Best Tips for Packing School Lunches that Make it Less Annoying

A peek inside this post: Are you looking for the best lunch packing tips moms have to offer? Fair warning, this post is not about creating Pinterest-worthy bento boxes for lunch, but rather about helpful systems and favorite products that will help make the task less annoying and more efficient. Use our 7 Tips for Packing School Lunches, along with the Printable Lunch Menu Template and Free Lunch Box Notes to pack a punch in your kids’ lunch!

You know how at the beginning of the school year we’re full of gusto and good intentions when it comes to our kids’ lunches?

Then after the first month or so, all of that initial motivation wears thin because they have homework.

And projects.

And papers that need to be signed or filed for posterity.

And sports or extra-curriculars.

Momma is tired, people. And then don’t forget that sometimes our kids don’t always like the lunches we pack, and come home with mushy bananas and half-eaten sandwiches.

We need a system that all but makes the lunch for us. And that’s exactly what we’ve tried to accomplish with these tips for packing school lunches!

We’re here for you, Momma! In this post, we’re going to make packing school lunch easier for you as you head into a new school year!

We’ve got lunch packing tips, free lunchbox notes, a printable lunch menu template, and our favorite lunch packing products!

Pin: The absolute BEST tips for Packing lunches

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Tips for Packing School Lunches

Let’s face it. Packing lunches can be annoying! Here are some ideas to make it less of a chore:

1| Learn their lunch schedule.

First, I think it’s most important to understand when your kids will be eating lunch.

students eating lunch in a cafeteria

An early lunch time probably means you should pack a slightly lighter lunch and send a hefty snack (or be prepared for a major SNACK ATTACK when they get home). Likewise, a later lunch period will probably indicate that a more filling meal is necessary, but you could go lighter on the snacks.

In knowing how the lunch schedule will work for your kiddos, you’ll be able to make sure you’re providing the appropriate amount of food. Ask their teachers or find a copy of their class schedule online.

2| Prepare everyone’s lunches at the same time.

When you are taking care of multiple people, chances are schedules and lunch habits will vary. But that doesn’t mean you have to make 17 lunches one-by-one.

If you’re packing lunches for your husband, your school-aged kids, preschoolers, and yourself, the very best thing you can do is to prepare everyone’s lunches at the same time.

I’ll talk about my favorite products for lunch packing below, but these containers are great for preparing snacks or lunches ahead of time. They come in a pack of 7 with different colored lids for easy identification. Assign everyone a color, and they’ll know which one to grab on their way out the door (or when it’s time to eat for those staying at home).

Youngever 7 Pack Bento Lunch Box, Meal Prep Containers

*And bonus: When everyone has their own color, they can also be responsible for washing their own containers!

3| Know the best time to pack lunch.

I will die on this hill if I have to, but the best time to pack lunch is after dinner!

Woman cooking dinner in her kitchen

Think about it:

  • The kitchen is already dirty.
  • The whole family is (usually) together.
  • You won’t have to get up as early.
  • Your morning will run more smoothly.

Prepare and pack what you can the night before. Store things in ready-to-go containers in the fridge, and set out dry items like chips, napkins, and plastic silverware on the counter in organized sections for each lunchbox you have to pack. I set our stuff out in age-order so my morning brain can easily figure out which stuff is going where.

*And bonus: As your kids get older, they can handle a little more responsibility. With organized piles for each person, they’ll be able to grab their stuff from the fridge and counter and finish packing up their lunchboxes in the morning before school.

4| Use leftovers from dinner.

Another case for packing lunches after supper is that you’ll already have a bunch of food out! If you have leftovers, portion them out for lunches instead of shoving them in the back of the fridge to go to waste.

A pan of leftovers, including chicken, broccoli, and rice

You can pack leftovers in the same way you originally served them, or use parts of the meal in different ways. Leftover taco meat or chicken breast can be used in a wrap or a salad, meatloaf can be thrown on some bread for an easy sandwich, sloppy Joe meat can go on a baked potato. Think of different ways you can use what you already have cooked!

5| Have a Plan.

When leftovers aren’t enough, you need to have a plan for which food to purchase in advance and have on hand when it comes time to pack lunches.

I like to use a printable lunch menu and have our options planned out for the week.

printable lunch menu template

This helps me know what to buy when I grocery shop and what to prepare ahead of time. It also lets my kids know what to expect for the week, and when more than one option is offered, they get a say in what they eat.

This menu planning system, and some great products have completely changed the way we do lunches.

*Bonus: I’ll go more into how I use this system below, and how you can get this printable lunch menu template, too!

6| He who eats lunch, helps pack it.

I’m not sure how it goes in your family, but in ours, not every member requires a packed lunch every day.

My four boys get to pick one or two school cafeteria lunches each week, and occasionally my husband will have a work lunch planned. So the rule in our house is if you require a packed lunch, you have to help prepare it.

boy chopping broccoli

After supper, we figure out who requires a packed lunch the next day and divvy up the responsibilities. This is made especially easy with the printable lunch menu! One child might rinse some strawberries and grab the drinks, while another slices carrots, and another prepares sandwiches or salads.

Those who aren’t part of the packing process that night can wipe down the table after dinner, grab a shower, work on homework, etc.

7| Don’t rely on just enough containers.

