10 Tips for Mastering School Lunch from Multitasking Mamas

updated Jun 9, 2019
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(Image credit: The Kitchn)

Getting into our back-to-school routine also means packing school lunches once again. And being a busy parent means that we each have to find little pockets of time for chores like laundry and, yes, lunch packing. We asked 10 multitasking mamas for their best tips to make lunch-packing faster, easier, and maybe a little bit more enjoyable.

(Image credit: The Kitchn)

1. Be prepared.

I always make it a point to pack the night before. I’m not a morning person, and it’s easier for me to pack it while I’m prepping dinner since I have a cutting board and knife out already — especially if I can pack some veggies that we’re also eating for dinner.

—Christine Gallary, Food Editor-at-Large, @cgallary

(Image credit: Catherine McCord)

2. Make it fun and easy to eat their vegetables.

When you’re packing school lunch, one tip that helps is to make sure to pack a fruit, vegetable, carbohydrate, and protein. This way you know you’ve done your job. I love using this bento box as kids can see all their choices and not be forced to fish around in a brown paper bag or be forced to open a bunch of containers with tops. Kids have such a short attention span and small window of time to eat, so you want to make it as easy as possible for them.

Catherine McCord, founder of One Potato and Author, Weelicious Lunches, @weelicious

(Image credit: Jansen Bradshaw)

3. Pack lunch for everyone at once.

Only one of my children packs a lunch at school, but since my other three younger children all need to eat lunch every day too, I pack lunch boxes for all of them at the same time. My oldest daughter takes hers to school with her, and then when lunchtime rolls around at home, I can just pull out the other three lunch boxes from the fridge and lunch is ready for the other three! One of my genius mom friends taught me this trick; it is the best because packing four lunches isn’t that much harder than packing one lunch, since everything is already out anyway! Plus, my younger children think eating from a lunch box at the kitchen table is really fun.

—Jansen Bradshaw, Writer, @everydayreading

4. Keep it simple.

My best advice is to not overthink it. Aim for a variety over the course of the week, let the kids be involved in the packing to ensure that they’ll actually eat the food, and remember it doesn’t need to be perfect or Instagram-worthy to be a healthy, enjoyable school lunch!

—Amy Palanjian, Host of Comfort Food Podcast, @yummytoddlerfood

(Image credit: Jenna Helwig )

5. Divide lunch duties.

Even though I’m the primary cook in the family, my husband and I take turns making lunches. He does two days a week, and I take the other three. While it’s not perfectly equal, it sure is nice to get a break two days a week!

(Image credit: Stacie Billis)

6. Avoid waste by offering a second chance at lunch.

I recently started a new podcast about feeding families called Didn’t I Just Feed You?!. We kicked things off with a three-part series on school lunch, and in episode two, we had a conversation with guest Catherine McCord of Weelicious about giving kids a second chance to eat their lunch right when they get out of school. I love this idea because most kids are famished at that point. They’ll eat nearly anything, so why not give them what they didn’t eat at lunchtime, which is often the veggies or fortifying protein? Once you know they’ve eaten all the healthy foods you’ve packed in their lunch box, you can hand over their favorite sweet and salty bites knowing they’ll have a well-balanced after-school snack.

(Image credit: Laura Fuentes)

7. Re-invent leftovers.

I love to reinvent leftovers into a delicious school lunch. My kids love finding taco night leftovers turned into a wrap, a salad, or warmed up inside a Thermos so I often double my recipe to ensure incredible lunches! If it’s a winner for dinner it’s a winner for lunch!

Laura Fuentes, MOMables founder and author of The Taco Tuesday Cookbook, @laurafuentes

(Image credit: Patty Catalano)

8. Buy lunch box multiples.

Buy multiples of your packing supplies. Don’t rely on having just one lunch box container; that way if it gets forgotten at school or if you don’t have time to clean it at night, you’ve still got something to pack lunch in. Bonus: You can pre-pack as many lunches as you have boxes.

Patty Catalano, Kitchn contributor, @forkandswoon

(Image credit: Katie Morford)

9. Play favorites with lunch recipes.

One strategy that works really well for us is to choose two new lunch ideas each week. Over the weekend, we decide together what those items will be, stock up on ingredients, and do a little prep. One week it might be turkey & veggie wraps and pesto pasta; another week it’s rice and beans and chicken salad. Usually there is some repetition (i.e., turkey wraps twice in one week) and then I’ll rely on leftovers from dinner and staple items (like PB&Js) for the remaining lunches. It keeps things interesting from week to week and doesn’t feel too overwhelming.

Katie Mumford, MS, RD, Author of Best Lunch Box Ever, @momskitchenhandbook

(Image credit: Meghan Splawn)

10. Talk to their teacher.

Since pre-K I’ve made it a point to strike up a conversation with my kid’s teacher at the beginning of the school year and ask about the length of lunch time and challenges that students and teachers have in the cafeteria. I’ve learned that each year has different challenges and creative solutions. Little eaters (think: preschool and kindergarten) need easy-open lunch boxes. Middle schoolers will get delayed if they have to get in the microwave line. You’ve got to adapt lunch packing as your kids age each year.

—Meghan Splawn, Associate Food Editor, @stirandscribble