We now have 2 of our 3 boys back to in-person learning (waaaahhooo!) We’ve definitely had some bumps transitioning from the “comforts” of online school to actually going into the building (such as catching the bus and remembering to bring homework home since it’s no longer available on the computer!). But I’ve also had to do some adjusting of my own…namely: packing up lunches each morning (which admittedly is not my favorite task). I recently set out to come up with some solutions that would result in tastier lunches for the kiddos AND make packing them up a little easier for me. Here are some smart lunch packing tips for school that I’m loving lately and might work for you too!

Bentigo lunch box packed with lunch foods and a text overlay.

Tip 1: Brainstorm

I personally eat the exact same thing for lunch every single day. Seriously. And since that is super comfortable for me, I also tend to pack the same things over and over for my boys. I guess they aren’t wired the same way, because they get bored pretty quickly, leaving me scrambling for what to pack.

Printable lunch box planner filled with food ideas.

Lunch Box Planner

Good thing I prepared for this exact situation a few years ago! I recently printed out my Lunch Box Planner and filled it with ideas for lunches they will actually eat. Having specific combinations and snacks already hashed out has helped me easily add new and different things to our shopping list each week (which is key!). Once I have new items on hand, it’s much easier for me to change it up day to day or week to week.

Tip 2: Save Time with Shortcuts

Cutting Crusts

Our boys are definitely sandwich eaters, and they don’t like the crust. Call me a bit silly, but cutting off crusts for 10+ sandwiches a week grows old pretty fast, so I recently researched far too many sandwich cutters and landed on these.

Whole wheat sandwiches shown with sandwich cutters and crimped edges.

Oh my gosh – I love these things SOOO much. Not only do they make cutting off the crusts a one-step process (it’s essentially just a big cookie cutter), but sealing up the sandwiches make them less messy and much more fun to eat!

TIP! If you have suspicious eaters, let them watch you make a sandwich a few times so they know exactly what’s in that sealed up crust!

Bulk Prep

One of the best ways to save time in general is with “bulk tasking,” which means instead of doing the same task once every day (like making sandwiches), do it once every week. The time saved pulling out ingredients, bags, and utensils day in and day out can really add up, and having lunch items ready-to-go can save you precious time on busy mornings.

Here are some things you can make in advance on a single prep day:

Sandwiches – Making 10 sandwiches at once isn’t that much harder than making 1 or 2. Once made, pop them in the freezer; they’ll be perfectly thawed by lunchtime!

Snacks – Instead of buying pre-packaged snacks, make your own (which can save you some money!). Use a scoop or measuring cup to make your own snack packs of pretzels, chips, goldfish, crackers, or any other food you can buy in bulk.

Fruits & Veggies – Pre-cutting fruits and veggies makes it easier to toss them into lunches (which means you’ll be more likely to do it!). Don’t have time to cut up produce each week? Oftentimes, buying party platters or bags of pre-cut fruits and veggies can be worth the extra cost simply to get fresh foods into everyone’s lunches!

Drinks – Place a week’s worth of mini water bottles or juice/milk boxes in the freezer so they are thawed and cold by lunchtime. BONUS: They serve as a cold pack!

TIP! No time in your weekend to do a massive lunch prep? Me either! I do a big lunch prep on Monday mornings while I’m making the first round of lunches. This way, it’s not one more thing crowding up my weekend, but still gets me set up for the week ahead!

Lunch Notes

I grew up with a note in my lunchbox every day from my Mom. It was nothing fancy…literally just an index card with a note, picture, or even a design drawn in Sharpie. I understand now how she was able to do it every single day: she kept a stack of index cards and markers right in the drawer with the sandwich baggies (I think it also helped that she was a creative soul who enjoyed making a little art every morning).

Printable Lunch Box Notes and a marker staged in a drawer divider.

