10 Tips for Making Stress-Free School Lunches

One of last year's lunches
I always say that I don’t mind making school lunches, but the truth is, I hate it. In fact, I hate it so much that I’ve forced myself to become so efficient at making them that it’s no longer that bad.

And I am here to say that you too can hate it so much that you become a lunch-making wizard, freed from the discouragement, feet-dragging, dread and boredom that the sight of an empty lunchbox or two can bring.

Here are a few of my tried-and-true tricks for banishing lunchbox burnout, which we all know can occur long before the first day of school:

1.    Start prepping now. And I mean NOW. Today. Get your ducks in a row, mama; September is right around the corner and if you need supplies, they’ll be gone by then. (Ever try buying a snowsuit in December? It’s like that.) Take stock of your lunch making kit. Is it age appropriate? In good shape? In compliance with school guidelines? Still safe, healthy and clean enough to use? Now’s the time to figure that out.

2.    If you are buying a new kit, I am totally assuming that you are buying an eco-friendly, litterless lunch kit, because, honestly, why wouldn’t you? There are a ton of amazing products on the market and no excuse to brown bag/plastic bag it. I’m sorry, there’s just not. 

3.    You need to love the lunch kit(s) you buy. YOU are the one making the lunches, so the kit has to jibe with your style of food prep/organization, and offer at least a tiny bit of inspiration.

4.    Get the right lunch kit for your child. My kids have different kits, but I love them both. I have already raved about my older daughter’s Planet Box lunch kit, and I still love it, but felt it wasn’t quite right for my new kindergartener’s kit. It’s a bit heavy and my four year old has a tendency to eat everything in front of her, so I worried that if I didn’t ‘parcel out’ the food in a more separate way, she’d finish her food for the entire day at first break. For my four year old, we bought the Balanced Day Eco-Pack,  with divided, very easy to open containers. They fit pretty well (though not perfectly) in a Crocodile Creek lunch bag that we already had, so I didn’t buy the Balanced Day lunch bag. But it’s a good option.

5.    Hit the grocery store, and bring paper and pen. Schedule a trip to the store with your students, but this is not really going to be a grocery-buying mission. This is going to be a lunch-list-making mission. Walk the aisles with your kids, making a list of all the great stuff they would be ok with in their lunch. This will pretty much be your ingredient list for the year, meaning you can always put the things on this list into their lunch. Make sure your kids clearly understand this. It worked really well for us last year, taking the guess work out of the lunch staples, and I will be doing it again this year.

6.    Hit the internet. Do the same exercise while browsing lunch-making posts, pinterest and recipe sites. Turns out my kid will a hard-boiled egg, or a cream-cheese and jam sandwich, as long as the sandwich is cut into a cute shape. I’m ok with that.

7.    Do a lunchtime trial run. This is especially important for the kindies that may have never eaten lunch at school before, but if you’ve upgraded lunch kits for an older child, it’s also a good idea. The last thing you want to hear is that your child could not open their container, or that their water bottle leaked or that they actually prefer their food really cold and you need another ice pack. The goal is to reduce heartache, work and anxiety, yanno?

8.    Start cooking today. Yes, now, weeks ahead of schedule. Because things like mini-muffins, breakfast muffins, pancakes, and soup freeze really well, and will take up a coveted spot in the bento box come September. I batch cook items like this every couple of weeks, ensuring that I always have a few easy items ready for the lunch box.

9.    Once school starts, make lunch the night before. Seriously. Every night. It is a life saver. Unless you are one of those ‘morning people’ that wake up an hour before their kids and have oodles of goodwill and energy before 7am, this is a step you should not skip. (I do little more than grunt at people and hide in my coffee cup that early in the morning.) Mornings are crazy enough without having to make lunches, no?

10.  Label EVERYTHING. You know every parent’s good friend, Mabel, right? She is there for you. Because you’ve put a ton of money, energy and thought into these lunches, and when your kid leaves it in the playground on the first day of school, or somebody grabs the wrong water bottle in the lunch room, you want it to come back to you. (p.s. don’t just label the big part of the container; the lid needs a label, too.)

Bonus tip: Put a little note in there, would ya? The lunch was made with love, but a little heart sticker or I heart you on a napkin is about the sweetest thing you could include.



  1. Great post! And I totally agree on making them the night before. i can't fathom the hassle of making them in the morning.

  2. I've been doing lunches for most of the summer re: camp and I agree with everything you posted.
    Especially the part about NOT enjoying having to do them in the first place!

    We have lunchbots http://www.lunchbots.com/products/
    which are durable and eco-friendly.
    But inexpensive they are not.
    So the only downside is when stuff like that gets lost.
    Totally annoying dishing out $20 on a container and it goes m.i.a.
    yes...even with it being labeled. I too am a big fan of Mabel.
    Last year I spent the better part of an hour searching through the lost and found in the lunch room trying to locate "our" favourite yellow snack box.
    (it turned up two months later)
    It's a sad state when you find yourself rejoicing over your kids missing lunch containers....
    Hopefully this year all funky containers wil come home at the end of each day.

    Cold pasta salads are a fav (especially with pesto, roasted peppers, broccoli and bocconcini)
    Chicken noodle soup and you've got to love dinner leftovers.

    enjoy the rest of the summer!

  3. Yes on the lunches or lack of enthusiasm for making them! The girl's school has a choice of a variety of hot lunch items five days a week that we can purchase two months in advance. I go through the menus with her and for September/October she'll have MWF hot lunch and TTH will bring something from home.

    I do pack snacks for three recesses though.

    Always looking for new ideas - and usually do a bento style lunch as she is not a sandwich girl.

  4. Hello Karen,
    I am writing to let you know how much I admire your writing. You'll see in my description of your blog on my post that you possess an honesty and vulnerability in your personal pieces that gives you such credibility with your audience, regardless of your topic. It is for this reason that I am nominating you for the Versatile Blogger award. The details are on the most recent post on my blog, so if you feel like participating (and have time to do so), please visit http://avision4rkids.com. Take care, and I hope you continue to do what you do for a long time!

    With gratitude,
    Ida Mae


Talk to me.