Here’s How 10 Grade-School Parents Make Packing School Lunches Easier

published Sep 14, 2019
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

Getting a school lunch out the door that’s 1) healthy, 2) convenient, and 3) that kids will eat is a recurring issue. (Some days you just pick two and be done with it.) But no matter how many times you solve the problem, it crops up again the next day. And the next. And the next for 180 days.

If you’re in this boat, you probably need some ideas — not just for packed lunches that your kids will be excited about, but also for ways to approach packing lunch that minimize the struggle, and make it more convenient and easier (heck, maybe even fun) for everyone.

To that end, we asked 10 of the most competent parents we know how they plan (and pack) school lunches, and they came back with some fantastic suggestions. Read on, and remember: No matter what, you’re doing school lunch right. You’ve got this!

Katie Morford: Make a game plan.

Katie Morford, author The Best Lunchbox Ever, says, “Getting prepped for school lunch season always begins with an overhaul of our containers, since my kids undoubtedly lost lids (or entire containers) during the prior year. Plus, I like to get their input on what kinds of containers and lunch boxes they want. Their needs change, and certainly by middle school it’s all about what’s cool.”

“Once we’ve restored our supplies, we make a game plan as to how to tackle lunches on a daily basis. There were a few years where each of my three kids was responsible for packing lunch for their siblings one day a week, then my husband or I did one day, and they bought lunch on the fifth day. That worked really well for a while. Now it’s more of a collaborative effort. I’ll do mains and the kids do sides or vice versa. We like to rotate in a few new lunch or snack ideas each week in addition to simple sandwiches to keep things interesting. If we have time on a weekend, we’ll make something fun like homemade granola bars or mini blueberry muffins. And even though my kids are older now, I still include the occasional lunch box love note.”

Catherine McCord: Make a lunch list.

Catherine McCord, Founder of Weelicious and One Potato Box advises getting kids involved in the lunch choices early. “We keep a white board in our pantry,” she says. “The kids write down their current favorite foods and snacks. That way, I always have an up-to-date grocery list of things I knows the kids will eat and love.”

Natasha Grant: Create traditions.

“Each year we purchase a new lunch accessory,” says Natasha Grant of Packed and Loaded. “We have stainless steel lunch containers by Planetbox that I maintain quite well, but I’ll buy them a new water bottle (which can get icky after a year of use), food picks, or sandwich/cookie cutters. This year I bought car cookie cutters for my new kindergartener, who loves everything automotive.”

“Another tradition before school starts is we sing a ‘Going to School on Monday’ song that my husband and I made up to get them excited. They jump all over the bed while singing, and we record it. It has been a family tradition since our daughter, who is now a third-grader, went to pre-kindergarten. It is so bittersweet to watch the latest version and compare it to the older ones.”

Patty Catalano: Stock up on snacks.

“Look for deals on snacks, and stock up,” notes Kitchn contributing editor Patty Catalano. “As long as they’re shelf stable then you’ll have plenty on hand for that Monday when you ran out of time to go shopping, or for when you have to bring something to soccer practice or a similar event.”

Christopher Michel: Lean on leftovers.

“My two daughters, who are 8 and 4, are both really into pasta right now,” says Kitchn’s Food Director, Christopher Michel. “So we tend to make at least one night a week pasta night. This makes packing my older daughter’s lunch for the next day a breeze — I just make a little extra and set it aside in a small container. In the morning, it goes into her lunch bag, and the container always comes back clean.”

Laura Fuentes: Plan out treats.

Laura Fuentes, founder of Momables, says, “One of my favorite strategies for keeping my kids excited about their school lunches is sneaking in little surprises every week. I’ll even take some of their favorite treats from the summer and tuck them in a lunch box.”

“We started off with strawberry fruit leather, and then switched to an all-time favorite: Energy bites. Both are easy to make at home and the kids love them. Best of all, the kids view it as a fun little dessert and always love opening their lunch boxes to find it!”

Stacie Billis: Throw a pantry party.

“Now that my boys are 9 and 12 years old, packing lunch is a pretty straightforward business — no more cute bento accessories necessary,” says Stacie Billis, author of Make It Easy, and co-host of the podcast Didn’t I Just Feed You. “But we still all get jazzed by new food products. I’ve always said that they key to packing a delicious, fun school lunch is having a pantry with plenty of options. So we’re always looking for new nut-free spreads, all-natural frozen products that heat up quickly (Indian-style Samosas for the win!), dips, protein-packed snacks for snack-board lunches and to supplement the main dish, and so on.”

Tracy Benjamin: Get jokey.

“I like to write lunch notes for my son Cooper on Post-its and washi tape,” says Tracy Benjamin, of Shutterbean. “The best part? Sometimes Cooper will leave me notes around the house because he knows how nice it feels to get one in his lunch box. It’s the sweetest. Jokes are always fun, too. I have this joke book for kids in our kitchen and sometimes I’ll write a joke out and put it in his lunch. He LOVES it.”

Beau Coffron: Make some lunches special.

Beau Coffron, aka the Lunchbox Dad, says, “Our family likes to buy high-quality bento-style lunch boxes that will last for a number of years. It means spending a little more up front, but it’s more cost-efficient in the long run. Then we make a tradition of fun character-themed lunches every Monday during the school year. I make them as a surprise for my kids on Sunday nights. It’s a great way to get back into the school-year rhythm!”

Meghan Splawn: Get the kids to help.

Here’s an extra idea from your humble writer and mother of two kids under 10: We recently cleaned out a couple of drawers to make a place for both kids to help themselves to their lunch boxes, cups, and (approved) lunch snacks. Then we told them they could (with some supervision) help pack their own lunches this year. They are so excited to have some say in the process!