How to Pack a School Lunch


My oldest is going to kindergarten this year. It’s already involving a lot of feelings and that was before I began Googling “school lunch ideas”. Ha! To try and stay calm, I’m whipping out all of my type-A tactics to make sure she’s as prepared as she can be for this transition. #PlanningisCoping


Luckily, many wise parents have gone before me and have been giving me advice. Here’s what I’ve learned about packing a school lunch.

Keeping Lunch Food Hot

If your child likes hot lunches you’ll be disappointed to know that most schools don’t allow students use of a microwave. The good news is that you can pack anything needing to be kept warm in a thermos. Mac ‘n cheese, soup, chicken nuggets, spaghetti, hot dogs (pack the bun separately), etc. This thermos is on sale. Some of these products will keep food hot for 10 hours. Amazing!

Keeping Lunch Food Cold

Like the microwave situation, there’s not likely to be access to a fridge for your little one. If ice packs aren’t a good choice for you because of the room they take up (or you worry they’ll be forgotten at school), try using frozen juice or water as an ice pack. Also, making sandwiches ahead of time and storing them in the freezer means the frozen sandwiches can be used as a shorter lasting ice pack.

Forget about Pinterest Lunches

I know we’ve seen all those “lunch hack” images on Pinterest with the fruit and cheese kabobs and the sandwich sushi rolls, etc. Please don’t think that this is what all parents do or that your kids won’t eat if their lunch doesn’t look like the lunch of a kid whose mother is a professional food stylist.

Might I add that my kids have never tried anything simply because it looked like a work of art. Kids are going to eat what tastes and smells good to them, not suddenly try a salad because you put each ingredient on a skewer and called it a veggie caterpillar!

A note is lovely, but not required every single day. And unless it brings you joy to make one, skip the hot dog octopus. I like to pat myself on the back for feeding my child at all! Kidding!!! Sort of.

Preassemble All the Lunch Things

  • Make and freeze sandwiches: PB&J, ham & cheese (lettuce and tomato can be packed separately the morning of–if your kid will eat them!), etc.
  • Save money on cheese sticks by cutting a big block of cheese into….CHEESE STICKS, wrap them in plastic wrap and throw in the freezer
  • Pre-portion crackers, veggies, fruits and nuts in bags (reusable or disposable) and store in bins that your kids can grab from in the fridge and pantry

To assemble a pre-assembled lunch: grab a sandwich from the freezer, a bag from the pantry snack bin and a yogurt from the fridge or a cheese stick and veggie bag from the fridge and an apple from the counter fruit basket, etc. I bet this wont’t take more than 1 minute! Don’t forget your frozen drink!

Timing is Everything

If you decide five minutes before the bus comes that you want your kid to take lunch to school, but you haven’t preassembled everything, you might be causing yourself undue stress. Pick a time either on Sundays or each night to ensure you’ve got a rough idea of what’s available for your kid to eat and what needs to be prepped. Sending your little to school when you’re in a huff is no good for anyone.

Divide and Conquer

It seems to me that kids don’t seem to like foods mixing–at least mine don’t! This whole bento box lunch craze works well to prevent this. I discovered the Rubbermaid Lunch Blox system in researching school lunches and it just makes sense.

You have a stacking selection of boxes that stay upright when being carried (most lunch boxes are carried on their sides, but eaten horizontally–leading to food spilling, mixing or getting crushed) and fit into a variety of vertical style lunch boxes3 kits, 2 kits with 2 chug bottles, or 1 kit.

Attaching Lunch Drinks

Many elementary kids can’t bring their backpacks into the lunch room with them, so everything for lunch needs to be contained in their lunchbox or they run the risk of forgetting it in the classroom. Since drinks can take up so much room, I love this Rubbermaid Lunch Blox Lunch Box that features a drink sling that will hold most kid sized water bottles.

Since the Lunch Blox system comes with a very thin ice pack, you won’t need a frozen drink inside the lunch box. Obviously, you can still freeze any drink put into the drink sling, but it’s nice that it won’t take up room amongst the packed food.

Be Realistic

Some of you may not want to pack lunches daily or just don’t have the time. That’s OK! What is best for your family is best. End of story. Whatever your plan, set a reasonable goal for yourself and you will achieve it. I hope your school year gets off on a good foot for your child, and you!


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