Your alarm didn’t go off and now you’re sprinting around your house trying to get your kids up, get them dressed, and make sure they have their homework.
You think you have it all under control when your 10-year-old yells, “Mom! Where’s my lunch?” You gasp in panic and he responds with, “Ah geez. You forgot. Looks like I’m gonna have a yucky lunch…again.”
Packing lunches always seems to throw parents in a tizzy. Perfect Pinterest and Instagram lunch pics don’t help our self-esteem much, along with little Johnny’s crafty mom who seems to always have it together with her perfectly color-coordinated meals.
Before you sell your family minivan to hire a full-time chef, check out our easy-to-do, money-saving lunch box hacks that will have you looking like you interned with Martha Stewart for a decade.
1. Use wax paper to wrap your food so that it provides a natural mat.
Eating surfaces are always a problem with school lunches, and paper bags don’t make for the most ideal lunch mat.
Wax paper makes the perfect food wrap and can double as a clean and flat surface for you child to eat on.
2. Make your own lunchables.
It’s fun to eat out of trays with little boxes for each part of the meal—think bento boxes or even TV dinners. You can make your kids their own “lunchables” by separating sides from the main meal into each box.
3. Freeze peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
These easy-to-make, always-loved lunchtime staples freeze perfectly and are a quick, go-to lunch when everyone’s on the run. Freeze each sandwich in an individual bag so they don’t stick together and can be quickly packed while they’re frozen.
4. Keep food cold using frozen drink pouches.
Accomplish two things with one hack! Keep your kid’s drink cold all day and preserve “must chill” items, together. There’s no leakage (like from ice) and no added weight (like with ice packs). Plus there’s nothing left to accidentally throw away.
5. Make a snack station where older kids can make their own lunches.
Teach your kid a life lesson in self care and save yourself some time! Designate a shelf as the “lunch shelf” where kids can choose from a condiment (dressing, ketchup, mayo), cheese, lunch meat, and veggie (lettuce, tomato, pickle, cucumber) and make their own sandwiches.
6. Use cookie cutters to shape your sandwiches.
Everything tastes better when it’s shaped into a star or a heart or even a penguin. Use cookie cutters to make everyday sandwiches more interesting and fun to eat.
7. Use empty Mio bottles for condiments.
Keeping ketchup safe from spilling is always a problem. Mio is a company that sells water flavoring drops; as it happens, their (empty, washed-out) bottles make the perfect storage containers. They’re small and disposable!
8. Put meat and cheese on a skewer.
Everyone loves shish kebobs and there’s no reason why your kid can’t have them for lunch! Cut meat, cheese, and some veggies into cubes and put them on a blunt-ended skewer stick. If your child’s school won’t allow these, try putting them on coffee stirring sticks.
9. Make smoothies to go.
Mix together your favorite smoothie ingredients and freeze them in disposable Zipzicles ice pop molds or reusable silicone molds. They’ll be a smooth slush by the time lunch rolls around!
10. Make cold cut sushi.
Roll your favorite meat and cheese together with sliced cucumbers or pickles, add a creamy condiment, and slice into individual sushi-esque rolls for a pseudo taste of Japan.
11. Make “to-go” boxes right away.
Save yourself some time by dividing leftovers from dinner right away and placing them in small, microwave-safe containers that can be heated for lunch.
12. Try brunch for lunch!
Substituting breakfast options for lunch is sure to please (and will also give your child a boost of protein). Try making egg mini muffins in typical muffin tins or look out for recipes for savory traditional muffins like ham and cheese.
13. Pack your own single-serving snacks.
Save money and time by shopping at wholesale food clubs for snacks and then packing them ahead of time into single-serving bags. This takes a bit more time but is much more cost-efficient than buying prepackaged servings of snacks.
14. “Build your own salad” is a fun option for kids.
Kids love creating and lunch should be an opportunity to express that! Put different salad items into a storage container with compartments, and let your kids design their own meals.
15. Make your own pizza and put in aluminum foil or quesadilla.
Pizza and quesadillas can be healthy lunch options that your children will flip for. Heat yummy, portable foods like these in the morning, then keep them warm by tightly packing them in aluminum foil.
16. Store warm chicken nuggets in a thermos.
These finger foods make for a great lunch option. Keep them warm for lunchtime by wrapping them in paper towels and place them in a thermos.
17. Stick pretzel sticks in cheese cubes.
Mix two favorites into one super snack by sticking pretzels into cheddar or American cheese cubes.
18. Yes, you can send pasta for lunch.
Filled pasta salad is great at room temperature. Simply pack it into storage containers after dinner and store in the fridge for the next day. It’ll be room temperature by lunchtime.
19. Make your own fruit cups.
Use cookie cutters to shape different kinds of fruit into individual bowls and freeze them until they’re ready to be packed.
20. Make your own granola bars.
Save time and money by shopping at a wholesale food club for fun bar ingredients like oats, chocolate, M&Ms, and nuts. Wrap them securely to keep them fresh and yummy.
21. Make lettuce wraps.
Leftover baked chicken is perfect for next day lettuce wraps. Shred the chicken and put the ingredients into to-go containers that have separate compartments and let your kids build their own feast!
22. Wrap apples to keep them fresh.
Apples are yummy, but no one likes it when they’re brown and mushy after cutting. Keep them fresh by wrapping them tightly in plastic wrap.
23. Make tortillas!
They’re portable, fun to eat and you can put practically any kind of ingredient in them. Make them with fruit for a sweet snack, or make it a fancy feast with prosciutto and sharp cheese.
24. Give them soup.
Nothing warms a tummy like soup for lunch. Store it in a tightly closed thermos and add fun things on side (like crackers or breadsticks) to make it interesting.
25. Make a chip and dip platter.
Give your child healthy and fun options like pita squares and hummus, celery and nut butter, or cucumbers and veggie dip.
26. Make your own trail mix.
You don’t have to be heading out on a hike to love trail mix! Add yummy things like yogurt-covered raisins and dried cherries to make your snack fun and interesting.
27. Let your little one make their own snack stackers.
Cut healthy ingredients like cucumbers, lunch meat, cheese and lettuce into cracker sizes so your kids can have fun and build little sandwiches themselves.
28. Place hot dogs in a thermos.
Ensure that your kid’s lunch won’t dry out by cutting a warmed hot dog in half and placing it in the hot water in a thermos. It’ll keep until lunchtime.
29. Plan and schedule.
It’s often said that a little bit of planning goes a long way. And that’s true with school lunches. Try to plan your week of meals the weekend before so you’re not caught shorthanded. Enlist the help of your kids and they’ll love their lunches even more!