I don’t’ know about others but making my kids’ lunches for school is one of my least favorite parenting tasks. Why? Maybe it’s because the incessant critiques I get from the sidelines: one of my kids doesn’t like carrots, one of my kids needs his sandwich crust cut off, one of my kids wants apples sliced a specific way – and all these demands are being thrown over my shoulder, simultaneously, with a school shot clock that’s winding down VERY quickly. I’m not a professional athlete, so these pressures get to me and the anxiety of handling all these challenges regularly cause my blood pressure to rise dramatically. That said, throughout the years, my wife and I have picked up on some small lunch-packing tips that have made the process a bit more bearable. Here are some steps that have helped lower my blood pressure and get lunches packed before the school bus/carpool shot clock goes off:
- Get a meal container
- This may seem like a simple or obvious suggestion, but a good food container (like a “bento box”) can make all the difference. Keeping all the components of the lunch separated and organized will eliminate a lot of complaints form the kids. No parent wants complaints back that the juice of the strawberries got on their pepperoni – trust me, they’ll never let that down. The other benefit of a something like a bento box is it eliminates the need of zip log baggies which is eco friendly. Highly recommend.
- Set a menu schedule/categories
- As I said above, kids sitting over your shoulder complaining about what you packed OR making ludicrous demands for their lunch order, is no fun. What sometimes works for our family is setting a menu each day (eg Monday is pepperoni and cheese, Tuesday is ham/turkey sandwiches, Wednesday is beef jerky etc etc.). Alternatively, you can set menu options for the food groups that they can choose from. For example: protein options are pepperoni, beef jerky, sandwiches; vegetable options are cucumber, peppers, or green beans; fruit options are strawberries, bananas, or apples; side options are chips, noodles, fishies. Give them all the options there are and let them pick!
- Get stuff done the night before
- No one likes working under the pressure of time – so to the extent possible do as much as possible to prepare the night before so you’re not leaving so much to do the day of. Maybe it’s getting the beto boxes out or doing some food prep like cutting vegetables or maybe it’s as easy as just getting out the napkins and some of the nonperishable food out and on the counter so you don’t need to go searching for it the next morning. Whatever you can do to buy yourself a few extra minutes will go a long way!
- Ask your kids what they want
- One of the biggest complaints we get from the kids about their lunches is that they don’t like something or they’re tired of the same thing. So, sometimes it’s best to just ask them what they want to eat (within reason – because if my kids had it their way they’d happily eat candy and brownies for every lunch). That said, maybe it’s as easy as saying “I see you didn’t eat you ham sandwich, maybe there’s something you’d like better?” and go out and get that for them. At the end of the day, kids are no different than us – we like options and switching up our meals too!
- Ask your kids for help
- This one seems a little contradictory but we’ve found if you give them a job then ultimately they feel like they “packed” their lunch and made those decisions themselves. When that happens they’re more likely to eat it or at least not complain about it as much. This tip needs to run hand in hand with tip 2 – in other words, let them decide what they want based on the options you give them, otherwise, you’ll be giving them too much freedom and they’ll packing a lunch of just oreo cookies. This one is shocking how well it works.
Ultimately, packing kids’ lunches (particularly with an audience watching) will never be perfect, but with these simple steps you might make it just a little easier on yourself. Good luck!