There is just something about packing school lunches for kids that’s not fun. You start the school year off with creative bento box dreams and loving notes for your munchkin to read each day, but that lasts all of a week if you’re lucky. Then you’re back to whipping together PB&J sandwiches (or sunbutter if the school is nut-free), an apple, and hopefully a couple snacks.
What happened? Maybe it’s the day to day chaos or just the fact that you realize your child doesn’t care about the fancy lunch any more than the simple peanut butter sandwich and you gain a little perspective. Whatever the reason, you’re not alone.
I’m right there with you and I know there are thousands more moms with us too. But the fact remains if we’re not shelling out (a lot of) money for ‘hot lunches’ at school (and that’s often not even a feasible option if your kids have diet restrictions like mine), packing a school lunch every day is not going away anytime soon.
But there are a few things you can do to make packing school lunches less of a chore and even get your kids to do it all by themselves. (Yes, it is possible, even in elementary school!)
6 Ways to Make Packing School Lunches Easier
1) Let go of perfect.
We may have visions of 100% homemade, perfectly nutritious lunches, but the reality is that’s not realistic for most of us. Maybe you’re juggling work or a new baby. Maybe you stay at home, but you have a child with autism and simply don’t have the time. Whatever your situation, most of us don’t have time to make everything from scratch.
And that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you love your child any less than the bento-box queen mom in your child’s class – it just means you can show your love in different ways that work better for your family.
Let go of the guilt.
2) Look for ready-made options.
There are tons of ready-made snack options available now, including gluten-free and non-GMO foods.
We love the new Snyder’s-Lance variety Snack Packs with mouth-watering flavors and options!
There are 4 flavor-filled varieties of Snack Packs:
- Gluten-Free Variety Pack
- Non-GMO Variety Pack
- Small Batch Kettle Variety Pack
- Premium Variety Pack
Snyder’s-Lance sent us a couple packages of the Gluten-Free Variety Snack Pack and my kids were so excited.
Our Gluten-Free variety snack pack contained:
- Snyder’s Gluten-Free Honey Mustard Pretzels
- Pretzel Crisps Mini Gluten-Free Pretzels
- Late July Jalapeno Lime (Non-GMO)
- Cape Cod Original Potato Chips (Non-GMO)
These snack packs are packaged individually so they’re great for on-the-go, whether it’s for packing school lunches, for after-school sports practices, or even a quick study break snack. The single-serve sizes are perfect for portion control and couldn’t be any more convenient!
We loved the variety offered in these snack packs and each of my kids has a favorite:
Joshua loves the Snyder’s Gluten-Free Honey Mustard Pretzels (I have to say they’re one of my two favorites too – they are SO good!). Emily’s favorite was also one of my top choices – Late July Jalapeno Lime chips. (They’re also my teen’s favorite). Luke prefers the Cape Cod Original Potato Chips. And everyone enjoyed the Pretzel Crisps Mini Gluten-Free Pretzels.
I was thrilled to find such convenient gluten-free options for my family. My only comment is that I’d love to see a gluten-free and all non-GMO snack pack!
You can find Snyder’s-Lance Snack Packs at most major retailers now. Visit snack-packs.com for more information and to download a coupon so you can save money!
#3 Offer your kids choices when possible.
When you offer your kids choices, it teaches them independence while still staying within guidelines you set.
For example, my family is gluten-free and, while that’s non-negotiable, I let my kids choose within that limit what they want for school lunch and snack each day. It doesn’t mean they can take anything they want from the fridge or pantry, but they are allowed to choose from a list we came up with together.
And that brings me to my next point…
#4 Get your kids involved with packing their school lunches.
One of the best things I’ve done to help reduce stress on school mornings is to get my kids packing their own school lunches.
They like it because it gives them the freedom to choose vs whatever mom gives them and I love it because it’s teaching them responsibility and it’s one less thing for me too.
I do supervise, however, my children do a pretty good job on their own without my assistance. While my oldest son, Nathan, stays home for school now and doesn’t need to pack a lunch, my younger three children (ages 6, 8, and 10) all pack their own lunches. Even Luke, my 6-year-old does it!
We do follow the well-known tip of packing school lunches the night before so there’s one less thing to worry about every morning, but even if we do forget, with our routine, it’s not too much to pack lunches the morning of.
#5 Make a School Lunch Menu
I created a simple school lunch menu for my kids to follow. Here it is:
There are 5 different options for my kids to choose from when it comes to their main lunch item. (Some weeks, my kids prefer mostly peanut butter & jelly options, but when we run out of gluten-free bread, they know what their other choices are.)
They also get to choose fruit (for a snack in the morning), another fruit or applesauce along with a vegetable and up to two items from their snack bins to go along with their lunch.
#6 Give each child their own snack bin.
I came up with this simple idea at the beginning of the school year because I was tired of one or more kids eating all the applesauce or granola bars or snack packs and the others complaining there were none left.
Now, each child has their own snack bin. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Random shoebox bins from your attic (or $1 or 2 from Target) work perfectly.
I simply used my label maker to add their names. Done!
Now, when I come home from the grocery store, we divide the snacks evenly into their snack bins. Each child gets a set number of snacks and that is all he or she has for the whole week.
Not only does this eliminate the random “who took this?!” arguments, but it also helps teach the kids moderation without any nagging from Mom!
The first week we tried this, Joshua and Luke (my 8 and 6-year-olds) ate up all of their school snacks within the first 2-3 days. They quickly realized they weren’t getting more and weren’t thrilled when their lunches were pretty boring for the last 2 days of school that week.
It was a natural consequence that taught them moderation.
The next week, they both followed the school lunch chart and had enough snacks to last the whole week. Lesson learned!
I hope these simple ideas will eliminate some of the chaos of packing school lunches and help your kids become more independent with less stress on you. Remember to feel free to tweak these ideas to make them work for you and your family.
Packing school lunches doesn’t have to be stressful. Good luck!