It’s a new school year, and kids returning to campuses will face changes everywhere—even at lunch time. There are only so many minutes to spare for lunch, and opening food packaging can take time that’s probably already crunched by enhanced sanitation measures. And children who struggle to open snacks and lunches might not get the lunchroom help they did pre-pandemic, so it’s a good idea for parents to plan ahead and strategically pack easy-open back to school food.
“There are some foods that little hands just cannot open yet developmentally!” says L. Elizabeth Forry, educational and parenting writer and early childhood curriculum designer. “As a general rule, things that children can peel open as opposed to twist open or pull open (like a bag of pretzels) will be easier for most.”
Here’s how you can send kids off to school with lunches that won’t come home unopened.
Use Compartment Lunch Boxes
A single, easy-open lid is simpler and faster for kids than multiple containers or snack packaging.
A compartment lunch box can reduce waste, too. Forry recommends Tupperware or a bento box so kids can easily open their food and there is no packaging or disposable plastic bags.
Bentgo Kids Brights Leak-Proof, 5-Compartment Bento-Style Lunchbox, $24.99 from Amazon
Send Food That Doesn’t Need a Wrapper
Food that can stay in one piece in a bento box is an easy win. For example, mini muffins, veggie sticks, or grapes. Crackers and cheese can rest comfortably in a compartment and still be intact after your kid swings their lunchbox on the way to the cafeteria.
Make Packaging Simple
Simple wrapping can be more friendly for little hands. Think: grippable zippers, wraps, and food that doesn’t require packaging. For example, beeswax snack pouches are eco-friendly and easy to open.
The Traveling Bee Shop Reusable Snack Storage Set, $24 from Etsy
“Wrap a sandwich in a paper towel, and include whole pieces of fruit such as a banana, apple, or peach,” suggests Forry.
Kids might have a hard time with plastic zip sandwich bags, but reusable snack bags can be easier to manipulate.
“If your school will allow it, consider making the switch from individually packaged snacks to reusable, eco-friendly snack bags,” says Jaymi Torrez, teacher and parenting blogger at The Salty Mamas. “Their zip top makes it easy for kids to open and close on their own, keeping snacks safely inside. Plus, buying larger bags of snacks and then repackaging is a lot easier on the wallet.”
Lunchskins Reusable 2-Piece Food Storage Bag Set, $9.79 from Amazon
Related Reading: The Best Eco-Friendly School Lunch Supplies
But even with somewhat foolproof packaging, it’s worth it to do a test run at home, says Essalat. “Practice opening and closing zippered pouches—whether it’s a Ziploc seal or the zipper to their actual lunchbox, practice opening and closing these containers.” If your child is handy with scissors, consider buying a dedicated pair of safety scissors for their lunch box.
If you’re sending packages your child has a hard time with, give them a head start by opening them slightly. For example, get a granola bar open at the top corner so the seal is broken and they just need to open it the rest of the way. Or for string cheese, peel apart the top and let them do the rest. Sending applesauce pouches? Twist off the top to break the seal, then put it back on. You can break open the top of a banana and kids can peel the rest.
Don’t Forget Drinks
Easy-open drinks can be a particular challenge, as liquids require sturdy packaging. While it’s convenient to send juice boxes or twist-off tops, little hands might struggle to get them open. And disposable straws can be especially tough to manipulate. A water bottle with a flip-top straw or lid is a good solution, but consider other options, too.
Thermos Blue Funtainer, $11.99 from Amazon
“Thermos lids can often be sealed quite tightly, so reevaluate screw-top lids that could be too strong for small hands and fingers,” says Essalat.
Foods to Try
Here are some suggestions for foods that are easy to pack and open:
- Whole fruit
- Mini muffins
- Wrapped sandwiches
- Crackers and cheese
- Pasta salad
- Pigs in a blanket
- Chicken tenders
- Veggie sticks
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Ants on a log
- Pizza rolls
- Nut-free butters
- Tortilla roll-ups
- Cheese sticks
Header image courtesy of Floortje / E+ / Getty Images