A few years ago when my eldest started Kindergarten, I would make her lunch every morning before school. If I was super on top of things, I would make it the night before. And then I would pat myself on the back. (I think that happened like twice).
Most of the time, I would make it in the morning as an afterthought while rushing around like a headless mother hen. It wasn’t long before making her lunch became the bane of my existence. Once I was willing to admit to myself that I’m never gonna be the mom who cuts her kids’ sandwiches into perfect triangles (crust removed, of course) or who packs a bunch of healthy and perfectly portioned finger foods into a bento box (nothing wrong with that), I adopted a better way.
As the 2021/2022 school year begins, I would like to share with you that better way. Moms, why must we be accountable to ONE. MORE. THING. And now that I actually have THREE kids in school?! Um, no. This system has saved me loads of time and sanity while also allowing my kids some choice and independence! So, it’s truly a win/win.
I will say this upfront: it takes a bit of work and effort on the front end, but it is so worth it because of all the benefits that just keep comin’ as a result. Read on for the BEST school lunch system ever!
Step 1: Plan and Shop
(Don’t freak out. Remember, it will take some time and effort to make this system work and be worth it, but I promise it WILL be worth it!)
Ok, so first step is to make a list of items you will need at the grocery store for the “main course” of your kid’s lunch. For example, in this system I make bean and cheese burritos, homemade uncrustables (PB&J), pumpkin muffins, mini pizzas, turkey and cheese sliders, egg & sausage burritos and corndog muffins. You need to think about what your kids like to eat while also considering if the food will freeze well (most food does), because that is the KEY to making this lunch system so wonderful: freezing the main course!
Once you have decided on a handful of “main course” options, next think about the sides your kiddos like! Some common sides my kids enjoy are: veggie straws, ritz bits, raisins, applesauce pouches, fruit cups, larabars, fishy crackers, trail mix, string cheese, skinny pop, popcorners, grapes, that’s-it bars and nutter butters!
Head to the store to buy the ingredients for the main courses as well as any sides. If you can, buy pre-packaged stuff. For instance, purchase fishy crackers in the individual packages rather than the big carton. I love to stock up on non-perishable snacks/sides at Costco!
Step 2: Assemble the Main Courses
If you’re feeling super motivated, you could bust this out in a 3-4 hour block on a Saturday. Or you can do like me and spread the work out over a few days’ time. Last week, with my kiddos’ help, I made two main courses each day for a few days. For example, I made sliders and uncrustables on Monday, muffins and mini pizzas on Tuesday, etc. Again, GET YOUR KIDS INVOLVED (assuming they’re old enough). My older two are 8 and 5 and they enjoyed being part of the process of putting their lunches together. It helps them appreciate their lunch more when it comes time to eat it, too! After you make the main courses, portion them out into baggies.
Step 3: Freeze the Items
Most things will freeze well for a few months. I made enough items to take us to winter break. We do have an extra freezer to store items, so that’s a big plus! When I first started this system, we only had the freezer in our kitchen and so I just didn’t make as much. It helps to have a designated spot in the freezer to throw all these items in so they’re easy for your kids to find. Our designated place is a giant bowl on the bottom shelf of the freezer.
Step 4: Assemble the Sides
Assemble any sides that are not pre-packaged into portions. For example, separate veggie straws or grapes into small ziplock bags (or try reusable). Place pre-packaged items, such as applesauce pouches and skinny pop bags, into organized areas in your pantry or fridge where your kiddos can easily see and reach them. This step stool is great for shorter kiddos.
Step 5: Teach Your Kiddos the Lunch Routine
Walk your kids through the process of making their lunches. Every morning when it’s time to make their lunch, they will grab a main course from the freezer plus 2-3 sides (depending on your kid’s appetite/whether or not they have snack time). My kids choose one healthier side (ie. applesauce, string cheese, grapes, larabar) plus one “fun” side (crackers, cookies, popcorn). They are also in charge of filling up their water bottles. This process always takes place immediately after breakfast. After they place all items in their lunch boxes and fill up their water bottles, they place everything in their backpacks. By lunchtime, their main course will be thawed and ready to eat!
Step 6: Enjoy The Extra Time and Sanity for the Next Few Months
…and then just repeat the process as needed!
Try it out, mamas! I hope this helps make your morning routine a bit smoother. 🙂