Please tell me that I am not the only one that hates packing school lunches.
Everyone says you should pack lunches the night before, but I’m exhausted at night. And every last bit of energy I have is spent cleaning the kitchen and folding laundry so we have clean dishes and clothes in the morning.
I’ve tried packing lunches in the morning before the bus comes, and sometimes that works. But more often than not, I’m rushing the kids onto the bus and telling them to buy lunch.
A New Lunch-Packing Routine
Two years ago, we got into a new lunch-packing routine that really works.
No packing lunches in the evenings.
Very little work in the mornings.
And – even better – the kids are able to do it themselves. Even my youngest!
First, Let’s Talk About Supplies
Before we get into the nitty gritty of our routine, let’s talk about supplies. I’ll be honest, this routine will NOT work if you don’t have enough lunch-packing supplies on hand.
It shouldn’t be that way, but I only need one tiny little excuse to give myself permission to forgo our entire system and routine and send my kids to school with twinkies for lunch.
Not really. But you know what I mean.
Once I finally just bit the bullet and purchased all of the lunch supplies we need, things got WAY easier around our house.
Here are my suggestions:
I think lunch boxes are such a personal preference, that I struggle to make a specific recommendation. My kids usually pick something they like at the store, and we go with it. I always make sure that there’s plenty of room for their food and an ice pack. And I always like to make sure that it has a separate outside spot to hold a water bottle (like this one).
If your kids are more into Bento Boxes, I have heard amazing things about this one.
And (of course), don’t forget the ice packs. I have a few packs of these that I keep in the freezer so even if my kids don’t get theirs into the freezer after school, I still have one cold for them the next morning.
This was probably my biggest investment, but it’s the one that has meant the most to us. In order for my three kids to pack lunch for four days at a time, that means I need enough containers to hold 12 lunches. But it’s worth it for me to be able to have SO much extra time every morning before school. Here are the containers we love:
→ Like a Bento Box, but without the full-on commitment. These fit in my kids’ lunch boxes perfectly, and we can slip a sandwich in each morning.
→ We also have a plethora of these containers for lunches that don’t need a Bento Box. They’re great for berries, yogurt, pretzels, veggies, sauce, condiments, etc.
→ These silicone muffin containers are a great way to further separate foods within a Bento Box. And I love the variety of shapes that are included in this set.
→ And, of course, don’t forget the thermos. We don’t pack this until the morning of (obviously), but we recently upgraded to this one, and the kids love it.
Water Bottles and Silverware
I don’t have an official recommendation on water bottles, but you should get at least one water bottle for lunches. We have a drawer full of them that always seem to be lost, but hopefully your house is better at that than I am.
As for silverware, my kids usually grab what they need at school, but here are some other options for you:
→ These have a nice carrying case. Hopefully they make it all back home to you after school.
→ These are probably more up my alley, but I’d need to find a better set for the boys. I like that everything can be tossed into the dishwasher (including the carrying case.)
→ And, of course, you can always go with disposable silverware. I won’t judge you, promise!
Disposable Items to Keep in Stock
Even if your goal is to be very green with your kids’ lunches, it might not hurt to have these on hand just in case…
→ Fun lunch jokes and notes. (Yes, this makes me the laziest human alive, but last I checked my kids were more excited about getting SOMETHING in their lunch from me than they were concerned that it was personalized.)
Here’s How Our Lunch-Packing Routine Works
Okay, you’ve been patient enough. Here’s how our lunch-packing routine works.
As part of our Sunday routine, the kids join me in the kitchen for a lunch-packing session.
Note: you’ll need to get your weekly groceries before packing lunches for the week. This is actually a little side bonus to our routine because it forces to to have groceries in the house before the weekend.
I set out all of the items that they typically like to have in their lunches. This usually includes pretzels, popcorn, crackers, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, cheese and fruit.
Each kid gets a basket that will hold their lunches for the week. (More on that later).
And then they start packing.
Usually, my kids bring their lunch four days a week and get to buy one day of their choosing. So they prep lunch for four days.
So, this means that my daughter usually has four yogurts in her basket, four hardboiled eggs, four containers of strawberries, four slices of cheese, etc.
Sometimes I need to assist, but usually they’re able to do it all independently. But be warned, it will definitely take a longer time than if you just do it yourself (especially at first).
I’m okay with it taking a little longer because I’ve found that I’m a whole lot less grumpy when I know my kids are pitching in and learning skills that will (eventually) help them contribute even more.
While they make lunches, I use the time in the kitchen to prep meals for the week and write lunch notes.
By the time we’re finished, each child has a basket of cold items plus some baggies. We store the baskets in the fridge for the week (one for each child), and the baggies go in the snack drawer.
Some of my kids don’t like to eat sandwiches. Some of them do. NONE of them like their sandwiches to be cold or soggy, so we whip those up each morning (which really does only take a minute.)
Do THIS Every Morning
Each morning, the kids know that it is their responsibility to fill up their water bottle, take their cold things out of the fridge, grab their dry snacks, and pack their own lunch.
With most of the work done in advance, this is a quick and easy process that requires very little of my attention. (Although I do add the lunch note at the end.)
When the kids get home from school, part of their routine is to empty their lunchbox and put their icepack back in the freezer so it’s ready for the next day. (Yes, this is also on their routine cards.)
What to Pack for Lunch – Inspiration and Ideas
Are you completely stuck in a rut when it comes to what your kids can pack for lunch? Don’t worry, I have you covered.
A Few Things to Note
Once this becomes a regular part of your Sunday routine, you will start to love it.
We usually play fun music and spend some time in the kitchen together. It forces me to prep for the week, cut up vegetables and have healthy snacks ready to go.
And – like I mentioned – I’m a lot less grumpy every morning (and every night) when I’m not slaving in the kitchen thinking about how my kids should be helping more.
Every now and then we get off track (especially just before and after school breaks), but once I get back in the groove, I’m so much happier!
Mastering Back to School Together
Back to school can be hectic, but it doesn’t have to be hard!
With three kids in school, I’ve learned a few things along the way that help to simplify the entire back-to-school process, while also keeping me sane.
And I’m sharing them all with you!
- The organizational systems we have in place
- The routines we use (and how we remember them)
- Why my kids haven’t missed the bus in three years
- How to have the best first day of school EVER
- How to put an end to homework battles
- How I get my kids talking (and talking and talking and talking) every day after school
- How we manage busy sports seasons without going insane
- The simple tech hack that EVERY parents needs to know
- And so much more!
Plus you can see how I made this amazing command center that keeps me crazy organized – using supplies from the Dollar Store!
Pretty great, huh?!?