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One hundred and sixty-five.
That’s approximately how many school lunches you’ll pack for your kid this year. Got 2, 3 or more kids? You better get started.
I’m not a fan of my daughter buying lunch at school. Although many schools in the U.S. have upgraded their menus in recent years as a result of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act to include more vegetables, less sodium and more whole grains, the lunches at my daughter’s school pales in comparison to what I pack at home.
The only drawback if I’m being perfectly honest is that packing healthy school lunches with real, whole-foods takes planning, prep work and time. But because I don’t want my kid eating deli meat, chicken fingers or pizza, I send her to school with lunch.
It may not be quick, but packing healthy school lunches doesn’t have to be stressful.
7 Hacks to Make School Lunches Easy
1. Pack school lunches the night before
After you finally get your kids to sleep at night, all you want to do is put on Netflix or curl up with a good book—even if you fall asleep a few pages in.
But it’s worth packing school lunches the night before instead of waiting until the morning. I’ve found that no matter how early I wake up, I’m still running around stressed out and pressed for time if I wait until the last minute.
Packing school lunches the night before also gives you an opportunity to cook a batch of vegetables or even a meal for the next day at the same time so it’s one less thing you have to worry about.
2. Double up
Instead of making individual lunches for everyone, try to find ways to stretch each meal. For example, I make a large salad and then divide it up for my kids and myself. The next morning, I’ll add a bit of olive oil and a splash of vinegar so it’s not soggy by the time they open it.
Or consider making a double batch of a meal. One portion can be dinner while the other can be divided up for lunches throughout the week.
3. Transform leftovers
Instead of re-inventing the wheel, turn last night’s leftovers into school lunch. Roast chicken can be made into chicken salad or combine leftover rice with some edamame, vegetables, egg and soy sauce for a quick and easy stir-fry.
4. Batch cook
Set aside a few hours on Sunday or use your Crock-Pot to make large batches of meals you can pack for school lunches.
Soups, stews and chili work well but you can also make large batches of baked chicken cutlets, beans or vegetables, for example.
5. Use a bento box
Kids like to nosh. They like to eat a little of this and a little of that. A bento box is a great way to pack a variety of foods and plenty of nutrition into a school lunch that your kid will love.
6. Make perfect portions
Set aside individual portions of fruits, vegetables, hard-boiled eggs and nuts and seeds in small containers or Ziplock bags to easily grab for school lunches and snacks. This method works well for making smoothies or green juices for breakfast too.
7. Ask for help
Just because you’re a mom, doesn’t mean it’s your responsibility to pack your kids’ lunches. Last year, my husband took on this task and it made my life a little less stressful.
This year, things are going to change again. Although my kids are young, I think they’re ready to pack their own lunches so this school year, we’re going to try it.
Teaching your kids to pack their own lunches or at least help teaches them responsibility, allows them to take ownership and feel empowered and teaches them what a healthy meal looks like. The process might be slow and messy but it’s well worth it.