Making school lunches is one of least favorite activities each night. Today, I have Tanya from Mom’s Small Victories sharing 3 simple tips for packing the perfect kid’s lunch. These tips are easy to follow and start right away, plus your kids will love they have options for what’s in their lunch and they will not be like my kids trying to trade items from their lunch box with each other on the way to school every morning.
“Mom, I’m TIRED of sandwiches!”, my oldest son would whine when in elementary school. I couldn’t really blame him. At the time, I worked full-time outside the home and I never got creative when packing his lunches, I’d go for the simple, boring sandwich and was forced to rely on school lunches as a backup when I forgot to pack his lunch or when he needed a break from the dreaded sandwich.
Now, as a stay at home mom of an always starving teenager and two younger brothers who want to keep up with him on all levels, it’s imperative that we pack lunches for the boys both to save a small fortune and to ensure they eat quality, healthy food. Can you believe it? After 10 years of packing lunches, now my boys actually PREFER bringing their lunch from home (and the two younger ones have never bought lunch from the school cafeteria). Small victory for mom!
I know it took me a lot of trial and error over the years, so I thought I’d share my 3 Simple Tips for Packing the Perfect Kids Lunch…mom-tested, kid-approved!
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3 Simple Tips for Packing the Perfect Kid’s Lunch
1. Make Your Kids Pack their Own Lunch
Sure you can pack their lunch for them, but since my younger two were in Kindergarten, I’ve had them pack their own lunches. I give them guidelines but they get to choose what combination of things they put in there. They take what they are interested in eating. I got tired of packing them a healthy lunch and then half of it ending up in the trash. I make sure to have plenty of healthy options on hand so I feel confident they are getting a healthy lunch even though they pack it themselves.
For the younger kids, in each lunch they pack:
- hot entree in a thermos or cold entree in lunchbox container
- one fridge snack (yogurt or cheese stick)
- one pantry snack (granola bars, chips or pretzels, dry, nonsugary cereal, fruit or applesauce cups if we are out of fresh fruit)
- one pre-washed fruit or vegetable (apples, grapes, cherry tomatoes, blueberries)
- utensil (if needed) and napkin
I pack up their hot entrees if they have them but they still pack the rest. It makes it easier on me with 3 kids with very different tastes and hunger levels. My kids love to feel independent and that they have a choice for what goes into their lunch. They don’t always get that choice at breakfast or dinner when I cook but lunch is their time to exercise their culinary creativity and eat what they want.
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2. Put Everything to Pack Lunches at Kids Level and Ready to Go
I keep everything to pack kids lunches at their level so they can grab it and pack it with little intervention from me. Our lower kitchen cabinets have drawers that slide out (a genius invention if ever I saw one). And other spaces in the fridge and pantry are dedicated as kids’ lunch spaces.
In one kitchen cabinet, the kids’ lunch drawer has:
- lunchbox containers and insulated food jars
- sauce containers with lids
- snack containers
- sandwich and snack bags
- plastic forks, spoons, straws
- reuseable water bottles
In the fridge, the kids’ lunch spaces have:
- snack drawer that holds prepackaged yogurts, cheese sticks, sliced cheese, sandwich meat and hummus
- fruit drawer holds pre-washed berries and grapes
- veggie drawer holds baby carrots, sliced cucumber
- lower shelf holds their packed lunch containers
Why designate a kids’ spot for their lunches in the fridge? Because I’m the mom who let her Kindergartener go to school one day with his dad’s homemade spicy buffalo wings for lunch. Yes, I pack dinner leftovers for my husband’s lunch too and use the same type of lunch containers for the kids and him. Since we pack lunches the night before so the kids can grab them in the morning, my littlest grabbed the container he thought he had packed. Nope! Now I make sure to keep my husband’s lunch on a higher shelf in the fridge so that doesn’t happen again. I had one bummed husband and neither he nor my littlest son will let me forget it!
In the pantry, the kids’ lunch space has:
- a bread box with sandwich bread, bagels, tortillas
- crackers, granola bars, fruit and applesauce cups
- prefilled bags of goldfish, chips or pretzels
On the kitchen table:
- fruit bowl with bananas and washed apples or clementines
Everything is at their fingertips so they can grab what they want for their lunches. With designated kids’ spaces, it’s also easier for me to see what is running out. When I do grocery shop each week, I fill up their spaces with what they need to pack up the next week of lunches. Easy peasy.
3. Bring New Life to Leftovers
When my middle son started school, I knew he wouldn’t eat sandwiches. So I found this post from Momables on how to preheat a Thermos so that I could send in some hot lunches.
Now I do things a little differently than she suggests. I do heat the water to rapid boiling, pour it into the insulated food jar (we use Thermos brand too), close the lid and I let it preheat for 15-25 minutes.
When I close the lid on the Thermos, I set the timer for 15-25 minutes. Why? Because I’m the mom who sent her kid to school with a thermos of hot water for lunch. I forgot to heat up the food and replace the hot water with actual food! Do these things only happen to me? Needless to say, I remember to set the timer and haven’t forgotten to heat up their food again (another mom brain moment I can’t seem to live down).
What you are supposed to do is after the Thermos is preheated is heat the food on a microwave safe plate to very hot. Pour the hot water out of the Thermos and immediately put warmed food in and close the Thermos tightly.
Being able to pack leftovers for the kids’ lunches is a lifesaver. I typically send in hot meals for their lunches twice a week and it’s a welcome change to the usual for them.
Here are some leftover ideas that keep well in the thermos and ideas of what to pack with it:
- Any kind of pasta or lasagna! (pack a slice of crusty bread separately)
- taco meat or chicken fajitas (pack tortilla chips or taco shells separately)
- sloppy joes (pack hamburger bun separately)
- hamburger or grilled chicken with bacon (pack hamburger bun and condiments separately)
- chili or soup (pack cornbread, a biscuit or crackers separately)
- french toast (pack a little maple syrup in separate sauce container with a lid)
- grilled chicken, cooked broccoli, and rice
- stir fry and rice
- barbecue chicken topped with cheese (pack a tortilla separately for a BBQ chicken rollup)
Basically, I figure out a way to get my kids’ favorite dinners into their lunches too. At least then I know they’ll want to eat it. I try to include one or two of these in my menu plan for the week and sometimes double the recipe so I can be sure they have easy and delicious lunches to take.
Packing the perfect kids lunch doesn’t have to be so complicated or nerve-wracking. By letting them pack their own lunches from the healthy options you provide, putting everything they need at their level and ready to go and breathing new life into leftovers, even the pickiest eaters will WANT to take their lunches to school and love every bite!
A Note From Tanya
Thanks so much Rachel for allowing me to share my kid’s lunch packing tips with your readers.
Hi, Smart Moms! I’m Tanya, the blogger behind Mom’s Small Victories where I write about my personal experience and practical solutions for juggling chronic illness, time, energy, family and work from home dreams. I know so many busy, overwhelmed moms and chronic illness patients are struggling just surviving daily life. That’s why it’s my passion to provide helpful and hopeful solutions to overcome our emotional and physical challenges so together we can make our dream lives a reality and thrive with the lives we’ve been given. I would love for you to stop by my blog and share your struggles, dreams and small victories with me!
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