Back-to-School Countdown Day 10: Gear Up for School Lunches

plan school lunches

Will you add "pack school lunches" to your to-do list when school starts? Time to get organized!

School-day mornings veer to frazzled in a heartbeat, and never more so than when trying to pack lunches while locating laundry, overseeing homework and calling children to breakfast.

Give yourself a break, and take time now to prepare for the school lunch routine. With nine months of lunch duty ahead, planning school lunch menus will make it easy to pack the sacks each day!

Get Informed

Time was, school lunch meant a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and a banana ... for everyone. Today, increased awareness of issues like nut allergies and childhood nutrition means that many schools issue guidelines for home-packed lunches.

Before stocking the lunch cupboard for the school year, review school lunch policies. Be in the know before you go shopping!

Find Your Center

Assembling lunches, do you bounce around the kitchen like a ping-pong ball? With sandwich spreads in the refrigerator, bread stored in cabinets, and plastic bags in a drawer near the sink, assembling a simple sack lunch becomes a juggling act ... and you're the ball!

Instead, tap the "activity center" concept, and set up a one-stop center for lunch preparation.

In a cupboard or accessible drawer, store what you need to prepare and package lunches. Sandwich bags and fruit cups. Utensils and plastic wrap. Boxed fruit juice and condiments. If you need it for lunches, give it a home in your lunch center!

In the refrigerator, tuck packs of cold cuts, bagged veggies, string cheese and fruit into a flat-bottomed plastic organizer. Pull it out each morning to make sandwiches and assemble lunches, easily.

Creating a lunch center keeps you glued to one place, with tools and supplies close at hand. Better, you'll know at a glance when you're low on granola bars!

Brainstorm Lunch Ideas

The prettiest bento-inspired lunch presentation may create a splash on Pinterest, but will fall flat if your child refuses to eat it or trades it away for a chocolate bar.

Check in with your children, and brainstorm a list of 10 to 15 kid-approved lunch ideas before school starts. Working together, be sure lunches include fruits, vegetables, and healthy snacks so they are nutritionally complete.

After the consult, make a quick list of lunch menus on the free printable School Lunch Planner, and post it near the kitchen lunch center, to guide you on sleepy winter mornings.

And since even the most cafeteria-averse child will still decide to buy school lunch on pizza day, make space near the lunch center to post the school lunch menu. Circle the days your child will buy lunch ... and buy you some extra time!

Weekly Check-In

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A quick once-a-week check-in will keep the family on-track for school lunch. Post the week's school lunch menu, and decide which days children will buy their lunch.

Keep tabs on children's changing tastes, modifying lunch menus as needed. If containers of once-loved pasta salad are returning home unopened, it's time to find a new side dish!

Check stocks of lunch staples, and replenish as necessary.

Pre-Pack Where Possible

Whether you prepare a week's worth of lunches over the weekend, or pack them the night before, pre-packing lunches brings new calm to school-day mornings.

Where possible, pre-assemble school lunches to save time each day. Morning minutes are worth ten at any other time of the day!

Outsource Lunch Preparation

Finally, place children in charge of preparing their own lunches. While you'll want to monitor for nutritional completeness and keep the lunch center stocked, giving the responsibility to the child teaches them to plan ahead, and promotes good organization skills.

Add "make lunch" to the family's before-bed routine, and show children how to assemble their lunch for the next day. In the morning, add sandwiches or cold items ... for a lesson in organized living!

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