Tips for Packing School Lunches

Tips for Packing School LunchesIt’s that time of year, ladies — let’s share favorite tips for packing school lunches. Who does it: you, your partner, or your caregiver? (Or your child?!?) Have you adopted any favorite hacks or tricks to simplify it? Are you on “Team Everything Must Be Reusable” or on “Team Prepackaged Preportioned Foods are Great” (or somewhere in the middle)?

My new tip for packing school lunches is to do it throughout the day and week — basically, whenever you open a package for another reason, put some aside for the kids’ lunches if they’ll eat it and it will keep for a day or two. Let me back up a bit: This year I have two lunches to pack (I do it most days, but my husband knows my “formula” by now: protein, drink, fruit, tiny salty treat, tiny sweet treat, and veggie or fruit for snacktime snack) so I’ve been thinking a lot about a post I saw a while ago about a woman who packed lunch for five kiddos in 30 minutes because she did it immediately after coming home from the grocery store. I’m not at that level yet (and my kids are far too fussy) but I have adopted a “while I have it open” policy — if I have the popcorn bag open I’ll pack a bunch of popcorn for lunches. If I have the Goldfish crackers open I’ll pack a bunch of smaller containers. If I make myself green beans or crackers for lunch I try to put a few aside for my kids (odds of them eating them are slim to none, but I feel like just seeing them in their lunch is good).

One other tip that I’ll mention now: Halloween candy and salty treats are, in my mind, the PERFECT size for preportioned school treats because they tend to be a lot smaller than other prepackaged things. Not to be a total dork, but I think a lot of graham cracker/Goldfish bags come in at around 100 calories, whereas for my kids I prefer to give them smaller treats around 50 calories — I mostly just pack my own, but during the Halloween season it’s a great thing to keep an eye out for.

The Best Lunch Containers IMHO

Some of my favorite reusable lunch containers are pictured below — I swear I’ve done a roundup like this before but can’t find it now, so apologies if this is duplicative:

best lunch containers

Row 1:

  • (re)zip lunch bags – I just bought these for my eldest, who likes the occasional sandwich for lunch. They seem nice enough, although of all the reusable lunch products I’ve bought these are the ones I question most in terms of money/planetary impact versus their throwaway sisters (plain old sandwich-sized Ziplocs). Still: they zip up tight, are good for gooey things (mustard, whatever), and seem sturdy.
  • Sistema – I’m constantly looking for containers that are small enough for, say, a single Girl Scout cookie or 10 Mike & Ike’s — if the container is too much bigger than my “serving” then my kiddo whines. These 2 oz ones are nice and small. I have a few bigger Sistema products that I have mixed feelings about.
  •  ThinkBento – We have four of these and I mostly use them for popcorn, but occasionally for blueberries or silicone cupcake liners filled with cheese/olives/pepperoni. I think they’re being discontinued by the manufacturer, but we bought one (possibly two?) green ones in the past year or so and the quality has been fine.

Row 2:

  • Thermos food jar – Whenever I’m packing something the kids want warm I use these. I like to put a kettle on in the morning and fill them with boiling hot water for a minute or two before (and then dump) before I add food I’ve warmed up, like rice or steak or something.
  • Small clear lunch containers – I thiiiink this is the link to my product. Years ago I got teeny tiny containers from The Container Store that I am holding onto because they are awesome. This might also be them.
  • Bumkins – These are a nylon material (slightly thicker than an umbrella fabric) so I wouldn’t put something wet/gooey in here, but it works fine for crackers, dried fruit, grapes, baby carrots, etc.  (OOOH: has anyone tried these very stylish ones?)

OK readers, let’s hear from you — what are your favorite tips for packing school lunches? For those of you who’ve packed daycare lunches as well as grade-school lunches, how have you changed the contents of the lunches — and do you think your own process changed? 

Psst: here are my favorite easy school lunch ideas, and here was a great discussion on the pressure to pack an attractive/witty bento lunch. (I’m happy to report that whatever pressure I felt has now dissipated entirely!) We also rounded up eco-friendly, stylish office lunch containers for adults and kids over at Corporette recently.

