Between the glue sticks and the composition notebooks, we find our fellow moms. We will meet up again in the aisle alongside the colored folders. Together, we help decipher our supply lists and figure out which ones are the plastic, 2-pocket folders with brads/prongs. We will try to hide our frustration as we struggle, for the third year in a row, to find the teacher-approved orange folder. But we keep going knowing that if we stick to the list, our child will have the essentials they need for a successful day at school. That is, until the markers dry out and the crayons get broken. (Seriously, stock up on those $.50 crayons. Your child, and their teacher, will thank you later in the school year.)
Then, we wander into the next aisle–the aisle full of choices. We no longer have a list to give us guidance. The Lunchboxes. If you think folder choices are overwhelming, you haven’t done enough research into school lunchbox options. Picking the lunchbox is just the first step. Figuring out what to pack to keep your child nourished throughout the school day is another challenge.
As a self-proclaimed master lunch packer, I get asked all the time for tips on packing school lunches. Here are some of my favorite products, tips, and tricks.
Lunch Box Tricks: Q & A with a Master Lunch Packer
Q: What lunchbox do you recommend?
A: My absolute favorite lunchbox is PlanetBox. It is an investment (about $70 for the container and bag.) However, my oldest daughter has used her PlanetBox for four years almost every day of the school year. Every night, it goes in the dishwasher and it still is in excellent condition. It is leak proof (it comes with special containers to seal liquid items). It also provides a lot of compartments to help kids visualize appropriate proportions when packing their own lunch.
If you like the bento style of the PlanetBox, but hate the price tag, I recommend YumBox. It is only $30, but it is plastic (versus the metal PlanetBox) and not dishwasher safe. It also does not come with a case, but the size and shape will easily fit into most standard lunch carriers.
If your child is not planning to take their lunch often, you may prefer a cheaper bento option. While they are not leak proof, these Basic Bento Lunch Boxes are a great inexpensive option at about $10 for a pack of 4.
Q: What additional items do use when packing lunch?
A: These silicone cups aren’t just for baking! I love them for separating compartments. I find most kids enjoy eating smaller quantities with more options. (Tip: putting just 1 or 2 pieces of broccoli in a small compartment doesn’t seem as overwhelming to eat when it is paired with some other fruits and veggies to snack on.)
I always keep skewers, picks, and/or lollipop sticks on hand for sandwich skewers.
Cookie cutters (especially mini cookie cutters) are a necessity in my house. My daughters love to cut out fun shapes when we pack their lunches together. Don’t worry; those scraps don’t go to waste. My daughters love to snack while they pack!
A spiralizer is a great way to make veggies more fun.
Q: How do you utilize leftovers?
A: While most lunch boxes will keep cold food cold (with an ice pack), they are typically not designed to keep hot food hot. However, this isn’t a problem for my girls. I slightly warm up food in the morning and they eat it room temp. Full disclosure – I’m not a mom who preps meals the night before. I’m more of a ‘finish packing as you throw your shoes on and get you out the door’ kind of mom.
When I make a meal my daughters like for supper, I try to make an effort to hold back some of it for lunch the next day. Setting a side a few meatballs and some noodles can make packing lunch a breeze in the morning!
We eat a lot of tacos in our house. I always make extra meat so we can save some for lunches. Add some tortillas or chips and let them put their own tacos/nachos together.
Assemble mini tacos or taquitos.
Throw in a bag of chips for walking tacos. At lunchtime they can dump all the toppings in the bag and shake it up.
Another favorite in my house is sticky rice. I can use the leftover rice to make rice balls and add some chicken and eggs for ‘deconstructed fried rice’
Chinese leftovers also make great lettuce wraps.
Q: What are some fun alternatives to ‘boring’ sandwiches?
A: Pizza lunchables! You can make your own flat bread or simply cut out pita bread. Add containers of sauce and your child’s favorite toppings.
Breakfast for lunch is also popular. I love using Greek yogurt because it has more protein.
Even switching up the the bread for a tortilla wrap or a pocket pita makes the same basic ingredients exciting again.
Q: I don’t have time (or desire) to pack a ‘fancy’ lunches. What are some fast and easy ideas?
A: Just like those nights where you don’t have the time or energy to make supper… cereal can save the day. Just pour some dry cereal in a container and your child can buy a carton of milk to pour in. My 6-year-old loves getting cereal for breakfast and will throw in a banana and some peanut butter balls to fill her up. However, I recommend always double checking any food restrictions your child’s school has before packing peanut butter products.
Another easy option is DIY ‘lunchables’. Keeping crackers and sliced cheese on hand makes throwing this lunch together quick and easy.
For some of my other tips to make lunch more exciting, check this out.
Do you have a question you would like me to answer? Comment below and I’d be happy to share any of my lunch-packing insight.