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10+ Time-Saving Tips for Packing School Lunches

by on Aug 15, 2019

Photo by S’well on Unsplash

I’m not a mom that loves the laid back, anything-goes freedom of summer vacation. I’m the mom who always greet the “Back to School” season with welcome arms! There are so many things to love about the school year: my children are back on a regular routine, early bedtimes are enforced, I’m not monitoring screen time and sibling fights all day, and I get a little time to myself while they’re gone.

What’s the one thing I’m not looking forward to? Packing school lunches. I’m not a fan of cooking or meal prep in general – I prefer decorating and organizing. Luckily, I’ve found a few school lunch ideas to make the packing grind a little easier.            

small bento box with kids in the background

1. Plan Ahead

Take a few minutes over the weekend to plan the week’s lunch menu. This way, you can avoid last-minute decisions and ensure you have all the necessary ingredients on hand.

2. Batch Cooking

Cook larger quantities of certain foods (like grilled chicken, pasta, or rice) and store them in the fridge for use in multiple lunches throughout the week. You shouldn’t feel like you need to be serving a different, unique lunch every single day. 

I like to pick one main item for the week, and then maybe mix up the sides for variety. For example – you can make five cheesy roll-ups at the beginning of the week and have them in the fridge and ready to pack every day. Throw in pretzels as a side on Monday, tortilla chips on Tuesday… you get the idea.  

3. Prep Veggies in Advance

Wash, peel, and cut vegetables in advance. Store them in airtight containers or zip-top bags for easy grab-and-go during the week.

4. Use Leftovers

Incorporate dinner leftovers into the lunchbox. This saves time on cooking and provides a varied and balanced meal.

5. Invest in Reusable Containers

Invest in a variety of reusable containers in different sizes. These make packing and storing lunches easier and reduce the need for disposable bags.

My favorite development in the school lunch world is the bento box. This baby makes packing lunch so easy. This means no more messing with plastic sandwich bags! Just pop the bento box in your lunch bag with an ice pack and voila! Plus there’s one thing I know about kids: they can’t get enough of compartmentalized food. Weirdos.

6. Pre-Pack Snacks

Pre-portion snacks like nuts, fruits, and crackers into snack-sized bags or containers during your weekly meal prep.

7. Make Sandwiches Simple

If you want to feel like a terrible parent, do one search on Pinterest for “fun school lunch ideas.” These people are not messing around! If you’re like this Mama, you don’t got time for that. But, I do try to add a little whimsy to their lunches, simply because it’s an opportunity to get creative and break up the monotony. Keep the magic simple!

  • Cut their sandwich into an unexpected shape with a cookie cutter.
  • Add some sprinkles to their peanut butter sandwich on their birthday.
  • Opt for easy-to-assemble sandwiches with few ingredients.
  • Alternatively, make open-faced sandwiches or DIY crackers and cheese to save time on the assembly process.

8. Include Ready-to-Eat Foods

Include foods that require minimal preparation, such as yogurt cups, cheese sticks, and pre-packaged hummus with veggie sticks.

9. Create a Lunch Station

Designate an area in your kitchen for lunch-packing essentials like lunch bags, containers, napkins, and utensils. Having everything in one place can save you time searching for items.

10. Involve Your Child

If your child is old enough, involve them in the lunch-packing process. They can help choose items from a pre-approved list, making them more likely to eat their lunch. Before you know it, they’ll be packing their lunches all by themselves! WIN-WIN!

11. Make Notes Ahead of Time

I know, I know, I said these were school lunch ideas to make packing easier, not more complicated. But hear me out! My daughter absolutely loves getting a daily note from me in her lunch box, so I find a way to make it work (most days).

With everything else that needs to be done in the morning, it’s sometimes impossible to draw a cute picture or write a quick note. So instead, I make all my notes on Sunday night. After the kids have gone to bed I bring out my note cards and my markers and I draw four or five pictures to include in her lunches for the week.

It’s something I’ve actually really come to enjoy and look forward to! It’s fun to think of little doodles that she might like to find.

12. Let them buy, sometimes

Don’t forget school cafeteria lunches! I don’t let my kids buy their school lunches very often, so when they’re allowed to, they get pretty excited.

Most schools provide a monthly menu, so let your kids look it over and circle three or four lunches they want to buy for the month. It’s a special treat for them, but what they don’t know is that it’s a special treat for you, too! Because no matter how easy you make packing school lunches, you know what’s even easier? Not packing a lunch at all.

Bonus Tip

Consider making a weekly or monthly meal plan for lunches to eliminate the guesswork and reduce decision fatigue.

Remember, the key to efficient lunch-packing is organization and preparation. Developing a routine that works for you and your family can save time and ensure your kiddo has a healthy and enjoyable lunch at school.

More Back to School Ideas

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