It’s time to get organized for school lunches. Packing lunches for your kids doesn’t have to be a chore, and it doesn’t have to be time-consuming either. Try these creative back-to-school lunch packing hacks to free up an already busy school morning!
#1. Give the sandwich a makeover.
Sandwiches are a school lunch mainstay, but they can be a bit boring even when you pack your child’s favorite, such as PBJ on white bread. Try repackaging the sandwich in these fun ways:
- Reinvent your child’s sandwich as a wrap. Use PBJ, meat and cheese, banana and peanut butter, or any filling that your child likes. Roll it up and then slice it. Now it looks like a colorful pinwheel.
- Cookie cutters can transform a traditional sandwich into stars and circles or other fun shapes. Or use them to cut out sandwich ingredients such as cheese or meat. Include crackers so your child and build his or her own sandwich.
- Use a roll, bun, or pita pocket instead of traditional sliced bread.
- Make your own Uncrustables® with a sandwich sealer. You can even freeze them individually in plastic bags and drop them into the lunch box in the morning.
#2. Build a Bento box.
A Bento box is a boxed meal that originated in Japan. It features single-serving compartments for each part of the meal.
- Buy a Bento box or make your own by filling a container with colorful silicone muffin liners to separate different foods.
- Create a complete lunch with components in each compartment. Include a main protein, a carb, vegetables, and fruits, and as many bright colors as possible. Choose healthy options that your child likes.
- The key is to keep every section separate so that wet food doesn’t mix with dry.
- Kids generally have only about 30 minutes to eat, and probably less by the time they sit down and get settled, so remember not to overpack.
Pro Tip: Store your (clean) bento box in the freezer, which will help to keep everything cool when you grab it for its next use.
#3. Make a kabob.
Kabobs aren’t just for grilling. (Plus, everything is more fun on a stick.) Just make sure that if you’re giving your child a kabob, the stick and the food portions do not present a danger.
- You can stack meats, cheeses, veggies, and/or fruits on kabobs. You can even create themed kabobs such as pizza, with mozzarella, tomato, and pieces of bread.
- Make sure the pieces are small enough that they do not present a choking hazard.
- Cocktail straws make great (and colorful) kabob sticks for children. You can always pre-pierce the food with a real kabob to create the opening, and then stack it on a cocktail straw.
#4. Replace the ice pack.
Ice packs can take up unnecessary room in lunch boxes. Luckily, there are ways for the lunch box contents to do double duty to cool things down.
- Freeze your child’s juice box. It will thaw in time for lunch and keep everything cold.
- Use a small plastic bag of frozen berries to keep yogurt cool. Your child can add the berries to the yogurt during lunch.
- Fill a reusable water bottle ¼ full and freeze it on its side. When you’re ready to put it in your child’s lunch box, fill the bottle with water. It will help keep everything cool including the water.
- Yogurt tubes and applesauce packets freeze well and can be used as ice packs.
#5. Use leftovers.
Plan your dinners so that you can repurpose them for lunch. You can get into the habit of preparing lunch when you’re waiting for dinner to cook.
- Keep food warm with a food thermos. This will work well for macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, Ramen noodles, and other kid favorites.
- Cut up leftover chicken for a chicken wrap.
- Chop extra veggies for lunch when making dinner and store them in bags.
Pro tip: fill your thermos with boiling water in the morning. Let it sit for 5 minutes. Empty it and then fill it up with hot food. It will keep it hotter longer.
#6. Make a school lunch station.
An organized space in your kitchen can help you more easily prepare school lunches. Keep it well-stocked and involve your kids in the preparation.
- Find a place in your kitchen, pantry, and refrigerator where you can set up bins for school lunches. If you don’t have an obvious place, create one. Consider a rolling cart or an over-the-door shoe organizer.
- Store lunch options for the week in these spaces, for example, yogurts, fruit, cheese, and cut-up veggies in the fridge, and healthy homemade trail mix, chips, and granola in bins on a shelf.
- Ask kids to assemble a week of snack bags to go. Give them 5 empty bags and an assortment of snacks. Place filled bags on a shelf or a basket on the kitchen counter where they can be easily grabbed.
- Include hooks in your pantry or mudroom to keep lunch bags organized.
And of course, we all know that packing lunches at night is WAY easier than getting up and trying to do it in the morning. Just store them in the fridge and give them to your child before they head out the door.
Happy back to school!
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