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  • Writer's pictureLaura Weiler

9 Tips for Easier School Lunches

The kids are back at school…and you're back to packing lunches. Maybe you love to pack lunches, get creative with bento boxes, and create cute little animals out of food. If so, you probably don’t need this post. (Also, would you like to come over—because my kids would love you!) But if you’re like me, and packing lunches is something you’d like to finish quickly, then keep reading for some real-world tips on making healthy, easy lunches that your kids will actually eat—and maybe even get them to pack their own!

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Prepped once, and done for the week.

1. prep on Sunday

It’s a basic principle of time management that batching a repeat task is more efficient than doing it multiple times. Set aside a small amount of time on Sunday and prep for the week: cut a couple days worth of celery, pack multiple containers of baby carrots, portion snacks for the week, etc. This saves SO MUCH TIME versus getting everything out each day.

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It's much easier to say "pick a snack from the bin" than "pick a snack...these are the options...they're on the second shelf...and the third...and in the box on the floor...and behind the cereal..."

2. create lunch and snack zones

Store lunchbox and snack items in a designated spot in the pantry and fridge—it makes packing faster. And it’s easier for kids to be self-sufficient when everything they need is in one spot vs. spread out across the fridge or pantry.

3. use the magical meal-maker

We’ve all seen the amazing Bento box lunches on Pinterest, right? But Bento boxes are not only for people willing to spend an hour and use 17 dishes on lunch prep. Here’s what’s great about those boxes with their many little compartments: they turn odds and ends into a meal. You’d be surprised what you can scrounge up when you think in terms of small bites. If you need to further subdivide your bento box, silicone muffin cups will squish to fit. Bento boxes come at all price points, low to high, and in everything from plastic to stainless steel.

A side note for anyone with little kids: I used to make muffin tin lunch for my picky toddler. I’d put different items in the openings of a muffin tin—no food touched any other food!—and she thought it was the greatest. She’d reject a sandwich, but somehow cheese, turkey, and bread, each in their own compartments, was just fine. Add a couple cherry tomatoes and some cut up fruit, and it’s a pretty good lunch. (Or almonds, yogurt, whatever they’ll eat…) If you have a picky toddler, it’s worth a shot!

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If you want kids to help pack their own lunches, try making them a 'menu' of the options.

4. get your kids involved

Before you go to the grocery store, get their input—what veggies do they want in their lunchbox this week? Did they like the new juice boxes you bought? Kids are more likely to eat their lunch when they get to help choose what’s in it.

If they’re old enough, let them pack their own lunch. But—give guidelines so they don’t throw in a bag of popcorn and a few cookies and call it a day. For example: a main course (with protein!), a veggie, a fruit, a side, and maybe a treat. You could even write out a menu/list of options so they know what’s available.

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One giant sandwich, ready to be sliced for multiple servings. Photo by Raphael Nogueira on Unsplash

5. make one big sandwich

Are you making multiple sandwiches? Instead of getting out multiple slices of bread, spreading condiments on each one, and adding deli meats individually, get one loaf, slice it horizontally, and make one giant sandwich. Then slice it up into individual servings. Done.

Or maybe you don’t have sandwich eaters. If they don’t want deli meat and cheese between bread, would they eat it in a wrap instead? Maybe a slice of cheese and a slice of meat rolled up with a toothpick through it? Kids are weird. The same ingredients presented in a different way can make the difference between the lunch that gets eaten and one that comes home.

6. don’t forget about leftovers!

Last night’s dinner can be today’s lunch. Half a chicken breast left? Slice it and put it in that bento box. Use it to top a salad. If the seasoning works, shred it and add it to a quesadilla. Put pasta in a thermos. Make a few extra meatballs and toss them with a little sauce.

7. keep it cold

Ice packs are the obvious answer here, but it doesn’t end there. If you send water in their lunchbox, you can fill the water bottle half or 2/3 of the way and freeze it, so it doubles as beverage and cooling in their lunchbox. Or maybe your kids keep losing their ice packs. There’s a lunchbox with built-in freezable gel—freeze the entire thing overnight with no need for additional ice packs.

8. keep it hot

A Thermos increases your lunchbox options. You can help the food inside stay hot by preheating: fill with boiling water and let it sit for 5 minutes before adding food.

9. keep it interesting

It happens to all of us. Day 17 of the sandwich. Cheese and crackers five days in a row. It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut, but all you need is a few new ideas and lunch will be interesting again! For an online resource with hundreds of lunch ideas and combinations, visit What Lisa Cooks. If you want something easy to print and keep in the kitchen for times you need inspiration, I have a printable for you with no-recipe-needed lunch ideas. And not a single one involves adding whiskers made of chives to a mouse made of cheese. ;) 

To receive your lunch ideas printable, click here.

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