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Lunch Prep: How I Pack Lunches

I’ve already shared How I Stock the Pantry and How I Stock the Lunch Fridge and today I’m going to share how I pack school lunches. Although to be honest, that title is misleading. I don’t pack lunches, my kids do. My kids are in 3rd, 6th, and 9th grades. This is the first year that I have required them to pack their own lunches. Last year I packed lunch for everyone and things were getting wasted. So this year I changed it up. 

Every afternoon the kids come from school and unpack their lunch box immediately. Ice packs go back into the freezer, containers go into the dishwasher, and water bottles get re-filled immediately and stored in the lunch prep fridge. The kids choose their items for the next day from the pantry and I do have rules about what they can choose. For example- if you’re taking chips then you cannot also take cookies, you need to pick a granola bar, cashews, etc. So basically they may not just pack junk food. I do always check and I’ve removed or replaced items several times. I always help if the youngest needs me to pour goldfish into a bag or something like that but other than that they are in charge of their lunch. 

Once they’ve packed the pantry items they head to the lunch prep fridge and choose their cold items. Typically they choose a yogurt, a cheese stick, and then decide on a fruit. My 9th grade daughter tends to pack a lot more fridge items such as chicken salad, hummus, pickles, etc. I have a bin in the fridge for them to put their cold items in so I can just grab it in the morning. I do make sure they pack either a fruit or a vegetable every day. 

For their main lunch item I give them quite a few choices. I normally have P3 packs, organic lunchables, snack size crab sticks, chicken salad, hard salami sticks, and cream cheese packs in the lunch prep fridge. As part of my Sunday prep I usually have several kinds of pasta dishes including macaroni & cheese, white cheddar shells, Alfredo pasta, spaghetti, or chicken parmesan pasta. My kids love hamburger helper and I hate it so some weeks I will make up a box of it for them to take as lunches. Then I don’t have to eat it! I also have a couple of pounds of Taco meat or Big Mac burger meat made up in the fridge as well as scrambled eggs and fried rice. I try to vary what I make each week so they don’t get bored. Chicken Fried Rice, Teriyaki chicken, and orange chicken are always a big hit for lunches. I keep a bag of chicken patties in the freezer and if they want to take a chicken, bacon, and cheese sandwich for lunch I make the chicken in the air fryer the night before and the kids can heat it up in their classroom microwave. If they want to take any of the Sunday prep items then I use their thermos to keep it hot. I pre-portion the amount out the night before and then I just have to prime the thermos, heat the food, and pour it in the next morning. 

I assemble lunches the next morning while the kids are getting ready for school. I fill thermoses, pack fridge items, and line up lunch boxes with water bottles on the counter for them to grab on their way out. It’s a good system that works for us. The kids are in control of how much and what they take for lunch and it’s teaching them responsibility. 

Some Notes:

  • We have a shelf dedicated to lunch boxes. After the kids pack their non-perishable items they put the lunch box back on the shelf so I know that they’re done. If I see a lunch box on the counter after dinner then I know that particular child has yet to pack their lunch.
  • If a child does not pack their lunch then they get whatever mom throws in there the next morning. And I’m not a morning person so it’s probably not going to be what they like. 
  • My kids take lunches 5 days a week. Our charter school has a hot lunch program but I’m not paying $5-7 per child per day for hot lunch. Sorry not sorry.
  • I try to use reusable containers but we also do use plastic ziplock bags and plastic utensils. I know it’s not environmentally perfect but this is what works for my family right now.

You can find all the posts in my Meal Planning & Prep and Lunch Planning & Prep series HERE

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