Four Basic Steps to Packing a School Lunch

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The School Year is Here!

Whether you are a parent with years of experience packing a lunch for your school age child or you are a parent packing daily lunches for the first time here is a post to help I’m calling my Four Basic Steps to Packing a School Lunch.

If you’ve read my other posts on this blog for School Lunches (recommended reading here) this post is meant to help you bring together all of the concepts I’ve shared.

First I wrote about the reasons why I love Bento style lunch boxes for young children, followed by a parents guide to the various types, sizes and styles. We went through lunch packing tips and last I included help for ideas you can include in your pantry from our shopping habits.


Identify the Basics

I teach my clients to remember that it is the parent’s responsibility to provide a healthy balanced lunch and snacks. It is their child’s responsibility to decide IF they want to eat and HOW MUCH.

When choosing which foods to, try to aim for 4-5 of the following foods: Protein + Vegetable + Fruit + Starch + Dairy.

Ensure you have 1-2 foods included in your child’s lunch that you know your child likes. By ensuring there are foods your child likes, you are giving them some comfort and confidence that when they open their lunch they will find something they want to eat. This also helps you trust that your child will follow their appetite cues to eat the amount that they need.

If you need some inspiration for lunch ideas, I have put together this simple one-page resource, that can be printed and put on the fridge.

It is available here: The Ultimate List of Nut-Free Lunch Ideas


I am not talking about a meal plan (but it could be a part of your plan if that works for you). I am talking about a plan to tackle even thinking about school lunches. Purchase lunch containers, a lunch bag, freezer packs and water bottle that work best for your child. I like Bento boxes and I talk about why here. Pick some recipes to try, make your grocery list and take some time at the grocery store to read labels and make choices that are best for your family. Try to have foods in your pantry, freezer and refrigerator that are easy to grab and nourishing options to fuel your child to help them learn and grow.


Doing the Prep 

There are two types of preparation required for packing a school lunch; grocery prep and food prep.

Grocery Prep is intended to fill your pantry and refrigerator with items that will help you simplify the lunch packing process. When your pantry is stocked it is easier to Pick and Pack which is better then Scramble & Panic!

Food Prep:

Pick one recipe and make it on the weekend. If you want to try a new homemade granola bar recipe or have some family favourite muffins for snacks and breakfasts this is the time to make a double batch and freeze so there are enough to last the week. Making a different recipe each week will help to add more variety and options. Better yet enlist a friend and do some cooking together like I did here. Another option is to make a double batch of some options and split/trade with a friend. Plus everything is more fun with a friend!

Wash & Chop:

Find a time that works best for you to fill that veggie-bucket and prepare fruit. You can wash and chop right after you get home from your grocery shop or when you are chopping for another meal to wash and chop extras. Setting aside a time during the week and make it a weekly ritual will help to make this more of a habit. The best strategy is the strategy that is realistic and works for you.


Pack the Lunch

First we need to think about food safety. Cold foods should stay cold. Having an insulated lunch bag is a great first step. There are freezable lunch bags and containers that snap onto an ice pack, as well as thin or fun shaped ice packs. We use freezer ice packs to keep cold food cold. There is nothing wrong with including more than one! Packing lunch the night before ensure cold food is in cold containers, if you don’t have time try keeping your bento lunch tray or containers in the fridge. By packing already cold food with an ice pack, it will help prevent bacteria growth.

In comparison hot food should stay hot. Using a preheated thermos by filling with boiling hot water and setting aside for 2-5minutes, then dumping the hot water and adding your extra hot food will ensure your food stays at a safe temperature (out of the danger zone) and more desirable for your child to eat. Lastly, pack hot foods separate from the cold foods.

Next you can enlist some help. No matter your child’s age there is something they would be able to help with in the lunch packing process. By having your child help out they are also more likely to eat more of their lunch. Here are some ways your child can help:

  • Give your child two snack options and have them choose which one they want to pack.
  • Have them decide which veggies or fruit they want to pack in their lunch or which dip they want with it
  • Let your child pack his school bag and once his lunch is ready it is his responsibility to put his lunch bag and water bottle in his backpack (this is one responsibility we have for our almost 5 year old).

What challenges are you facing with School Lunches?
Comment below and I’ll reply or write a post for you on the topic!

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