Packing lunch for school—whether that’s an in-school school or an at-home school—doesn’t have to be stressful. For one northwest mom, packing bento-style lunchboxes for her 15 children has become a beloved ritual in her home.
“You can give your kids more choice in what they eat and cater to nutritional needs or challenges of individual children more easily,” says Sherry Hayes, mom and owner of MomDelights.com. This packing pro offered up her top 10 tips for streamlining the lunch making process and saving money too.
1. Plan Ahead
Hayes recommends tackling lunchbox prep right before or after your dinner time to ensure there’s only one meal mess to clean up. Not only will save you time in the morning or afternoon the next day, but you can easily throw in any dinner leftovers to eliminate food waste. If you’re a Sunday meal prepper, see how much of the lunch prep you can add into that process as possible, and feel free to put that put that Instant Pot to work for you!
Related Reading: How to Turn Dinner Leftovers into Snazzy School Lunches
If you have more than one child, and they’re both old enough to help, she advises you to “assign one child each night to be in charge of the lunchboxes and rotate.” If your littles are too young for this responsibility, encourage them to help come up with ideas for a healthy lunch.
Related Reading: How to Get Kids to Pack Their Own Lunch
3. Form an Assembly Line
“I like to lay out the lunchboxes on the counter and fill them all at once,” she adds. Her go-to lunchboxes? These stackable ones. If you only have one kid, you can still pre-pack their lunchboxes for a week, at least with non-perishables, so there’s less work to do later. The night before, add fresh veggies, fruits, and any main courses. Consider making a batch of chicken salad for easy sandwich prep and remember that hummus and veggies make a great and healthy lunch wrap.
3-Compartment Reusable Meal Prep Containers with Lids, 10 for $16.99 from Amazon
4. Buy in Bulk
“You can save money by purchasing a large bag of a snack and then portioning it out into smaller sized snack bags,” Hayes recommends. “Then stow these into a basket for grab-n-go when making the lunches.”
5. Keep Foods Separated
“Silicone cupcake liners make great separators,” Hayes advises. Fill liners with fried rice, berries, cubed cheese, or even homemade tzatziki sauce. Reusable sandwich bags and reusable beeswax wraps are also great for keeping foods apart.
Silicone Cupcake Liners, 36 for $14.99 from Amazon
6. Utilize Your Freezer
For homeschool lunchboxes, frozen foods can be easily reheated in the microwave. “Making English muffin pizzas and then freezing them are good things to pop in,” Hayes says. If you’re prepping lunches in bulk, you can even freeze the entire packed lunch box. Simply take the lunches out the night before and place them in the fridge to thaw overnight.
Related Reading: Things You Can Freeze Besides Meat & Produce
7. Use Lemon Juice to Keep Fruit Fresh
Fresh fruit can brown easy when cut up for lunchboxes too early, but Hayes recommends “cutting up apples and putting them in a solution of water and lemon juice” to keep them from browning as badly.
8. Avoid Soggy Sandwiches
“Wrapping and nesting sandwiches in coffee filters is a nice touch,” she says, but you can also try toasting the bread before making the sandwich or slathering on spreads to create a barrier between the bread and the ingredients.
9. Save Whenever Possible
“Waxed paper is a cheaper alternative to parchment paper but wraps up goodies and sandwiches quite nicely,” Hayes adds. Frozen berries and vegetables are often cheaper than fresh ones and will thaw quickly in the fridge overnight.
10. Let Them Help
“Have the kids wash and dry their own lunch box,” advises Hayes. Not only will this help save you time, but it will give them ownership of their lunch and some responsibility in the kitchen.
Header image courtesy of Ekaterina Markelova / 500px / Getty Images