ANXIOUS ABOUT PACKING SCHOOL LUNCHES? HERE’S YOUR STEP-BY -STEP GUIDE, PLUS A FREE PRINTABLE 20 LUNCHBOX IDEAS!
This post was written in partnership with my friends at Baby Gourmet. As always, all opinions are my own.
Most of us are gearing up for back to school, replenishing our kids’ closets, making sure calendars are organized for weekly activities, and stocking up on school supplies. Can you take a guess as to what causes parents the most back-to-school stress though?
It’s definitely a daunting task for many (even me—the pediatric dietitian!), but it doesn’t have to be. The key is to keep it simple (no overcomplicated Pinterest-like lunches here!), and have a solid lunch-packing strategy with a list of go-to options to choose from.
I always make sure to include at least five items in my kids’ lunches, for balance and variety—kids tend to eat more when there’s more to choose from, and it means that there’s a nice balance of nutrients too! Get your kids to help pack their lunches – the more kids are involved, the more likely they are to actually eat it!
Lunch Packing Guide:
What you’ll need:
- Leak-proof lunch kit with compartments (or containers for different foods)
- Washable lunch bag or kit, preferably insulated
- Ice packs
- Your list of lunch ideas (and a well-stocked fridge and pantry)
Food Safety Tips:
– To avoid bacteria growth, get your child to empty and wash out lunchbox and kit as soon as they come home from school.
– Pack lunch the night before, and store in the fridge overnight so that it’s already cold when you pack it
– Always pack an ice pack to keep foods cold until ready to be eaten
– For hot foods, pour boiling hot water into thermos and let sit for a couple of minutes. Heat hot food. Pour boiling water out of thermos and then transfer hot food. Seal.
Four Lunchbox Essentials:
1) Fruit (pack at least one)
- Piece of fresh fruit
- Fresh, frozen, or unsweetened canned fruit
- Unsweetened fruit and veggie purees (ie. Baby Gourmet’s Squoosh or Slammers snacks)
- Unsweetened dried fruit
2) Vegetable (pack at least one)
- Leafy greens (ie. leftover salad)
- Raw veggies cut up
- Cooked vegetables
- Homemade salsa or bruschetta
- Vegetable soup
3) Protein-rich foods (pack two)
- Leftover meat, poultry, fish
- Milk-based beverage (ie. Shakers drinks)
- Yogurt or Greek yogurt
- Cottage cheese
- Seeds or seed butter
4) Whole grain or starchy vegetable (include at least one)
- Whole grain bread, tortilla or pita
- Homemade muffin or loaf made with whole grain flour or oats
- Whole grain pancake, waffle or French toast
- Leftover brown rice, quinoa, barley
- Potatoes/sweet potatoes/yams
Here are 20 lunchbox ideas to help you out:
Leftovers for the win:
- Leftover spaghetti and meat sauce + raw snap peas + organic fruit and veggie pouch + whole grain granola bar
- Leftover taco meat + fixings (cheese, salsa, lettuce, crushed taco shell) + an apple + homemade wholegrain muffin + Shakers drink
- Leftover lentil soup + whole grain crackers + fresh blueberries + carrot sticks + hummus + Greek yogurt
- Leftover homemade Hawaiian pizza + sliced pear + veggie soup + homemade protein balls
- Leftover pulled chicken or pork + whole grain bun + organic fruit and veggie pouch + school safe kiddie trail mix (seeds, unsweetened dried fruit, whole grain cereal) + bell pepper strips
Breakfast for lunch:
- Leftover French toast + Greek yogurt for dip (Greek yogurt + seed butter + chia seeds or hemp hearts + cinnamon) + sliced peach + cucumber strips + dip
- Leftover muffin-tin veggie omelet + fruit salad + cottage cheese + homemade granola bar + cucumber strips + Shakers drink
- Whole grain pancakes + Greek yogurt + berries + little bit of maple syrup + carrot sticks + hummus
- Homemade flourless zucchini blender muffin + leftover breakfast sausage + banana + yogurt or cottage cheese + assorted raw veggies
- Build-your-own Greek yogurt parfait (Greek yogurt + whole grain granola + sunflower or pumpkin seeds + berries) + organic fruit and veggie pouch + homemade granola bar
Finger food fun:
- Whole grain crackers + cheddar cheese cubes + length-wise sliced grapes, raspberries + snap peas + dip + roasted chickpeas + protein/energy ball
- Leftover hamburger/turkey burger cut into bite-sized pieces + ketchup to dip + homemade yam fries + apple slices with cinnamon sprinkled on top + baby tomatoes + homemade or whole grain granola bar
- Sliced hardboiled egg + whole grain waffle strips + yogurt to dip + watermelon sticks + carrots + cucumber + dip
- Homemade whole grain mini muffins + nectarine slices + turkey pepperoni sticks + kiddie trail mix (seeds, unsweetened dried fruit, whole grain cereal) + Shakers drink
- Tortilla “sushi” (whole grain tortilla with either seed butter or cream cheese + fruit, wrapped up and sliced into bite-sized pieces) + raw veggie strips + hummus + apple slices + Greek yogurt to dip
- Whole grain tortilla wrap with leftover meat, cheese, spinach + unsweetened fruit sauce + leftover broccoli salad + homemade whole grain banana loaf
- Mini whole grain pitas + cheese and leftover meat or chicken + bell pepper strips + hummus + pear slices + whole grain granola bar
- Tuna salad or egg salad sandwich on whole grain bread + fruit salad + snap peas + homemade protein/energy ball
- Wafflewich (whole grain waffles + seed butter + banana slices) + homemade veggie soup + melon cubes + cottage cheese or yogurt
- Crackerwiches (whole grain crackers + deli meat + cheese) + leftover roasted veggies + roasted chickpeas + homemade whole grain muffin + Shakers drink
To make it easy, here’s a free downloadable printable with these ideas, to keep in your kitchen!