Packing Healthy School Lunches {Part 1}: Ideas & Time Saving Tips


Editor’s Note: Please join us in welcoming Kelli to our contributor team! She has a 2 year old daughter and is ready to share her parenting advice, wisdom and ideas with the local community. 


We’re about one month into the school year in Arizona. On top of homework and projects, there’s the daily chore of packing healthy school lunches. Growing up, I was a “cold lunch” kind of kid. I loved my peanut butter sandwich, carrots, apple, yogurt, and carton of milk…and, of course, the occasional Lunchable. Life was good.

One quick search on Pinterest for “lunch box ideas” shows how much the lunch game has changed over the years. My husband and toddler were mesmerized when I had them do a Google Image search for “character lunch box ideas.” Spoiler alert: it’s not lunch boxes with characters; it’s food cut into the shapes and image of characters. You’ll have to see for yourself.

Involving your kids in packing their healthy school lunches is a great opportunity to teach them about nutrition. I’m a very visual “list person,” so I created a basic chart with foods my daughter enjoys eating. This will be a helpful reference when I fall in the “I don’t know what to make” lunch slump. You can customize this to match your family’s food preferences. Your child could even help create one by cutting out pictures from magazines or grocery store advertisements. The basic idea is you, or your child, get to pick one thing from each of the categories, more for older or hungrier kids. There are hundreds of possible combinations.

Packing Healthy School Lunches - Food Chart

Here are a Few Tips for Packing Healthy School Lunches:

  1. Make batches in advance to save time: Bake healthy muffins and freeze them. Combine a big bowl of ingredients for trail mix and store it. Wash and cut your fruit and veggies so they’re easy to access and ready to go when you need them.
  2. Stock up: If you have the room, buy a few extra boxes of your family’s favorite snacks when they’re on sale. Purchase produce when it’s in season, it will taste fresher and be cheaper, too!
  3. Keep lunch food together: Create a designated place to store your lunch food whether it’s in a bin on a pantry shelf, in a container or drawer in the fridge, or in a special spot inside your freezer.
  4. Use leftovers: I’m a big fan of working efficiently. If you make a dinner that would be appropriate for your child the next day, by all means, send that. (Do your child’s teacher a favor and don’t send messy spaghetti or crumbly quinoa!)

We stick to a pretty simple and mess-free lunch most days: PB&J, quesadillas, fruit, veggies, milk; but we have friends that pack lunches ranging from nut-free to gluten-free to meat-free and beyond! Next time, we’ll hear a dietitian’s opinion on how to make easy, affordable lunches given some of the various dietary and school restrictions. In the meantime, if you’d like to reminisce on the good ole’ PB&J days, please read Reasons Why It Was Easier to Pack School Lunches in the 80’s.

What are your time or money savings tricks to packing healthy school lunches?



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