Easy school lunch hacks for busy parents

Last Updated November 2019

If you have school-going children, we’re willing to bet things can get just a little crazy over at your place on weekday mornings. Getting the kids up, washed, fed, and dressed (it only counts if they're wearing matching socks) is no small task. Add packed lunches to the equation, and it's easy to see why so many parents end up feeling frazzled before the day has even started. Luckily, we've got some great school lunch hacks to help lighten your load. Read on to find out how you can make mornings more manageable.

Prep snacks and sides on the weekend

Cross one item off your to-do list by prepping and packaging snacks on the weekend. Cut cheese, slice veggies, and chop up fruits that won't turn brown in a hurry (melons, pineapple, mangoes, and berries work well). Use airtight food storage containers to keep foods that require refrigeration fresh for up to five days and decant into a bento-style lunch box later. Or, if you’d rather get all the snack prep out of the way in one swoop, portion pre-cut produce/dairy directly into 1/2 cup containers.

Dry snacks like nuts, dried fruit, pretzels, and crackers are cheaper when bought in bulk, and can quickly be divided into snack bags or small containers for the week ahead.

Cook extra on weeknights

Doubling up your dinner recipes can make packing lunches infinitely easier. With snacks already taken care of, all you'll need to do is heat and pack. To ensure that food stays warm and delicious, get it piping hot before placing it in a thermos — just don't forget to preheat your container first.

This crucial, but oft-forgotten, step can be done while waiting for food to warm up. Simply fill your thermos with boiling water, close for 5 to 10 minutes, drain, dry, and fill with a hearty, home-cooked meal. Grab the snacks, throw in a spork, and the kids are good to go!

Fire up your oven on Sundays

Do leftover-based lunches elicit sighs and pouts? Fear not. With a few kitchen basics, a little creativity, and about an hour to spare on Sundays, you'll still be able to save your sanity on weekday mornings and earn bragging rights for being the coolest mom. Pizza bites, corn dog muffins, mini meatloaves, crustless quiches, and savory muffins can all be whipped up in a muffin pan and stored in the fridge or freezer for grab-and-go school lunches that littles will love.

Many muffin pan recipes will keep in the freezer for up to three months. If you have the time and inspiration to make extras well in advance, try vacuum sealing smaller batches with a FoodSaver to keep freezer burn at bay.

Up your sandwich game

If you and your kids have fallen victim to the vicious PB&J sandwich cycle (don't beat yourself up, it's practically a parental rite of passage), break free by prepping sandwich fillings in advance and assembling as necessary.

Creamy fillings like tuna, egg, and chicken salad work especially well, but you can prep pretty much any filling you can think of. Shredded turkey, sliced roast beef, grated cheese and onion (both are easier with a good rotary grater), and a host of other fillings can be prepared and stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week.

Keeping a filling or two on hand at all times will also allow you to rotate sandwiches with cooked or baked school lunches for unbeatable variety — a win-win situation by anybody’s standards.

Written by:
  • Erica
    Erica
    Writer