School lunch system

Confession: If there is one thing that tries my soul, it is thinking of enough ideas for my children’s packed lunches during the school year.

Ideally, I would move toward turning that responsibility over to them. But it has been hard for me to figure out how to do so while a) monitoring what they pack, b) getting out the door in time, and c) avoiding insanity as we all trip over each other making our own ham sandwiches at 8 am.

To tell you the truth, we are lucky. At our school, we have the option to buy hot lunch from the cafeteria two days out of five each week, for most of the year. This is an amazing gift and leaves only three days to pack, if they like the lunch enough to sign up for it. But still, I will not let that fact put a cramp in my whining.

This year, thanks to the forethoughtful questions and ideas of my friends Shaunda and Jolynn, I thought more about our plan than usual. A week before school I had no strategy at all, but by adopting others’ intelligent ideas and adding in our own, we found a method we really like.

Here’s what we do.

Each Saturday, the school kiddos and I spend an hour or so preparing lunch ingredients for the coming week. Someone might bake cookies or bars, and package them in serving sizes. Maybe someone else makes single-serving fruit and Jell-O cups. Another child cuts up fresh fruits and veggies and bags them. (Yes, they keep just fine. Even apples, if dipped in a mild salt water, can last the week nearly white.)

When I make our traditional pizza supper Saturday evening, we wrap some extra dough around tasty fillings and bake them, to make individual stromboli, crescent rolls, or hot pockets. These we wrap and put in the freezer.

I also buy easy-to-pack things: string cheese, yogurt cups, clementines, granola bars, trail mix, chips, dried fruit, cookies. I did not say all of it is healthy.

We put everything in the fridge, freezer, or pantry, easily accessible.

Then I update a lunch list to hang on the wall for the week (click to view). Their choices change every week based on what we made and what I have on hand, but my list has standard categories – here are the choices for a fresh fruit or veggie, here are the salty snacks, here are the desserts. No, you cannot pick three desserts.

Each school morning, I prepare only a main food for them (a sandwich, a bowl of re-heat-able food, or often, one of those baked sandwiches we made). The kids look at my list and pick three or four side options to go with it, and fill their own lunchboxes. (They mark things off the list so they don’t repeat. If I want them to repeat, I put it on the list multiple times.)

WE LOVE THIS METHOD.

In a couple of years, I hope to do it informally, without the printed list. For now, I still have to monitor the packing. It is not seamless. One of my children likes piggy-backing extra goodies if I don’t watch out. One is poky in packing, and needs to be hustled along. But it’s so nice to have all our options laid out, and to get the children involved in the process. They are more excited about their lunches than they used to be, and mornings are smoother.


How do you simplify lunch packing? What foods do your children love to take to school? I’m ready for some fresh ideas on homemade or simple sides.

Ideas for packed lunches

Confession: I always start out the school year with grand ideas for great variety in my children’s packed lunches; and sometime near January I find I’ve fallen into a rut—a.k.a. “same-same every day, all along the way…”

Would you help me prevent the slump by sharing some of your favorites?

My tech support guy* created this wonderful interactive table for me, below, in which you may share your ideas with the class! Don’t be shy; it looks complicated but it’s not. Just click and type.

*(I really like my tech support guy. I’m considering proposing marriage, but that may be premature; I don’t want to freak him out.)

What lights up eyes and fills up tummies midday? What’s simple? What’s nutritious? What’s new? Mommies are good at planning such things; so are teachers and working women! Let’s brainstorm.

*****

Update: This sharing forum stayed open for one week, but now it’s read-only. If you want to add your ideas, use the comment section below the post.

Thank you so much for all the lovely options! I know why I asked you…