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Make School Lunches Easy, Healthy, and Delicious!

School_LunchesNearly every Friday night my husband and I have some variation of this conversation:

Me: What do you want for dinner?

Husband: I don’t care.

Me: Can you please just pick something?

Husband: I really don’t care.

Me: OMG I AM SO TIRED OF DECIDING WHAT FOUR PEOPLE AND A DOG ARE GOING TO EAT FOR BREAKFAST, LUNCH, AND DINNER. I AM NOT DECIDING. PLEASE PICK BEFORE I ACTUALLY LOSE MY MIND!

Husband: I don’t care.

Me: ….

Then we end up at some kid-friendly restaurant where I drown my sorrows in a margarita. Or four.

I think a lot of parents feel this way. Between breakfast, lunch, and dinner and everyone’s likes, dislikes, refusals to eat anything that is “too weird,” and just plain-old “cook burnout,” we’ve all wished for a private chef at some point. Or shoved crackers, an apple, some string cheese, and a cookie in a lunch box and called it good. Suffice it to say that some days I just get really, really tired of packing lunches.

But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. There are ways to make lunch packing easier, while fulfilling everyone’s preferences and still including nutritious options. We’ve put together some of our best tips and tricks for you!

Prepare.

I know this one is obvious, but it’s so true. When I actually manage to get everyone’s lunches made the night before, the next morning it feels like I have enough time to run a marathon, get a massage, and clean the whole house before 8 a.m. But the only way I ever manage to pack lunches at night is when I make a shopping list over the weekend and get all my shopping done. That way I know I have what I need for the week (for lunches and also for dinners) so I usually put lunches together while I’m making dinner each night or immediately after. I also prepare some of the food myself. I wash and cut fruit and divide up pretzels and veggie straws.

Many parents make lunch stations at the beginning of the week so kids can put their own lunches together. I’m not quite organized enough for that, but it’s a great idea!

Get the kids involved.

My daughter is pretty good at eating what I put in her lunch and, thankfully, she likes a lot of different foods. My son, on the other hand, has a list of about five things he likes in his lunch, none of them particularly healthy. So each new school year brings more frustration for me. This year I decided I was going to leave it up to him. I took him to the store and had him pick out a few new items for his lunches. Then for a whole week he helped me pack his lunch. Not only did this allow him to see what I did for him every day, but it also showed him how limited his lunch food options were. (Not to mention that when the kids help me, it’s less work for me! Score!)

Get the right equipment.

I used to throw everything into Ziploc bags, toss them into lunch boxes and call it good. Not only is this wasteful, but it also doesn’t keep anything cold or protected from getting mangled from being thrown around in a backpack. So I bought some containers with various size compartments, some Thermos bowls, and some reusable cupcake liners that work great for compartmentalizing in larger Tupperware containers. Now my job’s easier and the food is more appealing to the kiddos.

Make healthy fun.

Most kids won’t choose to eat healthy foods over sweet or salty snacks. But as parents, it’s our job to get our kids the nutrition they need. So I try to make fun variations of healthy foods. Kids love anything that they can dip – whether it’s veggies in ranch or hummus, apples in peanut butter, or fruit in yogurt. You can also cut sandwiches into fun shapes using cookie cutters, or draw faces on baggies containing a sandwich.

Make it personal.

Okay, I’ll admit this one doesn’t necessarily make the lunch-packing process easier or faster. But my kids love it. I write them a note on a napkin almost every day. My 5-year-old is still learning to read, so she gets a picture instead of a note (and trust me, I am NOT an artist, so it’s always something easy, like a rainbow, a butterfly, or a flower). My 8-year-old gets a joke, a funny picture, or a crazy science fact. They really enjoy the notes and my son says that he and his friends at his lunch table look forward to reading them. So it’s an extra step for me, but makes my kids feel special and adds something fun to their lunches.

I suspect I’m never going to be one of those moms who packs a crazy, creative Bento lunch for her kids, but at least they’re fed, right? What’s your favorite trick for making packing lunch painless? For some healthy lunch recipes, check out our Pinterest page, School Lunch Tips, Tricks, & Ideas.

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