The school year is upon us once again and with that comes a return to carpool, homework, and lunch packing. The average number of school days in the United States is 180 per year. Multiply that by my 3 children, and that’s 540 lunches I pack to keep my kids fed while at school this year alone!
Looking at such a large number can send a shiver down any parent’s spine. However, when I change my mindset towards it, I have 540 opportunities to feed my children healthy, nourishing lunches that will help them learn to their fullest potential this year. It might seem silly, but positive mindset shifts are a key part to building habits, reducing stress, and living a healthy life.
After 5 years of having children in school, I’ve created a simple protocol to minimize my time spent packing lunches. Below are 6 tips to help make lunch packing a breeze!
- Lunch Box Round Up: Go through your kitchen and round up all the containers, water bottles, cutlery, extra lunch pails, and anything else you use in lunch packing. Keep it all in one cabinet as organized as possible. That way, when it’s time to pack lunches, you aren’t wasting time searching for a matching lid, a missing straw, or that Minnie Mouse spoon your child insists makes vegetables taste better.
2. Create a Checklist: In my lunch packing cabinet, I have a little handwritten checklist of items I include in each lunch. This simple tool allows anyone helping me know what to include in each lunchbox. Your checklist may vary, but mine says:
- 1 main dish
- 1 serving of fruit
- 1 serving of vegetables
- 1 veggie dip
- 1 snack
- 1 fork
- 1 wipe
- 1 water bottle
- 1 ice pack
- 3. Prep for Success: Take a look at your weekly schedule and decide which days you want to pack lunches. I do my grocery shopping and fridge prep on Sunday afternoon. After that I take a few minutes to pack lunches for Monday-Wednesday. On Wednesday evening I pack Thursday and Friday’s lunches. This way I’m only packing lunches 2 nights a week.
4. Weekly Rotation: Most children are creatures of habit. They don’t mind repetition and familiarity when it comes to food. Once a month I sit down with my kids to chat about their school lunches for the following month. Together we decide what will be on the main dish on the lunch menu either for a week straight or on a day of the week rotation. For example, they may decide this week they want sunbutter and jelly sandwiches this week and pasta salad the next week. Or we can do something like Monday/Wednesday/Friday this week is Veggie “Meatballs” and Tuesday/Thursday is Pizza “Lunchables.” Setting a main dish calendar helps me plan out my grocery list more easily and also gives the kids some say in what they want (and WILL) eat at school. (Pssst! Here’s a link to all of my lunchbox posts so far!)
5. Don’t Leave Out Leftovers: Cook once, eat twice! Invest in an insulated thermos and take advantage of last night’s dinner as the main dish in tomorrow’s lunch. Soups, rice bowls, pasta dishes, and casseroles all reheat wonderfully and will stay hot for hours in a thermos. Just give yourself an extra minute or two in the morning to heat the leftovers and put in the thermos along side containers of fruits and veggies for a heartier hot lunch.
6. Enlist the Kids Help: Elementary school aged children and older make wonderful kitchen helpers! Show your kids your lunch packing checklist and have them help you pull out all of the ingredients, chop fruits and veggies with a small knife, wash and refill water bottles, and make sandwiches. This is a great time to talk about their day, quiz them on spelling words, and teach them responsibility!
Lunch Box Snack Ideas
Since our school has snack time in the classrooms, our snacks are required to be nut-free and “non messy (nothing wet, crumbly, or to be eaten with a spoon).
Here are a few ideas that meet those requirements:
- No-Bake Hemp Brownie Bites or Raw Caramel Bites
- Cut up “dry” veggies (think baby carrots, celery sticks, and snap peas)
- Homemade Trail Mix (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, raisins, dried apricots, dried bananas, freeze dried strawberries, etc)
- Crispy Baked Chickpeas
- Air popped popcorn with a sprinkle of salt
- Pressed by Kind Bars
- Pretzels (arguably the most processed snack on the list-so try to find ones with the least amount of ingredients)
My Favorite Lunch Packing Supplies
Below are links to some of my tried and true lunch packing supplies. If these items can withstand several years of use from my children, they will work for your kids too!
Full disclosure: This blog post contains some affiliate links. Meaning, basically, if you make a purchase from any of these links it doesn’t cost you anything extra, but I may make a little money. So thank you in advance for supporting With Love & Veggies. I am not sponsored by any products, brands, or vegetables featured.