Strategies to Help With Packing Lunchboxes for School
The chore of packing daily lunches for school can become overwhelming for me. Feeding three boys means three filled lunch boxes times five days times all the months of school. That doesn’t include the breakfast and suppers my family of five eats during the week. To keep the lunch plan stress at a minimum, I use these strategies to help me manage the madness.
Find lunch containers that work for the family—and purchase several. These might change every few years or so as appetites change (in other words, children will eat more). I like to use bento-style containers with spaces of various sizes for different amounts of food. This allows me to include a main food, plus two or three “sides.” Make sure containers fit inside the lunchboxes and young children can open and shut any lids.
Keep stocked on low-maintenance whole foods. The idea about prepping on the weekend is a good one, until I realize how many hours I might spend during one weekend to cook and sort food for 15 lunches in the coming week. Purchasing simple, healthy foods that require little or no preparation makes the packing job all that much easier, especially on those days when lunch gets tossed together at the last minute.
Low prep or no-prep healthy foods:
- celery sticks
- carrot sticks
- dried fruits (raisins, prunes, pineapple are our favorites)
- sugar snap peas
- green beans (uncooked)
- nut butter (spoon into a mini container w/a lid)
- protein snack bars
- hard-boiled eggs (I purchase hard-boiled eggs at the store)
- dark chocolate chunks
- cubed cheese
- sliced roast beef, turkey or chicken
Use leftovers. The pasta you made for supper? Turn it into cold pasta salad with parsley, Parmesan cheese, cherry tomatoes and a sliced pepperoni. Leftover taco meat only needs cheese, chopped lettuce and crushed tortilla chips to become the next day’s taco salad lunch. Before storing leftovers, I transfer what can be used for the next day straight from the serving dish to the lunch container: perfect to do as part of the after-dinner routine.
Establish space in the refrigerator to store pre-made lunches, and try packing for at least two days at a time. Opening the refrigerator and seeing lunches ready for the next couple of days makes me smile. If you have several lunch containers, you can do this. Roast beef sandwiches, peanut butter sandwiches, chicken strips and pasta salad will last for a few days. Foods like crackers and chips get soggy in cool temperatures, so add those in the morning. I leave a sticky note on the kitchen counter so I don’t forget.
Bring the children on board. Once a week, designate PYOL: Pack Your Own Lunch day. If you like, set a few ground rules (one fruit + one veggie + one protein, etc.) and let your children handle the task. Of course, they can also help with any preparation you decide to do ahead of time and packing lunches on other days.
When I’m fresh out of lunch ideas, I refer to these handy resources:
BeHealthy Kate Forsyth does a fantastic job at finding new and exciting family meals
Momables Laura Fuentes has a terrific site with ideas for lunchboxes and dinners
The Paleo Mama Protein-rich, grain-free/gluten-free ideas
The Kitchn No-sandwich ideas for bento-style lunches
Family Fresh Meals Lots of yummy ideas here, (plus, she packs chocolate)