I don’t know about you, but I struggle with packing my two children’s lunches everyday. I always do it the afternoon/evening before — because mornings inevitably feel so rushed and crazy in our home — in the hopes that the day-before timing will ease the burden, but nonetheless packing lunches for preschool remains… irksome (at best). (Oh really, you need snacks too???!)
Not to mention, I always begin the school year with overambitious aspirations to send my kids in with IG-worthy bento boxes stuffed full with healthy vegetables and gourmet finger sandwiches and new colorful recipes and fruit arranged neatly into shapes and happy faces… but by the end of the first week I’m shoving cheese sticks, triscuits, and almonds in their lunch bags and crossing my fingers they eat any of it (and don’t complain…).
This week, we’re sharing five ways you can play hookie — and get out of packing lunch altogether, hah!
1. Task your child with packing their own lunch.
This is actually my personal favorite school lunch workaround, because it’s a win-win. Most young children really love packing their own lunch (seriously, they totally get a kick out of it and typically embrace the ownership), and it’s also a wonderful skill to begin teaching your child. Studies show that children who pack their own lunches are five times more likely to graduate from high school and three times more likely to find jobs out of college (kidding!!).
There are two snags here — initially, there is some buy-in time. You can hardly tell a three-, four-, or five-year-old to pack their own lunch and then just leave them to it entirely. But you may be surprised how quickly your child picks up on what they need to do. Last year, my three-year-old was able to put together most of her own lunch independently after just a few days of packing things together. Yes, her sandwich was an absolute mess, but she did tell me afterward that hers tasted “very much gooder” than the ones I made. Hah!
2. Opt for school lunch.
If you have the option, choosing to buy school lunch is a great “get out of jail free” card. I initially worried about my kids eating school lunch (with menu choices including chicken nuggets, pizza, grilled cheese, and — gulp — corn dogs (GAH!)), but I realized last year that it’s actually a beautiful opportunity to both speak with your child about nutritional food choices and also help cultivate a budding sense of independence when it comes to making choices about what and how to eat.
In my house, we talk a lot about how different foods fuel the body, and what kinds of things are better for fueling the body and brain (and which are worse), and I was surprised how much my kids not only listened but also applied some of those lessons when they had the chance to make choices about what to eat. Likewise, I worried about my vegetarian kids accidentally eating something that might upset them at school — but they navigated this piece entirely on their own too, right from day one. It’s pretty incredible to see how young children can step up!
3. Plan a meal swap with a friend.
Okay, this isn’t technically a true freebie, because it does require some lunch prep, but it could potentially cut your responsibility in half. The premise is this: find a friend and trade days (or weeks) to pack each others’ kids’ lunches. When it’s your turn to pack lunches, you’ll have to pack double, but when you’re “off duty,” you can simply enjoy the break.
Obviously, if you try this at home you’ll want to confer with your friend about any food allergies or sensitivities and make sure you’re both on the same page regarding what kinds of foods you’ll pack (or won’t), how you’ll cut/present them, and how much food each child needs.
4. Make too much dinner.
I used this trick *a lot last year, and it’s really a great hack. The key thing is that you have to plan the extra portions — previously I would use dinner leftovers whenever I could, but this was entirely hit-or-miss, and therefore incredibly unreliable as an actual plan for packing lunches. (Especially because young children can eat vastly different amounts from day to day…) Once I started strategizing more purposely, however, it made packing lunch super easy. I still use this approach a lot, especially with dishes that transfer well to lunch containers (looking at you, quesadillas…).
5. The ultimate sidestep: Yumble + Amara.
If you are looking for the ultimate solution for evading packing daycare, preschool, or elementary school lunches, then let someone else do all the work! Yumble’s lunch-box ready meal subscription service offers nutritious, ready-to-go lunches that are well-balanced, visually appealing, and totally kid-friendly. You simply pick your meal choices for the week (and you get a bonus meal for every five you purchase, which is super convenient for weekend outings or after-school snacks) and your delivery day, then pop the meal in your child’s lunch bag with an ice pack… and cross lunch off your to-do list, phew! Check out Yumble’s plans and offerings here. And for snack time, Amara’s organic toddler yogurt melts are the perfect mess-free finger food: they’re packed with nutrients, contain all-natural organic ingredients (no added sugar!), and feature fresh, bright flavors: choose between Carrot Raspberry, Mango Carrot, and Beets ‘n’ Berries. Yes, the Yumble + Amara pairing is the real deal, friends. Done and done.
A final tip: You don’t have to choose just one of these options^^. In fact, in any given week, you could borrow from some or all of them (one per day, LOL); devise a schedule to use a few of these strategies on specific days (i.e., your child packs her own lunch on Mon./Thur., you use dinner leftovers on Wed., and opt for school lunch on Tues./Fri.); or even rely on them periodically — because even having one or two “days “off” per week, or knowing that you have some options when things get crazy is such a relief. It really can lighten the mental load. And for all the days when you find you do have to pack your child’s lunch (the “normal way,” hah), read here about how to streamline the whole process. Good luck, friends!