Back to school means the dreaded return of packing lunches. It’s not a complicated task, yet it’s not something anyone looks forward to doing every single day of the school year. So be ready this year with easy ideas to make lunches simple yet inspired.
The basic essentials
The key to successful lunches often starts with the actual lunchbox or containers used. Find what works for your family, such as reusable PackIt lunch bags that can be stored in the freezer, Rubbermaid containers with different sized containers and attachable ice packs, or Bento boxes with individual compartments.
To cut down on waste, use reusable silverware and reusable napkins.
Designate a lunch “cupboard”
Create a space in your pantry or a cabinet to organize and house all your lunchbox necessities. Keep all the containers, baggies and reusable items together.
Then add all non-perishable snack options such as applesauce, chips, Goldfish, fruit leathers, etc. This is also a great way to encourage your kids to help pack their own lunches with their favorite items.
Part of the reason lunches can be so annoying to make is that they are just one more thing to do in the morning before getting out the door. Save your sanity and make lunches ahead of time.
The night before, pack up the lunch and put into the fridge to grab in the morning. Or even do it immediately after school when your kids unpack their backpacks. Another time saver is making sandwiches for the entire week on Sunday night, then throwing them into the freezer and grabbing one each morning.
Some kids love the exact same lunch each day, but many are looking to spice things up. Think beyond that traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich with some of these alternatives:
- Ham and cheese croissant
- Turkey wrap
- Chicken quesadillas
- Waffle with peanut butter or applesauce
- Lettuce wraps
- Bagel sandwiches
- Cubed chicken/ham/cheese kebabs
Keep it cool
Nobody wants a warm lunch or soggy sandwich, so use other items to help keep the lunch cool. Freeze yogurts, grapes or drinks and then pop into the lunch the morning of.
Warm it up
As the weather turns, warm and hearty food can keep your kiddos going through the long school afternoon. Invest in a nice thermos with a wide opening for hot lunches. Soups, stews, mac & cheese, pasta and even leftovers are easily warmed in the morning and then popped into a thermos for a warm lunch.
Don’t forget those fruits and veggies
Get those servings of fruits and vegetables into those school lunches. Store in small containers to keep fresh and crisp. Some great options are cucumbers, carrots, edamame, snap peas, cherry tomatoes, avocado, oranges, grapes, berries and applesauce.
Make a double (or triple!) batch of your kiddo’s favorite muffins, whether banana chocolate chip, oatmeal pumpkin or even corn muffins. Once cooled, wrap muffins securely in foil or place in freezer bag. They can be used for on-the-go breakfasts, morning classroom snacks, treats with lunch or paired with a bowl of soup. They are just as delicious thawed as right out of the oven!
Don’t overthink it
When it comes down to it, the goal of lunches is to get your kids to eat and have energy for the day. So pack food you know they kids will eat, not what you wish they would eat. Now is not the time to have them try sushi rolls or Brussels sprouts.
So if lunch is the same each day, so be it!
This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Chicago Parent. Read the rest of the issue.