Organization Hack: School Lunches

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There is one thing that I really dislike about our morning routine and that is making lunches.  Both of my girls have never bought a school lunch, which means that I have to come up with something to pack them every single school day. I have absolutely nothing against school lunches. My kids just don’t eat them.  My youngest has several medical conditions that have led to a feeding disorder, so to ensure she actually eats something, I pack.  My oldest would eat a school lunch but doesn’t want to stand in the long line everyday, so, again, I pack.  What I have found over the years it that having a system makes it a little less painful.


What To Pack?

My first dilemma comes with what to pack. How many of you struggle with this too? You want it to be something healthy. You want it to be something quick and easy. You want them to actually eat it.  Let’s be honest, you really want them to pack it themselves or for it to magically just appear in their lunchboxes when you walk into the kitchen in the morning. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a magical fairy lunch packer? Haha!  We can only dream, right? Anyway, what to pack? I will start by saying that my lunches are nowhere near Pinterest worthy and certainly won’t be winning any medals for their nutritional content.  Y’all, I try, but let’s be real, it isn’t easy (especially when you have a child with major food issues).  My oldest is the easier of the two to please because she eats almost anything.  Her lunch typically consists of a sandwich, fruit or raw vegetables with dip, chips or pretzels, and a snack.  Occasionally, I will throw in something in a small thermos instead of a sandwich that may or may not stay warm because her lunch is at 2:00 this year!  Today she asked for some of the brown rice from dinner two nights ago and said she could eat it cold because it is one of her favorites (I did warm it and put it in a thermos but we will see if it stayed warm that long). Other things I have put in the thermos are mini corn dogs, pasta, homemade chicken pie, her other favorite dish “chicken rice,” and other leftovers from dinner.  This worked much better at keeping the food warm when she had an earlier lunch, though, so I am not doing it as often now. If your child has an earlier lunch, thermoses are a great way to ensure they get a hot lunch. I run really hot water in the thermos for about a minute and then put the heated food in it.  Some people put boiling water in at at first but I have not tried that.  Who has time to boil water in the morning? Certainly not me!  I will say that she does have the option to use a microwave at school, but, again, she refuses to wait in the long line to heat it up. <insert palm to face>  My youngest is a little more complicated because what she will eat is very limited due to her feeding disorder.  She does have a 504 plan at her school that allows her to use a microwave in the classroom before lunch to heat up her food. Unlike my oldest, she won’t eat food that is cold.   She has been in feeding therapy for 6 years (a long story that I will go into another day) and has been given pretty strict guidelines over the years on what is included in her lunch each day to ensure she gains weight. I try to stick to these guidelines from her therapist and nutritionist as much as possible. Each lunch has to consist of 6 items. She has to have a protein (sun butter sandwich, PB&J sandwich, PLAIN chicken, PLAIN pork chop, or hotdog with no bun), a grain (pretzels, PLAIN pasta, bread, rice, or crackers), a veggie (red peppers or carrots) or a fruit (apples, applesauce, pears, grapes, or banana), a protein bar (will only eat one kind), almond milk, and an item of her choosing (her opportunity for some control) for snack every day. The other rule is that she cannot have the same foods two days in a row so we have to constantly change it up. With an already limited diet, this is much harder than you would imagine. Keeping track of her meals and how much she eats in a day is a full time job in itself.  It really makes mornings stressful sometimes.  Anyone else have a child with feeding issues that just adds an extra component of stress to the already hectic mornings? Tell me I am not alone in this! I know the struggle. Back to the topic…There are some really great suggestions for different lunch options out there and some great cookbooks on the topic as well. You just have to search for them.

How To Pack?

Once I have figured out what I am going to pack, the dilemma of how to pack it comes in to play.  Do you put it all in zip lock bags? Do you go the old school way and wrap sandwiches in tin foil? Do you use storage containers? Bento boxes? What is going to keep it fresh, warm if needed, cold if needed, and not squished? What works for you? The following are products and tools that I use that I have found effective and easy. My favorite containers are from

  • Thermos (Amazon) for keeping foods warm
  • Ice packs (Amazon) for keeping foods cold (I put these in a zip lock storage bag to prevent it from getting everything wet)
  • 3 Compartment Containers
  • Mini containers for dips, sauces, and condiments
  • Banana Holder (Amazon) (keeps it from turning brown in the lunch box so my kid will actually eat it)
  • Sandwich cutters (for those no-crust eaters like mine)-Girl and Boy options (Amazon)
  • Sandwich boxes-to keep the sandwich from getting squished

Where To Store It All?

I cannot take the credit for this idea.  I got it from a post on How Does She? (click for original post) several years ago.  If you have the room and you don’t already have one, you need a lunch cart. It makes packing lunches so much easier and quicker in the mornings.  Plus, on those rare but magical days when my kids have to make their own lunch because I am not available, they know where everything is. I got my original cart from IKEA in a turquoise color that is not longer available but they have other colors. Now I use a very similar cart that I got from Michaels with a sale or coupon. You can find them on Amazon and at Target or Walmart all in a variety of colors and prices.  This cart is where I store all of the things I need to make lunches in the mornings.  When I first started using the lunch cart, I had a walk-in pantry, and I just rolled it in and out of there as needed.  Now, I no longer have a walk-in pantry (hence the need for a more neutral color) so I keep it just under the end of the bar. It is out of the way but still easily accessible since I use it 5 days a week.

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The top shelf contains some of my daughter’s snack choices, crackers, fruit snacks, protein bars, and fruit cups.
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The center shelf contains some of the things I need to make the lunches and include in their lunchboxes: zip lock bags, sandwich cutters, utensils, napkins, banana holders, and a pen and sticky notes to write reminders or special notes in their lunch boxes.
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The bottom shelf contains the storage containers like the sandwich boxes, thermoses, condiment containers, and 3 compartment containers.

While I still despise making school lunches, these tips and tricks make it just a little easier. Go check out my Pinterest board for some more ideas. I promise I am not telling you to go there to feel bad about your lunch making skills! Go there to get some more organizing ideas and a few ideas on things you can pack besides just a sandwich and ideas about how to plan and prep meals ahead of time (something I am going to work on).



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