Are you looking for tips for school lunch packing?
I pack a lot of school lunches around here - and I've been doing it for almost 10 years. I've pretty much tried it all, and made all the mistakes.
I'm here to help make your life a little easier!
Here are my top 5 tips for easy school lunch packing!
1: Follow a basic formula for a healthy lunch
There's no need to overthink this. I know you see pictures on Pinterest (and even here on my own blog!) of some very fancy and pretty lunches. But obviously this isn't anyone's every day reality. Lunches don't have to be pretty, they just have to get the job done. If you just follow a basic formula every day, you will have no problem packing lunches that fit the bill just fine.
The simple formula is this: Protein + veggie + fruit + carb.
I find the easiest way to accomplish this is to use a bento style lunch container. Then you just know - protein in one spot, veg in another, fruit in another. Throw in a few crackers for good measure, and boom! You're done!
This lunchbox even has spots that labeled already for you! Don't even worry about if the things don't seem like they go together, honestly I think we moms care about the aesthetic appeal of the meal way more than our kids do.
Also, while I'm a big fan of having variety in the lunch box, I don't think that lunch is the time to really experiment too much on new stuff. Kids have a very limited amount of time to eat. They need to be able to open their lunchbox, see food that is appealing and familiar, and just eat without having to think about it too much. Save the experimenting on new foods for dinner & weekends.
2: Have a plan for your school lunch ideas
Yeah I'm basically telling you to meal plan your kids school lunch. But honestly this is easier than dinner meal planning.
Getting up in the morning and scratching your head about what to pack for lunch is a recipe for disaster and quick burnout. Planning what you are going to pack ahead of time makes it much easier.
This doesn't have to be complicated. You don't have to re-invent the wheel every week, and you don't have to have a super specific plan ahead of time. Just give yourself a basic framework for the kind of thing you're going to pack each day of the week. This makes it easy for you to figure out what to pack, and it ensure that your kids get variety. It keeps you out of the lunch packing rut.
I use a magnetic dry erase menu on the fridge for quick meal planning. I took a sharpie and a ruler to make a line down the middle to divide the sections into space for lunch and dinner.
My plan looks something like this:
- Monday: Pizza, or other Leftovers We do pizza every Friday and I try to make sure there is enough left for Monday lunch. If not pizza, then there's usually some leftover pasta or soup or something like that. I ALWAYS cook lots extra, because I think leftovers make the world go 'round.
- Tuesday: Homemade 'lunchable': A snack box with divided sections with crackers, cheese, lunchmeat, fruit & veggie. Super quick and easy.
- Wednesday: Breakfast for lunch. I always make extra when I cook a big breakfast on the weekend - pancakes, waffles, french toast, muffins, etc. Some of our favorite lunches are sandwiches with a pancake and cream cheese, or waffle with peanut butter. You can look here for a lot of my breakfast-for-lunch ideas.
- Thursday: Tortilla something. This might be a quick quesadilla if I'm in a hurry, or a burrito, or a turkey & cheese roll in a tortilla, or a pizzadilla, or nachos... You can get creative and do a wide variety of stuff, but just knowing that I'm basing it around a tortilla gets me off to a good start.
- Friday: Sandwich day. If I'm in a hurry I can just throw together some PB&Js. If I'm feeling more creative, one of my kids favorite lunches are make-your-own sandwich kits. I give them slices of bread cut in smaller squares, meat, cheese, mayo, and veggies, and they assemble their own sandwich to their liking.
I will follow this basic routine all year long and it absolutely is a critical key to success for me. It gives me enough framework to not have to figure it out from scratch every day, but leaves enough flexibility to get creative if I want to. And it really, really helps on those days when I am just too tired to figure it out.
3: Pack lunch ahead of time!
Really. Just do it. Even if you really don't want to.
It's late. You've had a full day. The last thing you want to do is make lunch. I totally get it.
But honestly, every time I decide to just skip it and pack in the morning, I regret it. School day mornings are so much easier if the lunch is already made. I try to get the lunches packed earlier in the day - either while I'm cleaning up from the morning rush, or while I'm in the kitchen making dinner. Often it doesn't get done until after dinner, but even that is better than waiting until morning.
If you have a few extra minutes and have the space in your fridge, try making two days of lunches at once. Then you get to skip a day of packing, and it kinda feels like a vacation.
I have a whole post here all about strategies for packing lunch ahead of time.
4: Shop & Prep Lunch Ingredients Ahead of Time
You've got your lunch plan for the week. Now make sure you have the food you need to deliver on it! At the beginning of the week, or on the weekend, look at your list of what you plan to send for lunch, and just make sure you have all that food in your house.
Then get it ready to pack!
After you get your groceries for the week, spend a little time doing some prep work. Cut up celery, carrots, and cucumbers. Slice apples and oranges (store them together and the orange juice will help keep the apples from browning). Wash and chop lettuce. I find it so much easier to send a variety of fruits and veggies if I have them ready and prepped ahead of time.
Fill little containers with yogurt, peanut butter, hummus. Fill reusable squeeze pouches with yogurt and applesauce. Cut blocks of cheese into sticks or cubes. You can even pre-fill a couple days worth of water bottles, or insulated drink bottles with milk.
Taking the time to prep some of this stuff ahead will save you so much time when you are packing. It will also save you tons of money over buying pre-packaged foods. Use fridge organizing containers to create handy spaces in your fridge for your grab-and-pack items.
Cook lunch items in advance too!
When I cook, I always, always make extra. And if it's something that freezes well, then I make even more. You can freeze all kinds of stuff - pizza rolls, or english muffin or mini pizzas, corn dog muffins, pasta, burritos. Lots of breakfast items freeze well - I always make loads of extra pancakes and waffles and muffins. Even cooked oatmeal freezes great.
Experiment, and see what works for you. It's so easy to just pull a serving size portion out of your freezer and pop in your lunch box the night before, add a little fruit or carrot sticks on the side, and you're good to go.
5: Buy the right lunch packing supplies, and keep them organized.
Get yourself a basic, consistent set of good quality lunch packing products, and then keep them organized and handy. I am a huge believer in the concept of a job being made easier if you have the right tools.
If you're fumbling around trying to figure out what you are going to pack in, or searching for the right kind of container, then lunch packing really quickly becomes a giant drag. But if you have the right stuff, and have it handy, then you can throw together a great lunch really fast.
Store your lunch packing supplies as close to where you will be packing lunch as possible. Mine are all in a cabinet right next to my main prep area in my kitchen.
I have a whole post about my favorite lunch packing products here if you want to read more about what I buy and why.
So that's it!
My top 5 tips for making school lunch packing quick and easy! Drop me a note if you have any questions!