Kids leave their lunchboxes (and literally everything else they own) at school, on the bus, the playground, and unexplainably, the most bizarre, random places that will leave you scratching your head. Or the elusive, “I don’t know where it is.”

This can be a frustrating time when you’re in the throes of preparing lunches.

Several lunch containers lined up on a counter, filled with food

Do yourself a favor and buy a couple extra food containers and an extra lunch box to have on hand when (not if!) somebody needs a temporary replacement until their original is found.

Now that I’ve shared my best lunch packing tips, let’s talk about my favorite lunch packing products!

Favorite Products for Packing Lunch

These products have been great for my family.

1| Pack It Lunchboxes

We have been using Pack It Lunchboxes for years, and could not be happier! We store them in the freezer, and their insulated walls keep everything cold and fresh! (But don’t worry- hot food inside thermoses stay hot–more on that below!)

They come in a large variety of colors and designs, and you can choose the stand-up lunch bag style or the classic rectangular one. I use the stand-up version, but a friend uses the rectangular one. We love them both!

*Bonus: They wipe clean SUPER easily!

2| Thermos Food Funtainers

We love these Thermos Food Funtainers. They keep food hot, hot, hot and are the perfect size for lunch entrees! They come in all kinds of colors or different characters, and the newer ones even come with a reusable, foldable spoon that stores in the lid!

We fill them with chicken nuggets, soup, leftovers like meatloaf and mashed potatoes, casseroles, pasta, etc.

*Tip: Boil water (I like to use my tea kettle, because it makes pouring easier) and pour it into the thermos, closing the lid tightly. Let that sit for 5ish minutes to heat the inside of the thermos up, then dump the water and fill the thermos with hot food.

*Additional Tip: If packing chicken nuggets or something else that you don’t want to get soggy, dry out the thermos after dumping the water and place a folded paper towel or napkin at the bottom before putting your food in there – – it’ll keep them nice and crispy!

3| Sistema Containers

I use these Sistema Containers for separating fruits and veggies (especially great for people that don’t like their food to touch). They are just the right size for healthy portions and fit perfectly in their lunchboxes!

*Bonus: They’re dishwasher safe. My boys come home from school, empty their lunchboxes, and throw these right in the dishwasher. Holla!

4| Insulated Water Bottle

For younger kids, I recommend these thermoses for the no-spill benefits. Not just for lunchtime, these can pretty much be used all the time. They’re great for bedtime, or bringing them along for car rides, too. And, they come in all kinds of colors or different characters, as well!

*Tip: If you have a “chewer”, you’ll need to replace the straw often.

As my kids have gotten a little older and can handle drinking without a straw, we’ve moved towards this type of insulated water bottle. They’re a lot easier to clean than the other thermoses with straws, and we love how cold they keep drinks without any sweating on the outside.

They come in a few different sizes, which is nice. My two oldest boys decided they’d like to have the 40 oz. bottles to last them throughout their day. (Please note: the 40 oz. size won’t fit in a lunch box– they’re huge! But my boys are happy to carry theirs separately.) My two younger boys opted for a smaller size.

Using the Printable Lunch Menu Template

With this Printable Lunch Menu template, you can plan out your week’s options and let your child(ren) choose what goes into their lunch. This makes planning and packing school lunch a breeze.

It’s a great system, because you are really in control with what goes on the menu, but the kids feel like they are getting some say over what they eat. It also helps them to know what to pack in their lunchboxes if you want them to share that responsibility with you!

Here’s a sample of a week’s worth of lunches I might plan:

If you have one child, he or she could circle his or her choice for each space. (You could also frame it and just use a wet-erase or dry-erase marker on the glass.) Since I have four boys, I just have them write their initials next to their choices, rather than printing off a separate copy for each of them.

I’ve created a printable template so you can use this system, too! But that’s not all…

FREE Lunch Box Notes

Of course, kids like to see a sweet or funny note included while you’re packing school lunch, too! But who has time to write one every day? I’ve got you covered!

In addition to the printable lunch menu template, I’ve created 30 lunch box notes that you can print off at home. Just cut them out and toss them into your sweet kiddo’s lunch box to let them know you’re thinking about them!

30 free lunchbox notes

These were all approved by my four boys, ages 7-12. Even my 15 year old stepdaughter gave a half smile and nodded her head when reading them, so they must have won her over… I think. Ha!

Your Free Printables

We are offering the Printable Lunch Menu Template and Back-to-School Lunch Notes to our newsletter subscribers for free.

30 free lunchbox notes
printable Lunch Menu template
Lunch Menu

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Still Have Questions About These Lunch Packing Tips?

Now that your lunch will pack a punch (sorry, I had to!), I hope that you’re excited to get off the Hot Lunch Train (most days) or ditch The Sad Brown Paper Sack and help your little love look forward to some yummy goodness!

If you have any questions or need some more inspiration on packing school lunch, be sure to let us know in the comments! Also, please share your best lunch-packing tips. We love learning from you!

More Helpful Posts for Moms:

Best Tips for Packing School Lunches that Make it Less Annoying


6 thoughts on “Best Tips for Packing School Lunches that Make it Less Annoying”

    • The boys love hot food in their thermos! And it’s such a good way to clean out the fridge with leftovers. So glad you like the lunchbox notes— it was super fun making them!

    • We love it around here! And then I don’t have the “Shoot, what am I going to pack in their lunch?” moments.


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