Here’s how I take the overwhelm and stress out of packing lunches for my kids, without compromising nutrition or fun
With a new school year starting right away, I think most of us parents with school-aged kids can agree: the lunch-packing part is not our favorite task. As a dietitian mom with 7+ years of lunch packing experience on my resume (for my three kids), I am here to share with you some of my favorite lunchbox packing hacks. The goal? To make lunch packing simpler, quicker and less overwhelming for you. Whether you’re packing lunches for the first time or you’re an experienced lunch packing parent, these hacks will help everyone.
Make a Plan
I know, I know… meal planning can be a daunting task too. But as a seasoned lunch packing mom facing the challenges of parenthood and COVID, the game changer for me was when I started consistently meal planning dinners and using the leftovers for lunches. Or I will plan to cook a large batch of some sort of protein (let’s say chicken) on Sunday that can then be repurposed into wraps or sandwiches. Because…. the decision fatigue is real! On those hectic mornings when you may be strapped for time (or just tired), it’s so nice knowing that the main part of your child’s lunch is ready in the fridge, and you can just build around it. You can use this lunch-packing cheat sheet if you’d like (just download and print!).
Do some prep
My favorite tips to make lunch packing super efficient is to prep what you can beforehand. To maximize my time while I have the cutting board out (and am already chopping anyways), I pre-cut vegetables and fruit and put them into their own containers in the fridge so they are ready to eat and pack in lunches. You can also consider boiling some eggs, precutting cheese, or portioning out snack bags/containers. I also love having a basket in the pantry with school-safe snacks or having pre-made muffins or bars in the freezer that are quick and easy to grab. Some of my favorite pantry staples are: applesauce, granola bars, raisins or other dried fruit, freeze dried fruit, fruit cups, beef jerky, dried chickpea snacks, and popcorn.
Pack The Night Before
If the mornings are hectic and you feel pressed for time or you may be packing lunches for more than one child consider packing what you can the night before. The most opportune time right after dinner when you’re putting lefotvers away. Have lunch boxes lined up, and – while you’re in the kitchen with food out anyways – pack them then! The more you pack the night before, the less you need to pack in the morning. Sandwiches, wraps with minimal sauce (or sauce on the side), veggies, fruit, yogurt and snacks can all be packed the night before. Some families even find it helpful to pack lunches for multiple days in row at one time. If you have the storage space, try and see if this strategy works for you!
Consider a Bento Box
These are super trendy right now, and for good reason! A bento box is my favorite lunch packing tool. While not necessary, bentoboxes have increased the amount of food my kids eat, and makes packing lunches a little more streamlined. With leakproof options available (like my favorite bentobox here, although there are many many options), it can keep dry foods dry and decrease any food sogginess. A big bonus is when it is snack time or lunch time, all the food is presented at the same time and kids can eat what they want, when they want, to get the fuel they need to get through the school day.
As a parent, I know you can relate to needing to have some flexibility when things don’t go quite as planned. So on those days when you are especially crunched for time, or there aren’t enough leftovers, I try to keep some essential pantry and freezer items ready to pack.
In my freezer I usually have some bagels, toaster waffles, muffins, or precooked chicken breast strips to use alone or in a wrap. A house special is frozen cheese tortellini than can be quickly boiled and served with pesto, jarred tomato sauce or olive oil and cheese and then served hot in a thermos or cold. I also usually have a can of tuna or two to use as a quick sandwich filling and crackers (most often served with cheese) that have saved me in moments of urgency. Like that one time the dog ate one of the kids sandwiches out of their bento box right before we needed to leave. It was cheese and crackers for the win that day!
Feeding kids is a journey and lunch packing is not about perfection. The ultimate goal is for your child to have access to food to nourish their bodies during the school day. If there are weeks where you need to pack the same thing day after day, know that it’s ok. Come back to some of these hacks to make lunch packing easier when you’re ready! If you need more lunchbox ideas, make sure you check out my ultimate guide to packing lunches, with over 50 lunchbox ideas!