Updated: Apr 2, 2019
We all know that public school lunches have to follow USDA nutrition standards, but these standards definitely do NOT have any taste or appeal standards. And the bottom line is, school lunches are just...ew! And I'm pretty sure it's not just my kids who are spoiled with having grown up eating lots of fresh fruits and veggies all the time who refuse to eat school lunches. Whenever I'm volunteering at school, I see only 4 or 5 kids in each class buying lunch. So that means that the other three quarters of them have parents doing the dreadful lunch packing routine, daily. Each night it's the same. Get the kids finally in bed and then think ugh, "Time to pack lunches." Fear no more with these 3 simple tips.
Tip 1: Get yourself a bento style container
I've tried all kinds of food containers over the years to pack lunch items...both earth friendly, and not so earth friendly. First it was reusable zipper bags. After a couple of months using them, and washing them, they still seemed to have this little funky smell to them and just didn't seem worth all the work. And I can't be convinced that the funk is sanitary. Yuck! Then, I stocked up on a new set of BPA free Tupperware containers of various small sizes. But, all that did was end up in more frustration trying to keep track of all of the containers and lids. It was a nightmare. And then, I finally discovered how amazing the Sistema containers, that I had been passing on trying out every time I saw them on the shelf at Target, are. These handy containers were the start to my end of dreading the daily lunch packing routine. Specifically, the Sistema Snack Attack container is my favorite. With the 3 separated, built-in compartments, it makes prep and packing something I almost look forward to now...almost. The 3 compartment bento style container makes it easy to make a sandwich or salad or other meant-to-be-consumed-at room-temp dish and two sides and have it all ready to grab and go in the morning. They make a lot of different lunch bento style containers, and you might find another one that fits your little luncher's preferences better, but the concept of having it all ready to go in one container makes our mornings much smoother.
Tip 2: Don't give up hot lunches
Especially when it's cold outside, kids love to have a hot lunch. While the bento solution is great for the morning rush, you also need a good lunch thermos in your arsenal. I personally prefer the Mira Stainless Steel Food Jar, but there are some other good ones out there you might find. The key to using a thermos is in prepping it so that your hot lunch doesn't turn into cold mush! First off, you'll have to give yourself an extra 5 minutes in the morning routine to prep a hot lunch. Our favorites are pastas, soups, stews, or rice dishes. Whatever it is you're going to pack, you'll need to have it ready in a separate microwave safe bowl because you do not want to put your thermos in the microwave. Extremely important note: stainless steel and microwaves do not get along! Run hot water in your sink and get it as hot as you can, then fill your thermos with hot water and set the lid on top. Leave the thermos in the sink, while you're heating your food up. When your food is hot, dump the water out, put the food in and seal it up. Voila, hot lunch! Pre-heating the thermos is the key to keeping it hot until lunchtime. One last thing: when I pack a hot lunch, I also use a Sistema two compartment container to have two sides ready to go with the hot dish.
Tip 3: Make your kids a part of the process
My kids aren't quite old enough to pack their own healthy lunches completely on their own, but they are old enough to help. I've also found that when they help, they get to choose what they want to eat and they actually eat it. We have less uneaten lunches and I definitely don't dread the lunch packing as much, since it's not all up to me. We do this routine right after dinner, so a lot of times this means it's quick and easy because they just want the yummy leftovers from the meal they just had. Put away a lunch portion of leftovers in a microwave ready container, set your thermos out for the morning and bam, done!