Want to know the biggest trick I have up my sleeve for packing school lunches?
1. Make the kids do it.
I come from a family of 8 kids and I never remember packing a single lunch growing up. Seriously, my mom is Super Woman and packed a lunch for all of us and my sweet dad every single day. I have no idea how she did it. Just thinking about it makes me want to order a pizza.
That worked for her and I certainly wasn't complaining about that set up as a kid.
But after a few years of just a couple in school I have come to understand that I am not as good of a person as my kind mother.
So starting last year I basically turned it over to my 2nd and 4th grade boys. I make sure I have a stocked kitchen so they actually have things to put in their lunch, but the packing is all them.
It surprised me how happy they were to do it. I mean, it's not always sunshine and unicorns and roses but for the most part they kind of like being independent and responsible. And who knows, they probably sneak in a piece of candy or something.
This one thing has made packing a school lunch not that big of a deal. At least for me!
That dog is never so faithful as when food is involved.
2. Buy a Wide Mouth Thermos
This is truly a marvelous invention. If I had to pick one thing that everyone that takes a lunch should own, this thermos would be it. Owning this means is you can pack hot things; we're talking leftovers, pasta, curry, soup, beans and cheese, basically whatever you can think of. We've never had leaking issues with it but you do need to screw the lid on snug if it's filled with liquid, meaning little ones will probably need an adult to help open it.
This guy comes in a million colors/patterns and is 10 oz, meaning it holds about 1 1/2 cups, which is just about right for my kids. If you fold the medium sized tortilla right you can definitely fit a burrito in this. There is also a 16 oz option if this is for older kids/adults. I've never tried this one but it has pretty good reviews.
The one thing I'd say about this is to make sure you get a wide mouth thermos because getting food in and out of a regular mouth one would be pretty frustrating.
The directions say to pour boiling water in it, put the lid on, and let it sit like that for like 5 minutes before dumping it out and adding the hot food. I'm pretty sure we've never done that. Tops it's sat for like 3 minutes with super hot tap water while we're microwaving and it still keeps the food warm until lunch. It's awesome. But don't egg my house if you don't follow the directions and something goes awry.
The one con going for the thermos is that you can't pack lunches the night before, at least the main dish. But really, if you have it all ready, packing only takes a few minutes.
I have a 3rd kid joining his brothers at school this year and you'd better believe I bought a 3rd thermos. Also, I've had the first one since the 5th grader was in 1st grade and it is still going strong.
3. Freeze a Bunch of Main Dishes
If you have a main dish, you can figure out the rest. At least that's how it goes around here. And I can testify to the stinkiness of it all when the magical lunch shelf in the freezer goes empty.
Yes, those ARE raspberries frozen to the bottom of that shelf, thankyoufornoticing.
The idea here is to premake a few weeks worth of main dishes. Then the kids can choose between what's in the freezer or leftovers or in theory they could come up with something on their own. But we just make mass quantities of these below and throw them in gallon freezer bags.
I did a post a while back on freezing sandwiches. It totally works and just takes like 10 minutes to pound out a bunch. Plus, when you have the kids do it then they make them exactly how they want them.
We also freeze bean and chili burritos, a favorite around here. 12 medium tortillas + 1 can of refried beans + 1 can of chili + some cheese = SUPER easy and a real slam dunk. The 10 year old slapped a batch of this together in like 5 minutes the other day while I was off taking care of the baby who took off her diaper at the end of her nap. That was a fun time.
You say Buretose, I say Burritos
A new one we've done this year is pasta. I made a couple pounds worth, buttered them so they won't stick, sandwich bagged them in 1 1/2 cup amounts, then tossed all those into a gallon freezer baggy. The boys wanted to keep them plain so they could choose to just top with shredded cheddar or add spaghetti sauce.
We also usually have frozen meatballs too. The kids can have them plain, or add BBQ, teriyaki, or spaghetti sauce and throw in either the noodles or some frozen rice.
4. Set Categories for Sides
Coming up with stuff to put in a lunch can be miserable so I made a chart for my kiddos of most of the items they'll willingly* eat for lunch.
*I'm not interested in sending a crazy nutritious meal that will be dumped straight in the garbage and result in a Rage Monster taking over my child upon pickup when they realize they are starving. This is our happy place. Yours is probably different.
I thought I'd include our checklist to give you ideas. Feel free to print it off if it works for your family. Last year we used this one from Mel's Kitchen Cafe and it helped a ton. Oh, and no way we always have everything on the list, but it's good for me to look over when I go to Costco.
The kids know they have to have one item from each food category in their school lunch. Makes it so easy to fill a box. Plus I feel way more comfortable turning it over to them, knowing they don't have a lunch consisting solely of Cheetos.
Laminated and taped to the inside of the pantry door.
The kindergartner will definitely need help navigating this part as he's not a reader, but he's fully capable of doing the actual packing.
These 4 things have transformed school lunch making to a relatively stress free activity for our little herd. It's been a beautiful thing.
You have any killer hacks on packing school lunches? I'd love to hear them as I have many, many school years ahead of me.