One of my favorite internet memes is the one where there’s a side by side photo of “September Lunchbox vs June lunchbox”. Have you seen it? Basically September’s has a pretty bento box with healthy treats cut into cute shapes while June’s has something like an uncooked potato and ketchup packets. When I asked on Instagram last month what types of Back to School posts moms wanted to see, there were SO many messages about packing lunches. I’m not the best person to ask because it’s something I dread too and if it were up to my kids, they’d pretty much eat the same thing for the 180 days of school. I think my best lunch packing “hack” to share is how I simplified packing lunch last year.
My first year having a child old enough to bring school lunch I was super excited. I thought it would be fun to pack a cute little lunch to send in a cute little lunch box. The cuteness wore off by end of September. It’s tough to think of new ideas, worry if it’s healthy, worry if they’ll actually eat it, etc. Last year was my first year packing lunch for 2 kids…. 2 kids that like totally opposite things (one would eat salami and pepperoni all day and the other is basically a vegetarian). So after a few months of grumbling in annoyance every night trying to find things to pack, I came up with a few ways to simplify lunch packing in our house. Here’s what we do:
How to Simplify Packing Lunch
Monday: Buy lunch
Tuesday: I pack
Wednesday: Wacky Wednesday…. kids pack their own lunch
Thursday: I pack
Friday: Buy pizza lunch
And just like that, I was down to packing lunch just 2 days a week. So now, if I pack my kids the same lunch each time… they’re actually only eating that identical lunch 2 times a week 🙂
Ok, some more details on how this worked:
Lunch Packing Hacks: How to Simplify
Buying lunch: I found out towards the end of my first year packing lunch, that at our school, in addition to what’s on the school lunch calendar, they also offer other items each day. These items included a bagel with butter or cream cheese, apple slices, carrots, cheese sticks, etc. These are some of the same things I packed but the kids were way more excited about “buying” lunch themselves. So on Mondays, when I usually have 0 groceries (I get groceries on Monday) I switched to letting them buy lunch this day. Sometimes they went with the bagel option and sometimes tried whatever was being served on the lunch menu. Then Fridays, our school serves pizza from a local pizza shop and they buy that day too. They thought it was super cool to buy lunch twice a week and I thought it was super cool to not pack a lunch twice a week: win/win
Wacky Wednesday: This isn’t always Wednesday, but for the sake of a simplifying lunch plan, let’s stick with Wednesday. It’s the middle of the week… this makes it fun for the kids and a break for mom. My girls were in 1st and 2nd last year, so they weren’t packing anything fancy, cooked or even things you might see in a lunch ha. They really loved packing their lunch and knew that the only “rules” were there had to be at least 2 things from the refrigerator. So they knew that meant some fruits, veggies, cheese, yogurt, turkey, etc. Sometimes what they packed made me think the lunch aides were going to wonder if I had lost my mind and sometimes they were pretty impressive (like an actual sandwich!). It gave them some freedom and responsibility, 2 things they need more of. It also gave me a morning that I could enjoy some coffee and not think about what to pack.
Packing Lunch with Ease Tips: The other 2 days a week I packed lunch. Before you think I “got off easy” and that I am the world’s laziest mom… in addition to lunch they have to bring snack everyday. It has to be packed totally separate (for classroom allergy reasons). They eat it at 10AM so it also has to be something you’d eat in the AM. So for the lunches I was packing + snacks, here’s a few tips that helped me simplify:
- Don’t worry so much about repetition: If it’s healthy and they like it, don’t worry about sending it all the time. I used to stress me out and I’d think I was “supposed to” make sure they had a variety of foods. But keep in mind that even though you might back the same lunch, they eat breakfast and dinner every day and snacks… so it’s not realllllly like they’re only eating those foods you’re giving them/repeating. If it makes it easier and you know they’ll eat it – go with it
- Poll Friends: if you’re in a rut and feel like you’re running out of lunch or snack ideas, ask around. Send a note to a group of friends via text or in a local moms Facebook group. It will help you get ideas and help the rest of the group too. Also, it’s comforting to know what other kids at their lunch table are eating. For example, when I was looking for ideas on what to pack on Pinterest, I saw a lot of talk about kale and kale chips… when I polled friends… not kale. Lots of great ideas and made me feel a lot better that my kids might faint if there was kale in their lunchbox.
- Here’s a list of ideas: In addition to asking around and sticking with your kids’ favorites, I do find it’s helpful to have a list of ideas. This is also helpful to print out keep on the fridge for when the kids are packing their own lunch and also to bring along to the grocery store for ideas. After trying a few different lists I found online over the past few years, I put together my own list and shared it in this post: 50 Things to Put in a Lunch Box
Good luck with your lunch packing & I hope this saves you some time!
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