It’s that time again… time to start thinking about school lunches. I hear from so many mamas that school lunches are the bane of your existence and I get it… having to make a balanced lunch for a tiny human at seven in the morning, sometimes before coffee, hoping that they’ll actually eat it- can be stressful. But there is an easier way– and as usual, it all comes down to creating a simple system- and it starts with having a plan.
There are a few things you want to keep in mind when creating a school lunch system:
- WHAT are you going to pack? (What combination of foods will keep your kids satisfied… and what are those foods?)
- WHEN are you going to pack them (or who, for that matter)?
- HOW are you going to pack them? (what equipment are you going to use?)
The system we use is based on our answers to these questions– yours might very well be a little different than mine, depending on your situation or your kids preferences, but I’ll give you our template, and you can plug and play for your family.
Question 1: WHAT are you going to pack?
The formula we’ve developed for WHAT to pack has stayed tried and true for us for years and I’ve passed it on to MANY a mama- here it is:
1. Start with a main that includes protein. Protein is crucial for growing kids– it doesn’t provide energy like fruit, veggies and fat do, but it is necessary for building strong muscles and most importantly in the school lunch- keeping kids full and helping avoiding that blood sugar crash. Don’t be afraid to mix up the protein- whether it’s a sandwich or wrap with deli meat, meat and cheese roll-ups, cottage cheese, hard cooked egg, or leftovers- just make sure it’s included!
Ideas: deli meat and/or cheese, hard cooked eggs, cottage cheese, leftover meatballs, meatloaf muffins, egg cups, chicken nuggets, beans or edamame. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box with protein waffles, pizza pockets or french toast sticks!
2. Fruit– what kid doesn’t love a nice piece of fruit? Fruit adds micronutrients like vitamins and minerals and fiber-rich carbohydrates that help to mitigate that late-afternoon crash.
Add some: sliced apples or pears, mango or pineapple spears, berries, grapes, pressed fruit bars, freeze-dried fruit or mini bananas.
3. Veggies– raw or cooked, whatever your kids prefer– make sure there is at least one veggie in their box! Remember this can also be a part of the main!
Add some: cucumber, baby carrots, sliced bell peppers, steamed asparagus, raw or cooked broccoli or cauliflower, kale chips, homemade zucchini bites (the list is endless!) Dips are a fun addition too- try hummus, homemade mayo or ranch, salsa or nut butters.
4. 1-2 Healthy snacks. Here is where the healthy fats come in- healthy fats keep kids fueled and satiated, so snacks like full-fat yogurt, string cheese, meat stick or trail mix are a great choice. (Notice most of these contain some protein to keep them full, as well!). We love pirates booty and plantain chips and other carb-heavy snacks too- I just try to be mindful of balancing them with those fat-and-protein rich snacks, too.
Add some: full-fat yogurt, string or sliced cheese, olives, almonds, cashews or walnuts; meat sticks, trail mix; homemade granola; snap pea crisps, plantain chips, smashed fruit bars, Larabars, RX bars or other clean ingredient granola bars; homemade energy bites, mini muffins, monster energy balls
Let’s talk PLANNING school lunches.
The system we use for planning lunches is this:
1. Each week, when I meal plan I ask each kid (I have two kids, so each gets one choice)- what veggie do you want, what fruit do you want and what main (protein) do you want? I have these listed on a sheet on our fridge so the kids have ideas. I add these to the grocery list so I don’t forget lunch items. If you want some guidance, I have a school lunch planner printable in my free kids lunch guide that I added to a plastic sheet protector with a pen so we can jot down our lunch plan, each week.
2. I mix and match from there– unless one kid truly doesn’t like something- but typically, I just try and mix it up a little day to day.
p.s. we always have one hot lunch day- gives mama a break and my kiddo loves pizza day!
Question 2: WHEN are you going to pack them (or who, for that matter)?
WHEN works the best for YOU to pack lunches?? Listen mama… I’ve tried to make lunches the night before and I can NOT get into the routine. I’m a morning-of mama, but I DO like to have some prep done ahead so lunches are easier. This means…
- Prepping veggies
- Prepping fruit
- Prepping mains ahead if applicable
With my formula already planned each week, mornings are easy. I just assemble and go. In the past, I’ve had my my big kiddo (8) pack her lunch herself twice a week to give her that freedom.
3. HOW are you going to pack them? (what equipment are you going to use?) Check out this post for my current favorite school lunch gear.
That’s it, mama- easy as that. Now, go set up your coffee for the morning- you’ll thank me later 😉