The end of summer means the start of making school lunches. Use these helpful ideas for packing school lunches to avoid the dread of dusting off those lunch boxes and filling them up again!
There is just something about packing school lunches for kids that’s not fun. Sure, you start the school year off with creative bento box school lunch ideas and sweet, loving notes for your munchkin to read each day. But if you’re anything like me, that lasts maybe a week… if you’re lucky.
Then you’re back to whipping together PB&J sandwiches (or Sunbutter and jelly sandwiches if the school is nut-free), an apple, and hopefully a couple of snacks.
What happened? Maybe it’s the day-to-day chaos. Or maybe it’s that you gain perspective when you realize your child doesn’t care about the fancy lunch any more than the simple peanut butter sandwich. Whatever the reason, you’re not alone!
Why You Should Pack a Lunch for Your Child
I’m right there with you, and I know there are thousands of more moms with us too. Let’s face it, paying for “hot lunch” at school may sound nice, but it definitely has its downsides:
- It’s expensive!
- The ingredients are far less than ideal.
- There aren’t usually allergy-friendly selections.
So the fact remains that packing school lunches isn’t going away anytime soon. But there’s good news!
I have learned (through the school of hard knocks) a few helpful things you can do to make packing school lunches less of a chore. And – bonus! – they can even help get your kids to do it all by themselves.
(Yes, it is possible – even in elementary school!)
6 Ideas For Packing School Lunches
You’ll be amazed at how easy sending lunch to school with your kids will become with these ideas!
1) Let Go Of Perfection
We may have visions of 100% made from scratch, 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 and the perfection of those ideas of packing school lunches that are really only Pinterest-worthy instead of realistic.
2) Look For Ready-Made Options
Individual snack packs are a great grab and go snack option for many different situations, including:
- Packing school lunches
- Snack time at school
- After-school sports practices
- A quick study break snack
The single-serve sizes are perfect for portion control and couldn’t be any more convenient!
3) Offer Your Kids Choices When Possible
When you offer your kids choices, it teaches them independence while also staying within any guidelines that you set.
For example, my family is gluten-free. While that’s non-negotiable, I let my kids choose what they want for school lunch and snack each day – within that limit. It doesn’t mean they can take anything they want from the fridge or pantry, but they’re 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 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 versus whatever mom gives them. I love it because it’s teaching them responsibility and it’s one less thing for me too. That’s a solid win-win. 😁
I do supervise, however, to make sure my kids aren’t putting all snacks in their lunch and forgetting to add some protein. I’m grateful that 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 independently!
We do follow the well-known tip of packing school lunches the night before. It truly does make the mornings easier and less hurried. But the good news is that even if we do forget, our routine makes even packing lunches in the morning pretty easy too.
5) Make A School Lunch Menu
You know that morning scramble of trying to come up with ideas for making school lunches? It goes a little something like this:
Mom: “We don’t seem to have bread today. What do you want instead?”
Kids: “I don’t know.”
UGH! I don’t know about you, but my brain doesn’t work well enough in the morning to come up with creative ideas on the fly. I eliminated the entire issue by creating a simple school lunch menu for my kids to follow.
Here it is:
The menu includes 5 different options for my kids to choose from when it comes to their main lunch item.
Note: Some weeks, my kids prefer mostly peanut butter & jelly options, and that’s okay with me. However, when we run out of gluten-free bread, they know what their next choices are.
They also get to choose:
- Fruit (for a snack in the morning)
- Another fruit or applesauce
- A vegetable
- Up to two items from their snack bins as sides with their lunch
We have found that to be plenty of food for my kids. However, when the day comes that they need more, we can add things like protein bars, muffins, and other snacks that we can make ahead of time for grab-and-go convenience.
6) Give Each Child Their Own Snack Bin
I came up with this simple idea at the beginning of the school year out of necessity, but it’s been a blessing. I was tired of one or more kids eating all the applesauce, 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 bins 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!
See For Yourself The Difference These Ideas Can Make For Packing School Lunches
I hope these simple ideas will eliminate some of the chaos of packing school lunches and the dread you may feel each morning. They’ll help your kids become more independent and reduce your stress and workload.
From experience, I know these tips can change how you think (and feel!) about packing school lunches. And you can always feel free to tweak them to make them work for you and your family.
Packing school lunches doesn’t have to be stressful. Good luck!
More Helpful Back To School Resources
- Free Printable First Day Of School Sign (With Remote Learning Bonuses)
- Tips For Homeschool Organization On A Budget
- Back To School Supplies For Traditional And Virtual Learning
- Free Printable School Lunch Planner
- The Easy Way To Organize School Papers & Keep It That Way
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