One of my most-hated jobs during the school year is packing lunches for five kids. I’m already wielding brushes through tangles, inspecting (still) dirty teeth, and wondering how shoes that were just on their feet are suddenly missing! In the heat of these early-morning battles, I always have a moment or ten of lunch-box paralysis and all I can think is: almond butter sandwich. A sandwich is great occasionally, but not the same sandwich a few times a week all year long. My kids have complained…a lot. To make our lunch-packing job easy, and their lunch menu varied, I made a list of sandwich-free lunch options from main entree to sides. When it’s time to pack lunches, I go down each column and pick and pack. When I make my grocery list I do the same so I am supplied with what I need for the week. Be sure to scroll to the bottom to get a copy of my list of lunches!
We have tree nut (except for almond), dairy and peanut allergies in this family, so feel free to add in or substitute those things if you want to. I do include cheese in some of my options because the two who have dairy allergies are limited to sinus congestion as a side effect, and cross contamination isn’t a danger to them. We use dairy substitutes for them. Anything that has gluten can easily be substituted with the gluten-free equivalent. Those items are readily accessible these days. My favorite almond butter is this one because of the flavor, the texture, it’s no-stir, doesn’t require refrigeration, and it’s the only one made in a peanut-free facility. If you have tree nut and peanut allergies, this is another great substitute.
I have a few more lunch-packing tips to make the school year smoother.
- Pack lunches the night before. The number one way to make your morning go more smoothly is do as much as you can the night before. It leaves less opportunity for snags in your early-morning schedule when everyone is trying (or not, which is even worse!) to get out the door.
- Get your kids involved. Assign the lunch-packing duty to the kids, or at least assign an assistant to help you each night. Don’t underestimate what your kids are capable of doing, and on the flip side, accept what is reasonably their best effort. When a 6-year-old is spreading almond butter on celery sticks, there will be a mess, and it will be sloppy, but consider this a training period. With practice they will get better, they will have learned a new skill that they will be proud of, they will have some independence, and you will have a new helper.
- After school have them load their lunch containers in the dishwasher as part of their after-school routine.
- Have at least two sets of good-quality lunch containers per person so you aren’t waiting on the dirty ones to wash.
- When you pack lunch for those leaving the house, go ahead and assemble lunch for those who stay home, including yourself. I make a lunch for myself and my preschooler, who is at home with me. One mess, one clean up. You don’t need to pull it out and clean it up twice. This can also make a younger sibling who is sad about not going to school feel like a big kid.
- Get the right supplies for taking lunch on the go like good-quality lunch containers. I love that these come in lots of different colors so my kids can use their assigned color, and I know who didn’t load theirs in the dishwasher or bring it home from school. It’s also helpful when someone doesn’t have the same lunch, like my two who have dairy allergies. No accidentally taking the wrong lunch.
- Use leak-proof containers for anything liquidy like these (great for yogurt, hummus, ketchup, etc., not great for water or anything truly liquid), a lunch box that really will keep items cold (not all do), thermoses (10-oz here and 16-ounce here) and space-conservative ice packs.
- Send a spill-proof water bottle that they can use at their desks and for lunch. It saves money and the planet if you aren’t buying bottled water or juice boxes every day.
If you would like to download this list, you can get it here.
What are you favorite non-sandwich lunch ideas? Do you have any great lunch-packing ideas? Share in the comments below!
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