If you like to include notes in your lunches too, here are some things to make it quick and easy:

  • Pre-stock index cards, Post-It notes, or even cut-up squares of printer paper and markers where ever you pack lunches so they are easy to see, grab, and use.
  • Use pre-printed lunchbox notes if you lack creativity and whit early in the morning. Having them already printed out is key; here are some cute ones you can print out right now:
  • Hash out a quick message with a dry-erase marker directly onto the plastic canisters, boxes, or containers you’re using to hold lunch items. It’s easy to wipe away and replace each day. Can’t get the dry-erase marker to stick? Place some dry-erase labels right on lunch boxes and write a new message every day! (How cute are these heart-shaped ones?!?)

Sistema lunch containers loaded with snacks and lunch box notes.

Tip 3: Invest in Good Gear

For a long time, we relied on plain ol’ water bottles, soft lunchboxes, and Ziplock bags to hold lunch items and drinks. And honestly, that works just fine! Over the years though, we started investing in some better items that make lunch packing (and eating!) a bit better, cheaper, and easier! Specifically: water bottles that don’t sweat, freezable lunch sacks, and re-usable containers (so we can use less baggies).

Bentigo lunch box for kids loaded up with lunch foods.

Our Favorite Lunch Picks

  • Thermos Water Bottles – I love how slender these are for little hands. They don’t “sweat” at all (so the school bag stays dry!); and there is still solid ice by lunchtime!
    • 12 oz size is great for the little boys
    • 19 oz size is better for our elementary kid
  • Bentigo Lunch Boxes – These are great for our little guys since the portion spots are pretty small. It’s so quick and easy to pack everything at one time; and the open design means their little hands don’t struggle with pre-packaged foods. Mostly, I love that this really reduces our reliance on disposable bags for little snack items.
  • Sistema Lunch Containers – We have used these for ages to pack up sandwiches, snacks, and more. Not only are they air-tight and easy for little hands to open, but their slim design allows them to fit in most lunchboxes. We use these in place of baggies whenever possible.
  • PackIt Freezable Lunch Boxes – These are great for bigger kids that can’t use Bento boxes. They keep everything fresh and cool without the need for an extra cool pack. (In addition to school lunches, these are what we use to pack food for hiking and day trips too!)

TIP! Color-coding works wonders when you have multiple kids! If you can’t match containers to water bottles to lunch boxes, considering buying/making coordinating stickers or labels so everyone can easily see what is theirs when they are packing up each morning.

Coordinating lunch boxes and water bottles with personalized labels.

Tip 4: Set Up a Lunch Station

Think about where all your lunch prep tools and supplies are located. Are they all together or spread around the kitchen? You can save serious time by group everything you need together in one or two spots.

We have our lunch boxes, Bento boxes, water bottles, baggies, straws, sandwich cutters, and lunch notes all in one drawer. This makes it very easy to grab everything we need from one spot.

Kitchen drawer stocked with lunch-making supplies.

All of our our snack foods are also stored together in open bins, making it a snap to load up each kid’s box.

TIP! Take all of your prepackaged snack foods out of the bulky packaging and load into open-topped bins. Not only does this allow you to assess stock at-a-glance, but even kids can grab whatever snacks they want and load them into their lunches by themselves!

Kitchen drawer stocked with lunch-making supplies.

Tip 5: Establish a Post-School Lunchbox Routine

Last but not least, we’ve learned that what happens after everyone comes home from school is just as important as the packing up process. If lunchboxes, containers, and water bottles aren’t unloaded and subsequently washed every night, we quickly find ourselves in a pinch the next morning…either because we’re running around looking for items or quickly washing things out to re-pack.

We’ve trained our kids to now come home and empty their lunchboxes as part of their “after school” routine. This ensures all items are washed and staged to be packed up all over again the next day!

School binder shown alongside Sistema lunch boxes loaded with snacks and a lunch box note.

Shop My Lunch Favs

Collage of lunch packing tips

  1. Thermos Water Bottles, 12 oz
  2. Bentigo Lunch Box
  3. Food Storage Containers
  4. Freezable Classic Lunch Box 
  5. Sandwich Crust Cutters
  6. Back to School Bundle

Okay, of course I spent over 1500 words sharing “quick and easy” lunch-packing tips! #alwayslongwinded! I’ve shared a lot about what we’ve found successful, but I love learning from you guys too! What kind of lunch packing tips for school do you rely on to make your mornings run smoother?

See You Soon!