon, broccoli with mustard, apples and pears, and spiced nuts.)
  3. Make sure you have options and variety. Think about the day you’ll have, and pack accordingly. Having an extra snack of nuts and fruit in your lunch might help you avoid what nutritionist call “food emergencies”—when you’re hungry and have nothing healthy available, so you end up going for something less than ideal. Make a list of two or three snacks you like, and change them up to keep things interesting.
  4. Go for high quality vs. convenience. Packing your own lunch will save you cold, hard cash. Put your savings into high-quality (and yes, more expensive) ingredients, like grass-fed, organic animal foods; locally grown vegetables; and flavor-filled condiments like pesto or chutney.
  5. Get out of (or into) the box. There are great lunchbox choices available now, from Japanese-inspired bento boxes to classic Batman boxes with a thermos. Express yourself! Packing a set of real silverware, or having nice napkins stashed in your desk, can make lunch a little more special. 
  6. Feel the love. Taking the time and energy to pack a colorful, balanced lunch is excellent self-care—whether you’re packing for yourself or a family member. Take a moment or two to notice how good it feels to do this for yourself or your loved one. Pat yourself on the back, and repeat.

Happy packing—and send pictures!

© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. To request permission to reprint, please e-mail

Annie B. Kay, MS, RDN, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT, is an author, nutritionist, Kripalu faculty member, and important voice in whole-foods nutrition and yoga.

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