best way to pack school lunch
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Packing a school lunch makes sense even if your kids are currently still distance learning. Here’s why it helps, and how to pull it off.

Sherry Hayes is no homeschooling rookie. She’s been at it since 1989, all while raising 15 kids and running her own website, Mom Delights, that’s loaded with resources for homeschooling and handcrafted lesson books. We’ll say that again…15 kids. The woman is a multi-tasking pro. But when she found herself scrambling and stressing about lunch time, she did the math and turned to the lunchbox.

Don’t Let Lunch Be a Major Distraction

“Lunch landed right in the middle of the most productive part of our day,” says Hayes. “Instead of interrupting the flow to do meal prep and clean up, I decided, ‘Why not have the food already ready and portioned out for each child?’”

Hayes calculated that she was spending more than an hour each day figuring out what she and her kids would eat for lunch (which often distracted her from helping her kids out with their coursework), then making the lunches, setting the table, and cleaning up after the meal. By having a lunchbox ready to go for each kid, she was able to spend more time with her little learners, getting lost in algebra equations or the life of Archimedes instead of getting overwhelmed in the kitchen.

Even for moms without 15 kids at home (OK, so some of Hayes’ kids, who are all between the ages of 11 and 36, are grown and have jobs), meal prepping in the middle of the day remains an unnecessary intrusion.

back to school lunch tips, recipes, and ideas

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Give Your Days Some Structure

Living and working within arm’s reach of easy-to-access snacks and foods can be a distraction for even the most disciplined adult, let alone a growing child. The temptation to ask for a snack every time they sit down or whenever there’s a pause in the coursework is very real for kids doing school at home. Packing a school lunch is a great way to separate the day into working time and eating time—and don’t forget the very important playing time, too!

Related Reading: 15 Smart Tips to Manage Snacks When You’re at Home All Day

When (And How) to Pack Lunch

Although it took some getting used to, Hayes has now been packing lunchboxes for her homeschooled children for more than three years, where she does all the meal prep during or after dinner so there is only one mess to clean up afterward.

She enlists the help of her older kids by delegating out the tasks or alternating “lunch-packing responsibility” nights. Even younger kids can help out by filling up cupcake liners with handfuls of fruits or veggies or being in charge of putting their lunchbox away in the refrigerator once it’s packed.

Hayes likes to incorporate leftovers and get creative with the lunchbox ingredients, even getting her kids involved in the packing process by creating age-appropriate stations for assembling the different portions of the lunchbox.

“I prefer to use the type that are divided into three chambers with a tight-fitting lid, sort of like a Bento box,” she adds. “Since you are home and have access to kitchen facilities, you can put things into the lunchboxes that can be heated up in a microwave or toaster oven such as hot dogs, pizza, leftover pasta, etc.”

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Incorporating fun snacks into the lunchboxes keeps things exciting for kids, and Pirate’s Booty is a popular lunchbox addition in the Hayes’ household, but easy-to-throw-in snacks like Just the Cheese, Atoria’s cauliflower and coconut mini lavash flatbreads, or Simple Mills veggie pita crackers are great additions for healthy lunchboxes as well.

There’s a benefit to the ritual, Hayes adds, and, with many parents still unsure of whether or not schools will be reopening this year, she believes there’s a huge benefit to maintaining consistency in the home. “This gives kids something to look forward to and gets them involved in their own nutrition.”

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Kristy Alpert is a freelance travel and food writer on the hunt for the obscure and untold stories around the world. Her passion for savoring the local flavor of a destination has led to her unearthing bread baking secrets on Muhu Island to chiseling ancient ice for martinis in Antarctica. Kristy has won numerous international awards for her writing. See her bylines in Cosmopolitan, Food & Wine, Men’s Health, Fodor’s Travel, American Way, and more.
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