It’s that time of the year again – back-to-school season! In many ways, September often feels like the true start of the year. I find myself making new goals, committing to new activities, and enjoying the feeling of starting fresh.
For kids, heading back to school means the same thing. We send them back with new backpacks, sharp pencils, and clean (for the first and last time of the year) lunch boxes! As a pediatric dietitian, and a mom to three kids requiring packed lunches, I thought I would share with you my top five tips on how to get organized for the back-to-school season.
It’s true. You can’t pack a lunch without a lunch bag. You need the gear to safely store and organize your food and the proper lunch kit can make a world of difference. My favorite lunch kit is one with leak-proof compartments, because nobody likes a sticky spill, and, it helps to keep food fresh.
2. Keep it safe:
In addition to lunch containers, you’ll also need a washable lunch bag (preferably insulated), ice packs to keep cold food cold, and utensils. Food safety is key—lunch foods will have to stay safe (and delicious) until lunchtime.
- Keep cold foods cold: Pack lunch the night before and store it overnight in the fridge so that it’s already cold when your kids head out the door. Ice packs are essential for keeping cold foods cold, so remember to add one in the morning and not overnight (the freeze will thaw).
- Keep hot foods hot: It’s also important to keep hot foods hot! You’d be surprised the number of people I chat with are using a thermos incorrectly. The trick is to first pour boiling hot water into the thermos to heat it up prior to using. Let the water stand for a couple minutes before emptying and then adding your hot food. This will help keep the hot food at a safe temperature until it’s ready to be consumed.
Don’t forget to empty and wash out all lunch containers as soon as the kids come home from school. This will help eliminate the potential for bacteria growth. It’s also a great responsibility to delegate to older kids; it is their lunch after all!
3. Make a plan.
A little bit of planning goes a long way. To help plan out school lunches I aim to include at least five items in my kids’ lunches to add balance and variety. With more options to choose from, they’re more likely to fill their tummies with some of the nutritious food provided. I always include five foods in my child’s lunch. These items are chosen from, what I like to call, “the four lunchbox essentials”:
- Piece of fresh fruit
- Unsweetened dried fruit
- Unsweetened Baby Gourmet fruit and veggie pouch
- Raw veggies cut up into strips
- Leftover leafy green salad
- Cooked vegetable
- Leftover meat or meat alternative
- Beans/ lentils
- Milk-based beverage (Baby Gourmet Shakers)
- Whole grain bread, tortilla, or pita
- Potatoes, sweet potatoes, or yams
- Leftover brown rice or quinoa
Keep lunches easy and get the kids involved! I’m not saying to get kids to pick out their own lunch food every day, because realistically, my eldest would ask for pizza five days a week. But it’s okay to give them some control. Try asking your kids to choose their fruit or pick between a hot or a cold lunch. The more kids are involved preparing or picking food choices, the more likely they are to actually eat.5. Keep it simple.
Packing a school lunch can be a daunting task. Even for me, the pediatric dietitian! The best way to pack a school lunch is to keep it simple. There are so many “perfect lunch” examples on Pinterest that can build up the pressure to be perfect. But seriously, who has time to organize fruit in the shades of the rainbow? And that cookie cutter shaped sandwich might look cute now, but by the time that sandwich makes it to the lunch table, it will always resemble a smooshed sandwich (and what a waste).
The same way I always say to take the pressure off kids when it comes to eating, I say the same thing to parents; take the pressure off! Lunch is meant to be fun, and there will be a lot of lunches to pack throughout the school year. If you start to elaborate at the beginning of the year you will be end up burning out before September ends.
I love making a list of “go-to lunches” and sticking it on the fridge for quick inspiration. It’s easy to get in a lunch-packing-rut. By having a list of favorites to fall back on makes my life easier. To make your life easier check out these 21 sanity-saving lunchbox ideas.