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I have a love/hate relationship with school lunches. On one hand, I’m grateful to be able to provide food for my kids, and I like to know they’re being offered a balanced meal. On the other, finding the time to plan out and pack lunches can be exhausting. There seems to be so much pressure on parents today to make cute and perfect lunches (search “TikTok bento box” for more on that). Over the years, I’ve come up with a few hacks that make lunch packing simple, easy, and fun. Plus, my kids seem to like them, so our system seems to be working. Here are a few tips to ease the pressure in your household.
Pick Your Vessel
Sorry, but nobody uses brown bags anymore. They’re flimsy, impossible to close, and not environmentally friendly. It’s time to get your kids a proper lunchbox (there are a ton of lunch boxes available at different price points).
Bento boxes are a game changer – the separate sections ensure kids have a few different options to choose from, and I think packing this type of lunchbox is much easier too. This year, I’m loving Bentgo, a popular choice among kids and parents alike. These boxes hit every mark –- they’re sleek, sustainable and most importantly functional (read: they don’t leak). Plus, they’re easy to clean, and with the new Bentgo Kids Chill ($30), you don’t even need a separate ice pack.
Meal Prep Is Your Best Friend
I know, everyone is obsessed with meal prep. But I’m not talking about spending your entire Sunday chopping and sauteing elaborate meals for the week. All you need to do is a bit of planning and preparation.
For me, this means pretty simple stuff, like steaming a batch of broccoli and green beans, chopping cucumbers, opening/rinsing cans of beans, making a pot or two of pasta, rinsing/cutting some fruit – you get the gist. Basically, get your house in order so in the mornings, all you have to do is pick four things and add them quickly into your bento. It now takes me about 10 minutes to pack two lunches every morning, if that.
Know Your Audience
You know your kids best – are they adventurous eaters or more cautious ones? The last thing you want is to throw away full boxes of food after school, so I’d suggest customizing lunches to your kid’s personality. My oldest daughter will eat pretty much anything, and I find that she has an even more adventurous appetite at school. So I’ll usually include a few “friendly foods” that I know she’ll love, but school lunches are often my opportunity to introduce new foods as well. It’s not always a success, but it’s a great strategy to try. My youngest daughter, however, is super picky. My goal with her is to just make sure she eats, so she doesn’t get cranky in the afternoon. Her lunches are typically a bit blander – never underestimate the power of a cheese stick and a yogurt pouch.
Get Your Kids Involved
Making lunches doesn’t have to be a one person task. Grab your toddler tower and put those kids to work! This is a bit easier with older kids who can help chop and arrange food into a lunchbox. Ellie (3.5 years) especially loves cutting sliced cheese into shapes with these fun cutters. But even one year olds can get involved, too. Sometimes I’ll put Lucy (15 months) in front of the fridge and let her point to the things she wants. Then, I’ll let her try to open the tupperware and show her how to put it into the lunchbox. It’s a fun activity for kids, and they’re likely to eat more if they’ve had a chance to share input.
Add A Little Something Sweet
Last but not least, don’t forget a little treat – that’s what the tiny section in the middle is for! We love these Deux minis ($45 for 6) which satisfy the sweet tooth with high-quality vegan ingredients and enhancements like pea protein, elderberry and vitamin D. According to the brand, they’re “like Jell-o pudding packs, but chic-er.” A few other great options we love: Simple Mills Brownie Thins, Annie’s Crispy Snack Bars and Yum Earth Gummies. We promise your kids will thank you later.
So there you have it. Our guide to making school lunches easy, simple, and fun. Happy lunchmaking!