Packing School Lunches: A Simple System

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We’re heading back to school from a summer, plus the covid closure, and while we’ve missed a lot of things during our extended time at home, one thing we definitely haven’t missed is packing lunches. It’s one of those things we all dread, but they’re less expensive and healthier than school lunch options, so packing it is. Fortunately, I’ve created a system for our family that makes the whole thing less painful.

Packing lunches is no fun, but with this simple system, it can be quick and easy.

**Disclosure: This post contains links. Some are affiliate, some are not. If you make a purchase through them, I may earn a small commission. I link these companies and their products because of their quality and not because of the commission I may or may not receive.

How to Love Packing Lunches

  • I can do my part on my time. Evenings are busy and chaotic. After making dinner, I don’t want to get a cutting board out and chop up a bunch of fruit, creating more dishes to wash and more mess to clean.
  • I’m making sure my kids are getting healthy, balanced lunches, but also giving them options {side note for teacher talk: providing options is motivating for kids and shows that you value their opinion}.
  • It fosters independence and responsibility, but in a controlled way.
  • Finally, they don’t get to complain to me if they don’t like their lunch.
These bins were perfect for setting up my lunch packing system.

Setting Up A System for Packing Lunches

Set Up the Bins

It starts with three long, narrow bins that fit perfectly into my refrigerator (this wasn’t an accident, I measured), but really, anything will work. I labeled the bins, “dairy,” “fruits,” and “veggies,” and then fill them accordingly. I put items like cut up cheese and yogurt tubes in the dairy bin. Grapes, apples, cut cantaloupe, clementines, pears, and orange slices—whatever’s in-season—go in the fruit bin. Baby carrots, pepper slices, celery, and cucumbers go in the veggie bin.

Shop for the Food

When I go food shopping, I buy easily packed items for these bins and that will stay fresh throughout the week—cut up strawberries don’t last forever, but luckily if I add them to the bins they get snatched up quickly.

Fill the Bins

Packing lunches can be tedious, but with this system, it's quick and simple.
Lunch prep happens when it’s convenient for me.

After food shopping, but not necessarily right after, just whenever I have a few minutes, I prep the lunch food for the week and stock the bins. I wash everything, then cut and package it up if needed. I’m a fan of reusable bags such as Bumpkins or Russbe. I also sometimes use small Tupperware containers or tin foil—which my kids bring home to recycle.

Our Packing Lunch System in Action

Packing lunches can be tedious, but putting kids in charge makes things a lot easier.

Each evening, when the adults are cleaning up after dinner, the kids make their lunches. First, they grab one item from each of the three bins. They grab a few frozen chicken fingers or make a sandwich—usually PB & J or lunch meat—and fill a water bottle up. Finally, they grab a pre-packaged treat like a piece of candy or fruit snacks and that’s it. They zip their bags up and shove them into the fridge for the night.

Potentially, it can take less 5 minutes. Really. I timed my (then) 9-year-old daughter last year and she took about 3 and a half minutes. I didn’t even bother to time my (then) 7-year-old son because he can make it take all night. It highly depends on the kid and their motivation to move on with their lives. This year, we’re adding a 5-year-old into the mix. Those bins are going to be full to the brim, but she is independent and follows routines well, so I think she’ll be able to follow her sister’s lead.

In the mornings, the kids grab an ice pack out of the freezer, load their lunch boxes into their backpacks, and head out.

Packing lunches is no fun, but with this simple system, it can be quick and easy.
All stocked up and ready to pack into lunches for the week.

Our Lunch System

Our lunch system provides options for the kids, which makes them happy. It allows me to prep when I have time, which makes me happy. And it makes packing lunches in the evenings go quickly, which makes us all happier. Packing lunches will never really be fun, but at least it can be a little less painful with a good system in place. It also teaches them to be responsible and independent, much like chores do. Read about Kids and Chores in this post.

Planning on giving it a try? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear how it goes!


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