Now that school is out, the weather is hotter, and my daughter is at day camp instead of a school building, I have to change my approach to our usual school lunches.
Instead of knowing that the packed lunch will be in a temperature-controlled environment until it’s time to eat, I have to plan for items that will last during warm, day-long field trips with just a lunch box (sometimes an ice pack). I also know there isn’t access to a microwave.
I want to provide items that will stay fresh while still providing some variety and good fuel for a long and active day. Most meats and dairy won’t last very long, and only some fruits and veggies will store well. Chocolate as a dessert item is also not a great idea.
Below, I rounded up some options for lunch items that don’t need to be refrigerated and lunch items that require minimal refrigeration, so my kid can enjoy a decent lunch in the middle of a zoo-day field trip that isn’t warm, spoiled or melted.
With an option from each of the categories on the list below, you can pack a filling lunch that will last on even the warmest of July afternoons. From the list, I mix and match a main item with a fruit and/or veggie, and a side dish or two to include grains or additional protein. A couple times a week I’ll add a dessert for a surprise.
Summer Camp Lunch Ideas
No Refrigeration Needed
The items below are for when you can’t rely on any refrigeration. Sometimes at camp there are field trips that require a sack lunch (in a disposable container) so I know I can’t rely on a lunch box keeping items cool. These are some of the items that keep my daughter full that I know won’t spoil in a paper bag.
- Peanut butter, sunflower seed butter, or Nutella in a sandwich, roll-up, or on top of a rice cake
- Tuna or chicken salad and crackers pack
- Packet of tuna or chicken salad and a tortilla or pita
- Summer sausage or pepperoni and crackers
Fruits & Veggies
- Whole fruits that don’t need to be stored in a fridge or pre-cut before eating: apples, bananas, clementines, pears, peaches, nectarines, and cherries
- Fruit cup
- Apple sauce cup
- Dried fruit
- Cherry or grape tomatoes
- Mini cucumbers
- Mini bell peppers
- Broccoli florets
- Individual cup of black olives
- Sun Chips
- Wheat Thins
- Smart Pop
- Granola bar
- Veggie Straws
- Beef jerky
- Animal crackers
- Dry cereal
- Fruit strips
- Nuts (if allowed) like almonds, peanuts, cashews, pistachios
- Chocolate pudding cup
- Mini muffins
- Nutella and Go sticks
No Refrigeration Lunch Ideas
Tuna salad packet with tortilla, apple, mini cucumber, and Nutella breadsticks.
Turkey pepperoni and crackers, bell pepper strips, cherries, and pistachios.
Minimal Refrigeration Needed
The items below can be used when you know that the lunch can stay a bit cool (i.e. not on a field trip day) until it’s time to be eaten but you are just relying on a lunch box and ice pack. Usually at day camp, we can pack lunch this way, but I know I can only count on the ice pack and container for so long before food starts to get warm.
- Bagel or pita with hummus
- Frozen Uncrustable (so that it will be thawed by mid-day)
- Grain or bean salad with a vinaigrette dressing
- Pasta, rice, or quinoa salad
- White bean salad
- Chickpea salad
Fruits & Veggies
- Sliced watermelon
- Cucumber slices
- Bell pepper slices
- Baby carrots
- Celery sticks
- Snap peas
- Frozen yogurt tube (so it will be thawed by mid-day)
- Chips and salsa
- Chocolate chip cookie
- Tootsie pop
- Gummy candy
And importantly, don’t forget to send along a reusable water bottle for those warm, active days!