Packing a school lunch can save you tons of time, but it can make busy mornings even more hectic. To the point where some parents may even wonder if it’s really worth the hassle, myself included at one time.
These days, though, the school lunch making process is pretty streamlined and simple, mostly because we now employ a plethora of school lunch tricks and tips!
Have a School Lunch Prep Day
Sundays are our school lunch prep days. We take a little time, usually under an hour, to do the majority of the work that comes with packing the kids’ lunches. Depending on what’s on the menu, this could include making sandwiches, chopping veggies, whipping up a pasta salad, or bagging homemade snack mix. Everything then goes into the designated plastic baskets in the “school lunch stations” in the fridge and on the counter.
Make School Lunch Stations
Having designated spots in your kitchen to corral all of the essentials for your school lunches makes assembling the lunches SO much easier! We picked up a few plastic baskets, which we use to hold all of the important components of the week’s school lunches. After everything is corralled in the baskets, it’s just grab and go!
Have a School Lunch Formula
Figure out a good formula for a school lunch, and use it. Our school lunch formula typically consists of one main dish + one veggie + one fruit + one grain. Sometimes there’s a sweet treat, like a cupcake, cookies, or some gummy candy. The school lunch formula really takes the guesswork out of packing a school lunch, and reduces the possibility that your kid will end up with nothing but a PB&J or, worse yet, nothing but cookies and cake for lunch. Hey, it happens!
Teach Kids the School Lunch Formula
Teaching kids a little responsibility and self-sufficiency isn’t a bad thing. If your kids are old enough, they can make their own school lunches the night before. To make this process as simple and foolproof as possible, we have posted the school lunch formula mentioned above on the refrigerator. It’s probably not needed now, since they pretty much have it down cold, but it was a tremendously helpful and (almost) foolproof way of making sure that they packed a healthy and balanced lunch.
Keep Extra Condiment Packets
Mayo, mustard, ketchup, ranch and all of those other wet, messy dressings can make a sandwich or salad soggy way before lunchtime rolls around. However, those little packets and tubs that fast food and sub shops hand out are amazing little inventions! We always have lots of extras when we ask for them, so these usually get saved and put in school lunches. If you don’t go out to eat, you can actually make your own condiment packs with popsicle tubes and a straightening iron! Just snip a little nick in the side to make them easier for kids to open.
If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know that I’m a huge fan of repurposing leftovers, because I hate wasted food! I generally don’t send hot lunches to school, but if you have a high quality thermos, you can reheat food in the morning and it should stay warm until lunch. You can also use some leftovers, like chicken and pasta, for cold lunches too. An extra chicken breast becomes chicken salad or chicken wraps, leftover taco meat makes a great taco salad, leftover pasta becomes pasta salad, and so on.
Use Boxes With Compartments
Whether it’s a bento box or just a compartmented food storage container, the compartments make packing school lunches easy. And, they hel you save money and keep plastic out of the landfills by nearly eliminating the need for plastic bags. The different compartments also help keep foods from *GASP* touching each other.
Freeze Half Full Water Bottles
Well, you can pretty much freeze just about any drink, but it’s not always a guarantee that they will be thawed by lunchtime. If your child’s class is one of the first to eat lunch late in the morning, they may end up with a still mostly frozen block of fruit juice. We’ve found that refilling water bottles only halfway and freezing them works much better. In the morning, the kids simply fill the bottles the rest of the way and toss them in their lunch bags. The ice water still keeps their lunches cold and they don’t have to worry that the drink won’t thaw in time.
Reconstruct Apples and Oranges
My son loves apples, but he hates eating them whole, because the skin hurts his sensitive gums. I stumbled across this awesome apple tip on Home With Real Food not too long ago, and I’ve been using a variation of it ever since! I have a weird fear of rubber bands and I hate touching them, so I wrap the apple in plastic wrap instead. The Boy One says that the apple slices still get a tiny bit brown, but not so bad that he won’t eat them. I also absolutely love this orange strip idea from JewelPie, but I haven’t tried it yet.
Always Have a Backup Plan
Yes, packing school lunches can save you a bundle, but some mornings are so hectic (meaning that The Girl One and I have overslept AGAIN) that we don’t always have the time or inclination to do it. (We are not morning people!) These are the days that we revert to Plan B—money in the lunch account. At the beginning of the year, I always put money in the kids’ lunch accounts. These “emergency funds” can be used on those days that we just don’t feel like packing a lunch.
Do you have any school lunch tips to add? I’d love to hear them!