We’re finally getting into the swing of things this school year, including all the extracurricular activities my girls are participating in. I have been slowly figuring out what we need to do in advance vs. the morning of to make sure things run as smoothly as possible on those hectic weekday mornings and afternoons.
My kiddos both ride the bus in the mornings (it came way too early to take it in elementary school), and my own childhood recurring dream about missing the morning school bus seriously came back to me in the middle of the night last week. It certainly is a lot more pressure getting everyone out the door by a deadline (at the same time) compared to leaving in your own car one-by-one when everyone is ready. Can anyone else relate??
So while things, of course, vary from week to week, here is our loose back to school lunch routine that’s currently keeping us organized…
THURSDAY (the week before): Add some lunch ideas and items to the grocery list for the following week.
Grocery shopping happens on Fridays around here. While I don’t regularly follow a specific school lunch meal plan, I do put a little thought into items that I’d like to have on hand to easily add to the lunch boxes. I usually make sure I add at least 3 or 4 items to the list specifically for lunches that will hold up well, and that I think my kids will eat. Some examples are grapes, apples, blueberries, yogurt, fresh fruit, veggies, hummus (for a dip—or ingredients to make a different dip), sliced cheese or cheese sticks, crackers, organic sandwich meat (if we haven’t had it in a while—we usually do deli meat 1/month or so), ingredients for something like a pasta salad or pimento cheese, or even doubling ingredients for a dinner I have planned so we can pack the leftovers.
EVERY DAY: During lunch or dinner, we meal prep (or at least start packing) lunches and school snacks for the next day.
I rarely go into the kitchen and get out all the food just to make lunch. I almost always throw something together when we have a bunch of food out already for lunch or dinner that day. No matter what though, we always start the lunch packing process the day before! If you need inspiration for what to pack, you can browse through hundreds of lunches I’ve sent.
EVERY NIGHT: Clean and fill water bottles.
My girls have both picked water bottles they love for school that are hand wash only. UGH, does anyone else loathe something you can’t throw in the dishwasher with everything else? As a result, they are constant fixtures on our countertops waiting to be washed. We have tried to put this responsibility on them, but, as if it’s a big surprise, they often forget and end up frantically trying to do everything the morning before school and asking us to wash and fill their water bottles so they don’t miss the bus. And I don’t want anyone to miss the bus (because we all know who their “driver” is, LOL)! So asking them to do this task the night before makes all the difference. I also like to ask them to think about what they’ll want to eat for breakfast the next morning, so they can do any possible preparation (like getting a homemade breakfast burrito out of the freezer to defrost).
EVERY SCHOOL MORNING: Assemble packed lunch.
This is one that has not changed much over the years. The morning of, my kids are responsible for getting their lunch out of the fridge and adding it to their insulated lunch bag with ice packs, any necessary silverware, and a napkin (see this post about the latest school lunch supplies we are using). They also get out their filled water bottle (if we remembered to make sure it was done the night before!) and add it to their backpacks. Of course, if they are running late my husband or I help with this. On Wednesdays (see below), they have to heat up part of their lunch (or ask for help with this) as well. Here’s the latest on fun lunch supplies we use.
TUESDAY: Defrost soup for lunch on Wednesday.
I usually send a soup lunch on Wednesdays (although, as I am typing out this post I realize it is Wednesday, and we didn’t do it this week—oops). We got into this habit years ago, so I usually do remember when they get home on Tuesday to ask them to pick a soup from the freezer so it can defrost overnight in the fridge for the next day. I have a collection of soups I’ve made in the weeks and months prior that I freeze in individual portions for this purpose—it’s usually soups I’ve made for dinner and doubled the recipes for leftovers. We heat it up in the morning and add to an insulated Thermos. I then only have to pack a smaller lunch container of “side item” type foods, and it feels a lot easier than filling the bigger lunch boxes. A good way to break up the week, in my opinion!
(Back to) THURSDAY: Kids pack for “make your own healthy lunch Friday” (as I lovingly call it, LOL).
I try to get my kids to help pack their own lunch other days of the week now that they’re older, but they are busy girls that get home pretty late from school! Regardless, by the end of the week, I especially feel like I want them to pitch in, so I usually require them to pack their lunch for Friday, at a minimum. Friday is also grocery day (as I mentioned above), so it is often slim pickings by Thursday, and my kids dig around in our freezer for homemade breakfast burritos, quesadillas, and paninis that we’ve made in advance, along with all those soups (see this post for 10 recipes to freeze for school lunches). It is fine by me because we make those things on the weekend, and they often help!
So, there you have it. I hope this sort of brain dump of what goes on around here helps give you some new ideas for your kids’ lunchboxes. I’d love to hear about your routine (or lack thereof) in the comments!