How do you feel about packing school lunches? Whether you’re a school lunch artist, a last-minute scrambler (I’m going to raise my hand for this one), or somewhere in between, here are some hacks to make school lunch prep easier for everyone.
First, a throwback to those magazine quizzes you might have taken back in middle and high school. Answer a few questions, then read on for the top lunchbox hacks to match your school-lunch packing style.
The Quiz: Find your School Lunch Packing Style
- How do you feel about packing lunches in the morning/every day?
(A) Stressed. It’s not something I have time for.
(B) I manage it, but I wish it were easier.
(C) I don’t mind packing lunches every day.
- What’s most important to you about what goes into your kids’ lunchboxes?
(B) Some fresh/homemade foods included.
(C) Fresh foods and appealing presentation.
- How much can/do you want your kids to help you pack their lunches?
(A) They’re able/I’d like them to pack their own lunches.
(B) I’d like them to help me pack their lunches.
(C) It’s not necessary or possible for them to help.
- Describe your kids’ lunch habits and preferences.
(A) They’re unpredictable. Some days they’ll try new things, other days they won’t.
(B) My kids are open to/they want variety from day-to-day.
(C) My kids are completely flexible OR they depend on routine.
Top Hacks for your Lunch-Packing Style:
Mostly A’s: Prepped & Ready
For school lunches that are easy to pack (and easy for your kids to pack themselves!) try out these lunchbox hacks!
- Make a week’s worth of sandwiches, muffins, or quick breads (think banana, zucchini, or cornbread) and freeze individual portions. They’ll thaw quickly and help keep the rest of lunch cold.
- Purchase a few bins and prepackage/sort lunch items so your kids can help pack. Offering them choices is also a great way to get them to try new things!
- Purchase a set of reusable bento boxes and pack them ahead of time.
- Decide the lunch menu ONCE and automatically add them to your grocery list. Taking the decision-making out is a great help! Want a little variety or personalization? Change 1 thing, or switch up the menu every quarter.
Mostly B’s: Semi-Homemade
If you’d like school lunches to be more homemade than prepackaged, aren’t into the meal-prep thing, or your kids don’t go for frozen sandwiches, try out these tips to make things a bit more streamlined.
- Choose 1-2 items to make/pack fresh each day. Maybe the sandwich or freshly cut fruit. Automate the rest, or create a lunch bin so that your kids can pack the rest themselves.
- If you like the bento box idea, use silicone or paper muffin cups to pre-portion your ingredients and store those in a larger container. On the day of, all you need to do is pack the filled muffin cups.
- Repurpose your leftovers: While you’re making dinner or packaging up the leftovers, chop some extra protein and veggies for the next day’s lunches. Combine with pasta or lettuce to make a salad, or tortillas to make mini-tacos or wraps. (Look for street-sized tortillas for little kids!)
- Pack twice each week. Try Sunday and Wednesday afternoons, and have your kids clean out their backpacks at the same time so you’re all on a routine. Or Monday and Thursday mornings, but make breakfast super easy on those days.
Mostly C’s: Freshly Packed
If you’re a bento box family or you want to and enjoy the routine of making lunches every day, try these lunchbox hacks to make prep and packing a bit easier.
- Streamline your prep: once or twice each week, or while you’re prepping another meal, wash and chop your ingredients for the week.
- Store all of your lunch items in a single bin. (One for the pantry, one for the fridge.)
- Pre-pack what you can ahead of time. If your kids like bento boxes, pre-fill muffin cups (paper or silicone) to transfer to their lunchboxes the day of.
- Simplify the other parts of your morning routine. (Breakfast, getting dressed, etc.) Create checklists for your kids so that they can get ready independently while you pack lunches.
- Choose your menu ONCE each quarter (or for the year!). Choose one or two items to change up each week if you’d like some variety.
Bonus Lunchbox Hacks:
- LUNCH DOES NOT HAVE TO LOOK LIKE A MEAL. You don’t have to pack an entree and two sides to provide a healthy and filling lunch. Fill your child’s lunchbox with smaller portions of healthy foods you know that they enjoy.
- Looking to keep foods warm in the lunchbox? Preheat a thermos with boiled water before filling it with hot food.
- Want to test how well your thermos keeps food hot? Fill the thermos with boiled water. Take the water temperature right away, close the jar, and then take the water temperature again at the time your child normally eats lunch.
- Have your child try opening any containers or prepackaged foods at home one day to see if they’ll run into any problems at school.
- Does your child love PB&J but attend a nut-free campus? Serve the peanut butter and jelly sandwich for breakfast (have them wash their hands after!) or as an after-school snack.
- Looking for inspiration? Find great kid lunch ideas here:
How do you make packing school lunches easier? Tell us about it below!