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As a mom of 3 school-aged kids who does not like to wake up early every morning to make breakfast and lunch before the sun rises, I’m a big fan of school lunch prep. I was preparing the kids’ lunches the night before so all they would have to do was grab their container out of the fridge and toss it in their lunch box with an ice pack, but even that was getting to be a little much to add to my nighttime routine every day (I swear, I’m not as lazy as I sound).
We happen to have a spare fridge in the basement that we like to keep well-stocked with bottled water, LaCroix, and LifeAid (you can’t beat cold drinks in the hot, dry Colorado summer), so I decided to utilize the space we had and make the spare fridge do a little extra work for me.
Our kids are old enough to be able to prepare their own lunches, but I wanted to be sure they were getting what I wanted them to eat, not just an entire lunchbox filled with grain-free crackers and cheese (which I’m sure a couple of them would do). So I created a plan, made some labels, and taught them how to make their own lunches. Doing this gave them some freedom, allowed them to make their own choices, and in the end, they actually ate more food than if I made the lunches myself.
How to Prepare Healthy School Lunches
To get started, I bought these clear, stackable organizer bins on Amazon: the larger ones for the main course/fruits/veggies and the smaller one for the condiments/dips. They are the perfect size for our side-by-side fridge and hold our food storage containers perfectly. If you won’t be using plastic (I don’t blame you) to store your prepared lunches, order the bin sizes that best accommodate your container sizes.
Then I created some simple labels, printed them out, and “laminated” them to the front of each bin with clear packing tape. Nothing fancy but very effective. If you don’t want to create your own labels, feel free to use mine, you can download the printable file here.
In addition to the containers in the fridge, I also set out some bins on the shelf next to the fridge for shelf-stable snacks, as well as utensils they might need to go along with their choice of lunch that day. For some reason, our reusable plastic camping sporks seem to come home from school snapped in half on a regular basis, so I gave up on that and started sending them with disposables. It’s not my first choice, nor my favorite, but until they can stop breaking and losing our more expensive forks, this is what we’re going with.
Create a Lunch Dry Erase Reminder Board
Also, not shown because I forgot, is a small dry-erase board that I put on the front of the fridge with a little checklist for each kid. Basically, each child has a column for them to check off the items they should have in their lunchbox. Forgot your ice pack and napkin? Good thing mom put it on the list for you. This way there’s less to think about on those early mornings when they’re rushing to make the bus on time.
Of course, it’s not like these prepped lunch items just magically make themselves, I do still have to put in the time and effort to put it all together. However, I just roll it into my regular Sunday food prep for the week and get it all done at once. It’s hardly any extra work and I get to sleep in an extra 20 minutes on school days. Perfect, right?
Each week, I like to get the kids’ input on the previous week’s lunches. What did they like? What didn’t they like? What would they like to see next week? Would they like to help out with Sunday lunch prep (pretty please?!)? This gives them even more control over their lunches and gets them even more excited to eat healthy, which can be tough when their friends are bringing sandwiches and candy bars in their lunchboxes (I kid you not, I’ve seen full-size candy bars in kids’ lunches at their schools).
Need some grain-free, dairy-free, junk-free lunch ideas? I’ve got you covered.
So if you have the space, I would absolutely suggest you adopt this method to save your sanity and give the kids a little more responsibility and control. And if you don’t have the space, maybe carve out a section in your fridge for the main parts of the lunches to save yourself some time each day. I’d love to hear what does and doesn’t work for your family, and some of your kids favorite school lunches. Let me know in the comments!