Packing school lunches is a task almost as relentless as cooking dinner, and sometimes as thankless for even the savviest of foodie moms—which is why shortcuts and hacks are an essential survival tool. We’ve got 22 school lunch ideas that’ll take the panic out of the morning pack. Keep reading to see them all.
photo: Clean Eats & Treats
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1. Prep Lunches Ahead of Time
Whether it’s doubling up a Sunday roast or spending some time getting ahead by cooking up a big chili dish, prepping before the school week gets underway can save you time and trouble. Check out these lunch box ideas for big cook-ups.
2. Use a Thermos
Try to get the kids eating from a thermos at least once a week; it’ll give you the option to reheat leftover soups, stews and rice dishes for lunch.
3. Keep the Thermos Warm Until Lunch
That genius idea to get kids to eat leftovers won’t be so genius if the food is cold by the time lunch rolls around. Instead, pour boiling water into the container and let it sit while you make the rest of the lunch. Then, dump the water and fill the Thermos with warmed-up food.
photo: Kathleen Franklin via Flickr
4. Freeze Your Lunches
Prepped ahead portions of pasta, frozen veg, and leftover chicken can be pulled from the freezer on a weekday morning for an instant lunch. It’ll be freshly defrosted by midday and keeps everything else cool.
5. Pack Non-Perishables ASAP
You’ll only have to focus on the sandwich/main meal/dairy portion in the morning.
6. Keep Single Serve Condiments
Single serve condiments from take-outs and restaurants don’t need to be ditched. Pop a packet of ketchup in to liven up the cut veggies or bacon bits.
photo: Real Mom Nutrition
7. The Rubber Band Trick
Apples are more likely to be eaten if they are cut up, and this rubber band trick will keep them from going brown. Or, use the Real Mom Nutrition suggestion of rubbing a combo of lemon juice and OJ or pineapple juice on the slices.
8. Wooden Spoons
Forget sending the little ones to school with metal spoons. Use wooden ones for pudding or yogurt, it’s more environmentally friendly than plastic and you don’t have to worry about lost utensils.
photo: Emily Myers
9. Food with Natural Containers
Work with nature—hard boiled eggs, bananas, and clementines are lunchbox friendly foods that come in their own organic containers.
10. Pinwheel Sandwiches
Pinwheel sandwiches are one of the easiest lunch box ideas (and can be frozen ahead of time). You can bet the kids will unravel what you’ve carefully rolled, but the good news is it will probably end up being eaten!
photo: Clean Eats & Treats
11. Set Up a Snack Station
Plenty of moms, including Shannon Sargent at Clean Eats & Treats, swear by the idea of “snack stations” where kids can pick out what they want. Dedicate a space in the fridge or pantry using toy storage bins, and pack it with snacks or use this genius hack, which reuses a hanging shoe organizer with see-through pockets as a snack wall.
12. Easter Eggs
Pop six plastic Easter eggs in an egg box, each one stuffed with something different like popcorn, sunflower seeds, granola or crackers.
photo: Boulder Locavore
13. Banana Lunch Notes
No Post-It note nearby? Scribble on a banana instead.
14. Mini Kebabs
Create a totem of fruit, veg, cheese squares, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls, folded salami, micro sandwiches and more. Snip off the end of the skewer if you’re worried about anyone at the lunch table getting poked.
photo: courtesy Jill Nystol via One Good Thing
15. Pizza Cutter
Meal prep is awesome, but if you need to whip up a quick sandwich, grab a pizza cutter to slice off those crusts in seconds.
16. Family Chalkboard
Put lunchtime options on a chalkboard or family whiteboard so the kids can see what will be in their lunchbox.
17. Put the Lunchbag and Snacks within Reach.
Time is everything when it comes to the morning rush. Hang their lunchbags in plain view, with a caddy below, and your kids will be able to easily toss in the snack for their lunch. Take a peek over at Hi, Sugarplum to see how to make it happen.
18. Pack Chicken Nuggets in a Thermos
If you’re looking for fun kids school lunch ideas try cooking chicken nuggets in the morning and throw them in a thermos to keep them nice and toasty.
photo: Melissa via Flickr
19. Cupcake Liners As Dividers
Short on containers? Grab cupcake liners and use them to separate different items in larger plastic containers so you can have a sandwich, chips nuts and fruit in the same place.
20. Freeze Your PB & J
One of the easiest kids school lunch ideas is to make a week’s worth of frozen PB&J sandwiches. Use different jams, butters and even pieces of bread for variety.
photo: Miriam via Flickr
21. Frozen Smoothies with Extra Veggies
If your kids need an extra dose of veggies, try frozen smoothies. You can sneak veggies like beets and spinach into them.
22. Print Lunch Notes Every Month
If you want to give your kiddos a little extra encouragement without having to remember to write a note every morning try printing a bunch of them at the beginning of the month so you’ll have them on hand.
— Natasha Davis & Emily Myers