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This week I’m sharing all of our favorite tips and tricks to saving money on school lunches. While some maybe things you are already doing, hopefully this is helping you get some ideas too!
Today I want to share some lunchbox hacks that don’t necessarily have to do with saving money but may help you simplify the process of packing lunches over the course of those 180 days (let’s not even think about summer day camp)!
This #3 in a series on school lunches. Check out the other posts in the series:
Have a basic lunch plan
Come up with a framework for school lunch packing. Kind of like the USDA MyPlate, but without measuring things! Pick one thing from each category if you can.
- Protein: Deli meat, eggs, beans, meatballs, chicken nugget
- Dairy: Cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, sour cream-based dips for vegetables or crackers
- Starch/carbs: Bread, chips, crackers, tortillas, muffins, granola bars, pita bread
- Fruit: Bananas, oranges, apples, grapes, berries, etc.
- Vegetables: Cucumber slices, bell pepper slices, baby carrots, frozen peas, raw broccoli or cauliflower, celery
In an ideal world, you’d probably love to have all five categories covered every day. Try not to pick more than one thing from each category (except extra fruits and veggies are fine!) and try to pick at least 3 categories so that there’s some variety. For example, on a morning when groceries are low and you’re feeling rushed, you might pack deli meat and cheese, a bag of chips, and a clementine. (Obviously, the bigger your kids’ appetites, the more you might need to pack!)
Pack food your kids will eat
Don’t worry about the meal being 100% balanced. Include new foods at breakfast or dinner when you can encourage adventurous eating. For school lunches, pack food you know your kids will eat. They won’t have anyone there encouraging they finish and if they don’t like it they won’t eat it.
Create a theme for certain days or a weekly theme
To help with planning, come up with a theme for each day. For example:
- On one day, maybe you do Lunchables that you get on sale with coupons
- On a different day each week, pack a hot lunch (meatballs, chicken nuggets, leftovers)
- One day a week, pack sandwiches
Another option is to do a weekly theme. Maybe one week you make a big batch of muffins and include one muffin most days. Or maybe you make a big batch of pasta and incorporate it into multiple lunchbox meals that week.
Tell your kids NOT to throw away what they don’t eat
First of all, this lets you see what they’re not tending to eat and helps you prevent future food waste. Also, sometimes you might be able to salvage some of what’s left over and pack it another day or give it to another kid. Another great tip I’ve heard, if the food left is still safe to eat, is to let your kids eat that for their after school snack.
You need to work on not getting upset at what comes home though. If you react harshly they will throw away what they don’t eat rather than get in trouble. The goal here is to not waste food and money. While you can discuss it with them, I’d save the lectures for meals you can control easier.
Pack lunches the night before
Your future self will thank you! Even if you’re packing simple lunches, one less thing in the morning creates a happier and less stressed parent, which is good for the whole family (the old adage “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” is popular for a reason).
Tip: Get in a routine with 1st grade and up that you pack the main sandwich/entree and they gather the drinks and snacks. Look over their selections, but it will make them have some responsibility and choice and make the process faster for you.
Create a meal planning station in your kitchen/fridge
Use a container in your fridge where you can keep the items that you are setting aside for lunches. This makes it easy to find them and also provides a boundary so that those food items aren’t eaten during other times of the day or by other members of your family! My girls know items that are meant only for lunches and will quickly alert anyone that tries to touch them early.
Have a place in a pantry or cabinets where you keep other items for lunches. It’s good if this is just for lunch stuff—make a separate place for snacks and things that are OK for anyone to eat. Otherwise, you might find yourself without things to pack for lunch.
If you followed the advice in Saving on Lunches and prepared some of the lunch components early, you can put these things in those lunchbox stations.
Keep lunchboxes and lunchbox containers organized
Hang hooks in the kitchen where your kids can keep their lunchboxes and backpacks. Also, keep all your lunchbox containers and products in a place where you can easily grab them. Having to find the right lid in the morning is no fun!
Any tips I missed? Please share your favorite lunchbox hacks!