School is back in session, and in our house, that means mama is packing lunches every day for my Brantley girl. When Brantley was in kindergarten last year, I made her lunch ev-er-y-day, and though I started out excited to pack lunches, by the end of the year, my poor girl was getting whatever I could scrounge up in the pantry and the fridge. But this year, I was determined to fix that!
I plan out all our family’s dinners every week, so I decided to try out lunch meal planning as well! I mean, how tough could it be? When you start making lunches at the beginning of the school year, it doesn’t seem so hard to make them fresh every morning, especially since you’ve scoured Pinterest for 365 days of no-repeat lunches, and tons of cute ideas and options. But on that morning that you have overslept, and you’re out of coffee, and none of the kids want to wake up either, TRUST ME, you will thank yourself over and over for the extra five or ten minutes you spent on Sunday or Monday making five lunches for the week.
SO, here’s how I do it, and how you (YES, YOU!) can do it too!
First, the lunchbox. I think you can pretty much go with anything you are comfortable with here! Fabric thermal-style bags are very popular, but I just couldn’t resist the adorable personalized metal styles from Sarah + Abraham. I also like the cute chalkboard on the inside that you can write a cute note to your child on! Brantley’s got a few little dents in it, but overall, it held together so well through Kindergarten that we just cleaned it up a bit and it was ready for First Grade!
And for the containers! I was lucky to find these amazing little plastic Sistema containers at, of all places, Old Navy (I have also found them for super cheap at TJ Maxx, and if all else fails, you can order them on Amazon!)! They are BPA free, are nice and small to fit in a lunchbox, but still have plenty of room for a serving of food, and most importantly for elementary age kids, the big flip handle-things that open and close the container, are easy to maneuver for little hands! I made sure that Brantley could open and close the containers before I sent her to school, since Kindergarten can be a big lesson in independence! In addition to the two-compartment options, I bought smaller ones that are half this size for other snacks and treats. Of course, ziploc bags or reusable sandwich and snack bags are great too, but these are just what I have found work best for us. I am forever running out of ziplocs at just the time I need them! As far as other containers go, Brantley has a waterbottle that she takes every day and uses during snack and recess, silicon cupcake liners that can split the compartments into two, very small lidded containers for dips and sauces, and also a thermos container that fits in her lunchbox as well, for hot and/or cold meals.
So what I do each Sunday is ask Brantley what she wants for lunch that week. Thankfully, she is good with keeping her “main dish” the same for each day during the week, and switching up her “side items.” I have seven of the two-compartment sistema containers for her “main dish,” and I pack five of them on Sundays or Monday mornings (with two extras, just in case). This week, I made PB&J sandwiches and grapes for her main dish (she only eats a half of a sandwich, so I made 3 sandwiches and had an extra half for Ben’s lunch :)). I usually pack her four different food choices and a drink, so once her main dish is packed, I can change up the two other side items each day (or, some weeks she’s fine with having the same thing every day! LOVE those weeks!). I try to keep a well-rounded meal, so for one side item I will give her either string cheese, cheese cubes, or yogurt (more on food ideas in a bit), and for the other side item, I give her a sweet treat or chips or crackers, or something like that. So far this week I have given her go-gurt (love freezing those yogurt tubes and then by lunchtime they are thawed but still cold!) and Ritz cracker crisps. And then I add a drink, which is typically a box of Organic Milk or (if she’s lucky :)), a Capri Sun. But the whole point is that making the main dish ahead of time, and then having a few pre-made side dishes ready to throw in the lunch box in the morning saves SOOOOOO much time and makes a busy, hectic morning run much, much smoother.
So now onto food options! Every child (and mother!) is different, but I like to pack a main dish (sandwich or some sort of a protein), a fruit or vegetable, a dairy choice, and a fun treat or snack. You can definitely add more or less, but what is most important for me is that whatever I pack is healthy (for the most part :)) and will keep Brantley fueled with energy to do her best at school each day. So here are LOTS of options in several different categories that will provide you with a lot of ideas for yummy lunches, and provide your child with a delicious and nutritious lunch! Feel free to print the entire list out using the following link and stick on your fridge (like I do!) so you can refer to these ideas when you’re planning for the week (or packing in the morning!).
Fruits and Veggies
sugar snap peas
french toast sticks
Things for the Thermos
macaroni and cheese
fruit and yogurt parfait
ants on a log
pigs in a blanket
hot dog corn muffins
Best of luck with your lunch packing, I hope this helps! Please let me know if you have any other suggestions! What do you pack your kids? How do you keep a smooth morning routine? How do you keep school lunches under control? I’d love to add to my list and improve our routine!