School Lunch Packing 101

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Brantley’s Personalized Lunch Box from Sarah+Abraham

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!

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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.

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Ben and Gracie needed their own lunchboxes too!

 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.

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Last week Brantley had a turkey sandwich with grapes, pretzels, and string cheese with KOOL AID, that lucky girl!

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!).

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1rNVXy8j0X4ncJLGyu-yDw7cWtIpJq-S6v3YKEWnUGSs/edit?usp=sharing

Fruits and Veggies

grapes

strawberries

blueberries

apple

banana

carrots

cucumber

cherries

pineapple

cherry tomatoes

pickles

watermelon

oranges

olives

celery

salad

fruit salad

applesauce

raisins

craisins

peaches

plum

avocados

raspberries

sugar snap peas

smoothie

Meats/Protein

hot dogs

turkey

ham

chicken

chicken salad

taco meat

sausage

salami

nuts

peanut butter

hamburger

bacon

chicken nuggets

fish sticks

lil smokies

boiled eggs

egg salad

black beans

meatballs

Grains/Carbs

pretzels

bread

tortilla chips

tortillas

pita chips

potato chips

popcorn

mini muffins

french toast sticks

biscuit

graham crackers

goldfish

saltines

mini pancakes

granola

waffles

pasta salad

bagel

cereal

animal crackers

cheese its

english muffin

banana bread

pita bread/naan/flatbread

crescent roll

croissant

Dairy

cheese cubes

cheese slices

string cheese

yogurt

pudding

milkshake

Things for the Thermos

soup

chili

oatmeal

ramen noodles

spaghetti

fried rice

bakes beans

macaroni and cheese

spaghettios

Treats

cupcake

cookies

chocolate

marshmallows

trail mix

jello

gummies

brownies

cinnamon roll

Main Dishes

sandwich

tacos

nachos

sandwich wrap

mini pizza

fruit and yogurt parfait

sliders

sandwich kabobs

quesadilla

grilled cheese

ants on a log

pigs in a blanket

hot dog corn muffins

Dips/Condiments

ketchup

mustard

peanut butter

hummus

ranch dressing

salad dressing

Nutella

syrups

salsa

jelly

cream cheese

BBQ sauce

guacamole

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!

 

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  • MummyButterfly

    I found the Sistema containers at Michaels AND they were 70% off in the summer section! I bought three, and my husband thinks they are the best lunch boxes he’s ever had! (I pack his lunch 3-5 days a week!) I wish I had found more!!!

    • Amanda

      There are TOOOOONS of them at TJ Maxx in Loganville!! Not quite 70% off, but the prices are great. And there’s lots of different sizes and different options. Check it out if you need more!