Back to School Lunch Hacks

It’s time to get back to school and that means packing lunches. If you look up school lunches on the internet, you’ll see a variety of elaborate lunches. While these lunches can look pretty, they aren’t practical for every family. Packing lunches for school doesn’t have to become a daily stress. In fact, it can be simple with a few tweaks to how you do things. Here are some tips for packing school lunch you don’t want to miss!

Tips for Packing School Lunch

Pack foods your child will eat

When planning school lunches it can be tempting to try and add in new foods. School lunches aren’t the time for trying to introduce new foods. Instead, pack items you know your child will enjoy. This doesn’t mean that you have to choose items that aren’t healthy for them. Instead, focus on picking items that create a balanced meal while being things they will actually eat. Here are a few tips for packing foods your child enjoys.

  • Favorite fruits and vegetables - Does your child have a favorite fruit or vegetable? Add these to their lunchbox for a food you’re sure they will eat. Sometimes using items like fruit pouches or dips for vegetables can encourage kids to eat more of the produce in their lunches. Remember, you can always add a little seasoning to cut-up fruits or vegetables to make the produce even more enticing to little ones.
  • Pick a favorite protein - Sometimes using an alternate protein which kids will enjoy is a good move for lunches. Instead of making a traditional sandwich, add in items like Snack Mates can accommodate the need for a protein-rich option without adding using items they might not enjoy as much. Other options might include Beef Thins, pepperoni, or cut up chicken breast. You can also be creative with another kid-favorite: meatballs. (Check out this healthier version of Pork Dumpling Meatballs using Coconut Aminos.)
  • Have fun with side items - When packing favorites, look at sides that complement food they're already eating. This will help you to focus on balancing out the rest of the meal. You could add build-your-own pizza kits, or their favorite popcorn as a side. The goal is to find options your kids will enjoy that also aid the nutritional value of the meal.
  • Add drink flavorings - When packing items such as water bottles, it can help to have pouches of drink flavoring to let your child enjoy their favorite drink with lunch. It can also help to use fruit juices or add fruit to water bottles for an infused flavored water.

Pack foods that last

Many of the school lunches that are shown online don’t stand the test of time. Items that stay in lunch boxes for a long time should be able to handle not being refrigerated. Most schools will not store lunches in a food safe location. This will mean that items such as dairy, dressings, and some meats will not hold up well. Here are a few tips for packing foods that last.

  • Pick produce that doesn’t need refrigeration - Most produce doesn’t hold well when sliced up. Items such as bananas and apples are better left whole until they are eaten. If you want to slice apples, soak the sliced apples in a solution of lemon juice and water to help them keep longer. It can also help to choose items such as blueberries, strawberries, and grapes that stay fresh longer. You can always put seasoning in a separate Ziploc bag for your children to add the fruit or veggies to and give a good (and fun) shake to.
  • Freeze items such as yogurt.- Items such as yogurt freeze well and will typically thaw by lunch time. This will mean that your child can enjoy favorite foods that might normally not work for a lunchbox. Some other options might include frozen fruit or even items such as frozen crust-less sandwiches that thaw by lunchtime.
  • Non-perishable foods are your friend - Items such as crackers, chips, fruit cups, Beef Thins, Meat Sticks, Snack Mates, and other shelf-stable foods are always a smart move when picking school lunches. It can help to use reusable containers if you are concerned about waste. It can also help to use items that can be easily divided between children to save on groceries.

Keep it age appropriate and easy to eat

Many teachers will share stories of foods that were well-intentioned in school lunches but not ideal. This can be because of needing to warm it, not providing the needed utensils, or a variety of other issues. Having a plan for a school lunch that is age appropriate and easy to eat can make a world of difference. It is also helpful if children have shorter lunch periods. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Avoid packaging where possible - Items such as bagged foods or foods with sealed containers can make it more time-consuming to enjoy their lunch. Younger children can have difficulty opening items like this. This may mean spending their lunch period waiting on teachers to open food items before they can eat lunch. And The New Primal’s Snack Mates are a kid-friendly snack enclosed in an eco-friendly pouch. So remind your little ones to recycle the bag to reduce waste!
  • Avoid foods that require reheating - Most schools will not have the ability to reheat food that is brought in for a school lunch. When packing lunches, pick items that will not need to be reheated at school. It is completely ok to pack leftovers in a school lunch as long as your child will eat that item at room temperature.
  • Keep foods age-appropriate - Younger children may have a difficult time eating certain foods. Teachers are not always able to assist with cutting up food or putting together foods that involve assembly. It is also important to watch out for items that are choking hazards to avoid lunchtime issues.
  • Include utensils and napkins - Not all schools will provide utensils and napkins for children who pack their own lunches. It helps to make sure that you include any necessary items so that lunchtime is easier for your child.

Keep it simple

Many parents will attempt to design lunch boxes that are Pinterest perfect. While these are pretty, it’s more important to focus on practical lunches that are easy to eat. It can help to have a lunch packing station that has places to pick food items that meet each nutritional need. As children get older, let them pack their own lunches by pulling from these stations. Simple meals that are quick to pack up are always a smart move as the school year progresses.