Further reading/watching with good tips for packing school lunches:

  • How I pack school lunches for the whole week in under 30-minutes — and keep them fresh too. [Cool Mom Eats]
  • 27 School Luch Tips That Will Keep You Sane [Buzzfeed]
  • Video: “Game-Changing Ideas for Packing Lunches’ [Good Housekeeping]
  • Video:  “Back to School Lunch Hacks” [Tasty]
  • Teaching Kids to Pack Their Own School Lunch [Sunshine & Hurricanes]

Kat shared her easiest tips for packing school lunches -- as well as her favorite reusable lunch containers -- for working mothers and their caregivers. A super easy tip: instead of packing lunch in the morning, do it throughout the day -- whenever you have a package open, set some aside in a reusable container for your kiddo!

Comments

  1. shortperson says:

    planetbox, planetbox, planetbox. easy, we are going on year 4 with our oldest one, and they go in the dishwasher. (i do not put plastic in the dishwasher even if it says dishwasher safe due to the possible presence of estrogenic chemicals, and generally try to minimize plastic.)

    when i have my act together i pack six lunches on sunday afternoon (2 kids through wednesday). and i am all about the leftovers whenever possible. planetbox makes it easy to remember a formula — why is this space empty, right i forgot the vegetable.

  2. We use and like YumBox with 4 compartments. It’s great and has held up well. We do handwash.

    My daughter’s new favorite lunch food this year is a tortilla, spread with peanut butter, wrapped around a whole banana.

  3. I think the single best thing about having an au pair is delegating the lunch packing to someone else.

  4. Best lunch tip? Kids pack. Starting in Kidnergarten they are old enough to learn. By 2nd grade they could do with no supervision and know what is “permitted” in terms of balanced meals.

  5. Two Cents says:

    Having tried all of the fancy bento boxes, my go to is now a simple plastic box with three compartments and a fitted plastic lid. Easy Lunch Boxes is one brand but there are a hundred others on Amazon. I also weirdly enjoy making lunches in the morning, I aim to make it colorful and even take pictures and share them with a girlfriend, who is also into making their kids’ lunches. Yes, I’m weird. :)

  6. Keep it simple, in terms of packability and cleanup. We have had great luck with and Lands End and PBK lunchboxes. The only real container I use is a Sistema sandwich container to keep things from getting squished.

    Kiddo is in third grade this year and is mostly packing lunches on his own. I’ll help with the sandwich, but the rest is up to him. Choose a dairy, a fruit and a protein. We aren’t big on variety, honestly. Lunch is one meal of the day. If it’s reasonably nutritious, it’s good enough.

  7. Anonanonanon says:

    I gave up. My son buys lunch at the cafeteria. If he doesn’t like what they’re going to serve, he gets a lunchable (i know, i know), cut-up fresh fruit, and milk. This was tough for me, because my mom ALWAYS packed my lunch and I loved it and I felt bad for the kids who “had” to buy their lunch… but my son asked for 1.5 years to buy, he clearly wanted to, why was I projecting my feelings about it on to him? It’s made mornings much simpler.

  8. bellatrix says:

    The one good thing about having a super picky kid: He eats the same thing for lunch every single day and is fine with this. Cheese sandwich, cheese crackers, fruit (usually grapes), water to drink. Sometimes pretzels if we’re feeling spicy. One set of lunch containers (we had a Sistema cube for a long time until the hinge broke, now we have some other brand), no guessing what fits into what. I can pack his lunch in five minutes. (He’s in 3rd this year so he could do it himself, but he moves like molasses in the morning so it’s easier to do it myself.

    I am not a morning person, and for some reason it feels like admitting defeat to pack lunches the night before, so things need to be as uncomplicated as possible.

  9. Housecounsel says:

    I really, really, really don’t like this task. Can’t wait until my youngest is in high school, where the cafeteria has as many options as most mall food courts!

  10. Editrix says:

    I really like the Omiebox (https://www.omielife.com/) — it has a little thermos compartment with a handle that makes it easy for little hands to open. When my son was in kindergarten he couldn’t open even the kid-sized thermos jars. It’s great because I can just heat up leftovers and put them in (I preheat the container with boiling water).

    My son also loves Japanese rice balls (onigiri) … (https://www.thespruceeats.com/rice-balls-2031330) << mine are not nearly that neat! It's supposed to be made with fresh rice but I get the bowls of precooked rice they sell at Asian supermarkets and microwave one, then pat out the rice and stick some fish inside — I often use Trader Joe's smoked trout instead of tuna/salmon because I don't want him to eat too many big fish because of the mercury.

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