It’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.
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What to Use to Pack School Lunches
These are some of our latest favorite lunch containers:
The Best Lunch Containers IMHO
As of the time of writing this article, these are 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:
- (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.
- 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]