School Lunch Tips
Back to school time is always bittersweet for me. I'm happy to have more structure in our lives, but I miss my kids and the flexibility and freedom we have during the summer. Having kids going all different directions takes a lot of organizing. Over the years I have figured out some school lunch tips that I hope will help you as you help your kids pack a lunch every day.
I know that in order to keep my sanity I have to be organized and prepare everything so that my kids and I work as a team to make the school year successful for everyone. The first task for my family is putting in place a system for lunches. I let my teenager and my second grader pick hot lunch once a week. The rest of the time they pack lunches from home.
Tip 1- Make sure that you have good quality reusable containers, ice packs, water bottles and lunch bags
Before school started I made sure that they each had a good lunch box that could fit our containers and have enough room for their food. Then I went to Costco and bought the Contigo water bottles and assigned one to each child (including the younger ones).
If you know that you are sending your kids with home lunch the majority of the time, it is worth investing in good quality items that they can keep using over and over again. It's also better for our environment. I know they can get a bit pricey so I suggest looking for them when they are off season. If you want to read more about how I shop clearance.
Tip 2- Have the kids get involved!
I told my girls that I would help them with lunch prep, but they are in charge of taking out their lunch packs every day right. after. school so we can wash the bags and prep their lunches for the next day. Every night after dinner we pack their lunches and fill the water bottles. My oldest does all the washing and packing herself. I help my younger daughter when she needs my help.
Tip 3- Label everything and keep a few spares
I also bought a few extra ice packs to keep on hand because they always seem to get lost. Speaking of things getting lost, I made sure to use a sharpie to write their names on everything! I told them that if they lose their lunch box or water bottle, they are responsible for replacing them.
Tip 4- Set up a guideline then let the kids make some choices
Once we got all their gear in order, I tried to set up a simple system that allows them to pack a healthy lunch every day with minimal help from mom. Our pantry isn't very big, so I had to get creative. Our system seems to be working so far, so I can't complain.
I have one basket for bread, bagels, and muffins. I also have color coded baskets (on the lowest shelf of the pantry) where we put the packaged items. One basket is for all the varieties of fruit like applesauce, dried fruit and cups of fruit. The next basket is dedicated to granola bars, pretzels,nuts, and goldfish crackers. The last basket has little treats like fruit snacks and other little things I might divide into smaller portions so they can have something sweet after lunch.
We have a fruit basket on the counter that is stocked with apples, organges, bananas, limes, and lemons. Inside the fridge I keep berries, peaches, pears, plums and other seasonal fruits. I also have a drawer with our favorite vegetables like cucumber, carrots, peppers, snap peas, celery and salad.
The kids know that they need to have some protein, vegetables, fruit, and a carbohydrate to round out their lunch. I also try to bake muffins, granola bars or cookies at the beginning of the week so they can have another option to throw in the lunch bag. Those also double as after school snacks. I really try to keep the packaged stuff to a minimum.
I make sure that my girls are involved in the whole process so they have a big say in what they are eating.
My oldest doesn't really like sandwiches so we have gotten creative with her lunches. We usually plan to do leftover dinner once or twice a week.
Tip 5- Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot
For days when we have soup, chili, or something else that needs to stay warm we use a good old thermos. I am always concerned about it staying warm long enough so I take extra steps to keep it warm. First I rinse the thermos in hot water. Then I throw in 1 cup of boiling water and close the lid on the thermos. I heat up the food so that it is extra hot. Then I quickly pour out the boiling water and put in the hot food and close the lid tight.
If they take a water bottle in their lunch you can freeze that and use it to keep cold things cold. Freezer packs work really well too. Sometimes to change things up the kids add lemons, limes, or frozen berries to their water bottles. It's a great way to keep them motivated to drink enough water. I also make sure to have plenty of ice on hand so they can keep their water bottles cold all day long.
Our system is working great so far. I hope these basic school lunch tips will help you to see that once you have a system set up it's really easy to pack lunches every day. This is the first year I have actually enjoyed getting everyone ready in the morning. Now that I'm not reenacting the scene from the old Overboard (have you seen it?) where Goldie Hawn is frantically throwing together pb&j sandwiches in a kitchen that looks like it's recently been in the path of a tornado, I quite enjoy our morning routine.
The key to our blissful school morning crunch is to prepare everything we possibly can the night before. I make sure to look at papers and planners the night before. I have them lay out their clothes and pack their bags the night before. We get their lunch bags and water bottles ready the night before.
Ah, the morning routine is so easy I can just kick back and read a book. Oh wait, I still have two other kids that need my constant attention. I guess that dream will have to wait about five years.
Do you have any favorite lunch making tips? Find me on instagram @peactreedrive and share your ideas!