There's no doubt about it- school is going to look different for all of us, this year. But whether you're dealing with a new public school or home school situation, lunch happens- and I’m all about simplifying in every area of our lives- including packing lunches!
We’ve been using this simple school lunch method for the past four years my oldest little has been in school and it’s worked so well, she packs her own lunches now! The other day she told me, “See mommy, I have a fruit, a vegetable, a protein and a snack!” Atta girl. So whether you're just packing lunches to eat on the living room floor or you're packing lunches for classroom eats, here’s our simple, stress-free method for packing school lunches:
1.Plan it Out
Every successful routine starts with a plan- and ultimately, this is what I hope for you! That packing lunches will be a routine, and even if it doesn't ever become fun (thought it can!) it won't stress you out like crazy. This all starts with a PLAN.
Plan out the lunches you're going to serve this week. Will you:
- Use leftovers for mains/proteins?
- Make sandwiches?
- Make a make-ahead main that you can use for multiple meals?
It's also important, just like with dinner planning- to take into consideration your kiddos' schedule. Is there...
- A field trip?
- A school lunch they want?
- A day off-- so you don't have to make as much?
Let's simplify it even further.
2. Choose 2: protein, veggie, fruit
Some kids like the comfort of good ol' PB+J (or SB+J as is the case in many schools, these days). There's nothing wrong with that- but many kids also enjoy variety. Here's how we mix it up without stressing you out:
Two proteins (these are usually part of the main): This could be... deli meat, egg cups, leftovers, cheese, beans, the list goes on! Choose two options for the week.
Two veggies: Raw or cooked, whether your kids are veggie lovers or meh about the green stuff-- having two options for variety is key (but you don't need a new veggie every day!) .Same thing with fruit... Two fruit: so you're getting a mix of flavors + micronutrients. Two proteins, two veggies and two fruits for five days means you have nine different options for combinations for the week.
3. Have snacks on hand to pick and choose
Rather than stressing out about buying or making snacks each and every week (which can also be expensive!), we buy a few types of snacks in bulk each month (see our real food snack favorites list at the end of the book) and the kids can pick and choose two snacks. Since their meals are already filled with protein, vegetables, fruit, and possibly whole grains-- they're getting a significant amount of nutrition from their main meal, so snacks can add some fun! Of course, we want snacks to hold our kids over- but just like with our nutrition, there's nothing wrong with a little fun.
4. Make a list of favorites
This is something you'll start now, and build upon as the year goes on. Which meals do your kids LOVE? Write them down! Which mains did they 'scrape the box' for, or rave to you when they hopped off the bus? Which veggies are their go-tos, and which fruit do they always finish? This will help you save time when deciding what to serve (obviously, you want variety-- but it doesn't need to be excessive) and you can spend less time worrying about school lunches, and more time with your kids.
5. Don’t be afraid to cut corners
For the mama who is stressed even thinking about packing school lunches, here's some encouragement for you: where we want our kids to enjoy nourishing, real food-- there are ways to still nourish their bodies and cut corners a little bit. It doesn't make you an more of a mom if you don't make them homemade energy balls or cut their sandwiches into fun shapes. It's the love you put into the meal that counts. Here are a few simple ways to cut corners to make lunch packing easier:
Buy pre-cut vegetables and fruit
Chicken sausage- already cooked + prepared
Same with natural meatballs, or pre-cooked tofu.
Done and done. Make the lunch, buy the snacks. This is often our method.
6. Have a lunchbox packing station
This is a GAME CHANGER, mama. Having a station laid out with: - Lunchboxes and covers
- Snack containers
- Sauce/dip containers
- Post-its for notes to your kids
- Water bottles
- Plastic/paper and/or resuable baggies - Parchment/plastic wrap
You'll find a list of all my favorite lunchbox gear in the back of the book.
I also go as far as to have a section for school-safe snacks (aka nut-and-peanut-free snacks; these will be indicated on the snack list).
7. Get kids involved
The older your kids get, the more they can get involved in the kitchen (and the more they will likely WANT to get involved in the kitchen). Even better- something I've learned from working with parents for years is, if the kids are involved in the preparation, they're more likely to enjoy the food, as well. Here are ten ways you can get your kids involved preparing lunches:
Bring them to the store or the farmer's market with you so they can choose their own produce (it's so much tastier when you pick it out yourself)
Let them choose a fruit and veggie each morning (or evening) or let them choose their snacks if it becomes a battle.
Roll meatballs or power balls
Slice easy-to-cut veggies and fruit
Wash fruit and veggies
Place items into the sections of a bento-style container
Fill their own water bottle.
Gather supplies for you in the evening before bed.
How is that for less-stressed lunchbox packing? Here’s to a healthier, happier, less-stressed school year!
Want all my tips for less-stressed lunchbox packing, including my printable school lunch planner and over 15 school lunch ideas? Download my free stress-free school lunch guide, here.