As fall approaches, many families are gearing up for the back to school rush. Among the many tasks on a parent’s to-do list is preparing and packing lunches for their children. However, with busy schedules and limited time, back to school lunch ideas can often become a stressful and daunting challenge. Fear not! We have 10 time-saving back to school lunch tips that will earn you top marks.
Pack lunches while preparing dinner
Why double up on work when you can prepare lunches at the same time you’re getting dinner ready? If you’re chopping veggies for a soup, stew or salad, slice some of them up to send to school along with your child’s favourite dip. You can also make extra servings of dinner and pack up the leftovers to send along the next day. This works really well with baked pasta or casseroles. You can even keep it as simple as setting out containers and packing what you can while dinner is in the oven.
Make a lunch and snack prep station on the weekend and let the kids help
A great way to get a jump start on the week is to set up a prep station for lunches and snacks over the weekend. You can even turn it into a fun activity to do with the kids! Have them set out containers along with the items that can be packed ahead of time on the kitchen counter or dining table and then give them a set of tasks to complete, like counting out daily servings of snack crackers. You could also select a treat to bake with the kids, like muffins or cookies, that can be included in their lunches. Having a lunch and snack station will help save time on busy weekday mornings while allowing your child to have control over their lunches, making it more likely that they will eat everything they have picked.
Label each child’s favourite snack in the pantry
While you’re putting the groceries away after a trip to the supermarket, keep track of each child’s favourite snacks by adding a Post-it® Note with their name on it before placing it in the pantry. That way, you’ll ensure that each kid gets the snack they want while avoiding arguments between siblings. It will also help you track when each snack needs to be restocked, ultimately saving you time and money by preventing extra trips to the store. This may take a bit of extra work on grocery day, but it will save you time and keep your family organized. Post-it® 100% Recycled Super Sticky Notes are perfect for the pantry, as they can stick to practically any surface — plus, you can feel good knowing they are made from 100% recycled paper. Post-it® Transparent Notes are also great for labeling clear containers.
Muffin tray foods that you can freeze
Muffin trays can be used to make an exciting variety of foods that can be prepared over the weekend, frozen in single-serving portions, and then thawed overnight for school lunches. Egg, cheese and veggie cups, mini meatloaves, or mac and cheese cups are just some of the fun kids lunch ideas for school that are easy to make, store, and include in lunches. Muffin tray foods are also a way to get children involved in weekly lunch prep while teaching them healthy eating habits.
Set a menu and meal plan for the week
Set aside some time each weekend to come up with a meal plan for school lunches, including mains, sides and snacks. This will help you figure out which items you have on hand and the ones you’ll need to add to your shopping list. Offer your kids some options and let them decide what they want to eat in the coming week. It’s also a good idea to have some backup menu plans in case something isn’t available at the store or your kids change their minds partway through the week.
Use leftovers and send them with tortillas, pita bread or sliced bread
There are so many excellent ways to reinvent your leftovers for your kids’ lunches. If you made chili the night before, turn it into lunchtime tacos by sending some of the leftovers along with tortillas and your child’s favourite fixings. Shred leftover roast chicken and combine it with cheese, lettuce and tomato for a sandwich or wrap. If you had barbecue kebabs for dinner, put some of the leftover meat aside and pack it up along with pita bread and hummus for lunch the next day.
Customize each school lunch box for quick grab-and-go in the morning
For a child, accidentally picking up the wrong lunch bag can put a real damper on their school day. The last thing you want is to get a call at work saying your middle schooler opened their lunch to find their little sibling’s dino-shaped chicken nuggets instead of the pizza bagel they were looking forward to. Keep everyone’s lunches in order by using a Post-it® Super Sticky Note to label each lunch bag, so one kid doesn’t accidentally grab the other’s as you head out the door in the morning. They have 2x the sticking power to make sure that message stays put, and come in bold and bright colours for colour coding and customizing. You could also include them inside their lunches with a personalized note for an extra special touch!
Have an assortment of reusable containers in all sizes on hand
Instead of scrambling for lunch containers at the last minute each morning, purchase a set of reusable containers in a variety of sizes along with some bento-style containers and drink containers for smoothies. Containers are great for helping to prevent spills, keeping dips or dressings separate from other foods, or preventing food from being squashed or broken before your child can enjoy their lunch. Remind your children to bring the empty containers home so you can wash them to reuse them another day.
Wash your fruit and veggies when you buy them
When unpacking fruits and vegetables from the grocery store or farmers market, wash and dry them before putting them away in a fruit bowl or the crisper drawer in your fridge. You’ll appreciate that washed apple or celery when packing a last-minute lunch for your child on a busy morning. It cuts out a step during lunch prep, giving you back valuable time that you can use to check on whether gym clothes have been packed or homework lists have been completed.
Select one or two staple items each week that all of your kids like
Take some of the guesswork out of lunch prep by having your kids select one or two items that they can agree on each week, and build their lunches around those items. Depending on your children’s palates, this could get boring for their lunchtime mains, but it works particularly well with snacks. One week, it could be yogurt and granola bars that your kids agree on. Another week, it might be string cheese and pudding cups. This will help you take the guesswork out of at least part of school lunches while teaching your kids about cooperating with each other.