A Veteran Parent's Guide to Surviving 1800 School Lunches

Parents: we have some good news, and we’ve got some bad news.

Parents: we have some good news, and we’ve got some bad news. The great news is that school starts soon! Get ready to do a happy dance, because soon you will be able to seize the day again, for the next 10 months, from 9-3 PM.

The bad news?

The bad news is that if your child is starting Kindergarten this year, there’s 1800 school days until Grade 8.

1 8 0 0.

It made me tired just to read that.

If you think that’s bad, that’s also 1800 school lunches that have to be packed. At an ultra-conservative 10 minutes per lunch, that’s 300 hours you’re going to be spending in the kitchen making lunch over the next nine years.

12.5 days of your life making school lunches.

One point three eight days. EVERY. YEAR.

That’s a lot of lunches, and you cannot pack them all, mom. Fortunately, we can help make lunchtime headaches a thing of the past before they even get started.

Prelabel and presort your lunchware.

First: Invest in some great stackable reusable reasonable-priced lunch stuff. Label the heck out of it to make sure it’ll never go missing forever in the murky depths of the school lost and found, and then find a nice shelf conveniently located at your waist level in the pantry to store it so that it’s easy to reach for everyone.

Night is the new morning.

I don’t even fully wake up until noon. I’m the sort of person that firmly believes “good” and “morning” never go together, and “good” is more likely to be replaced with a curse word if I have to get up before 7AM so I have enough time to get things done.

Therefore: Night time is the new morning. That means all lunches are made the night before, so people can grab - on their independent lonesome - and go, and let me sleep in. Mom getting her sleep works out better for the mental health of everyone at my house, so there’s been no pushback at all on this one.

Work smarter with the power of leftovers, not harder.

Cooking for 2.5 is a drag. You know what’s way better? Cooking the same meal for 6 and boxing it up for me (or others) to use as lunches over the course of the week. And if you do that multiple times a week, then technically you could be getting away with cooking way less (a definite win-win).

Coincidentally, this tip also works perfectly with tip #2, because you box up immediately after you’re done cooking. If you put the other cohabitators of your house on KP duty, then a bonus extra win for you.

Refrigerate tomorrow’s hot lunch in a microwaveable measuring cup.

You know the problem with hot lunches? Trying to figure out how much to set aside to fit in the Thermos, and then having to make extra dishes heating things up.

Well, I have these 2 cup Pyrex measuring cups. They’re solid, heavy, and great in the microwave, and they have nifty little measuring lines. So, when packing up leftovers that will need to be kept hot, I premeasure leftovers into the measuring cup, cover with plastic wrap, stick it in the fridge, and then nuke it for two or three minutes in the morning. The spout lip on the measuring cups to help me pour into the Thermos is just icing on the cake.

Have the kids take their hand at lunch-making with easy rules of thumb.

Keep it super simple. My kid loves sandwiches. He’ll eat one pretty much every day if I let him, and I’m cool with it because he does it himself. Junior kindergarteners can make a sandwich. Voila, you’ve got the start of a lunch.

Then add on rules. My rule is at least one vegetable and one fruit. Let them pick them themselves so that you know it’ll get eaten, and try to stash easy fruit and vegetables that they can use in preparing their own lunches. Baby carrots, celery sticks, broccoli florets, and cherry tomatoes are all great help-yourselves vegetables. Whole fruit like grapes, apples, and bananas is always my go-to for fruit.

Use premade goods to your advantage.

Once the rules are followed, there’s room for play. One fruit and one vegetable and one sandwich aren’t enough to fill two nutrition breaks, so here’s where having a couple healthy snacky items fit in. Save your sanity by choosing good pre-packaged items that your kids can use to round out their lunch: crackers, apple sauce blends, yogurts, string cheese, and peanut-free baked goods like Dare Bear Paws.

Make your peace with “panic” lunches.

Mom, you know what “panic lunches” are, although you may never have labeled them as such. These are the lunches scrambled together in a flurry in morning you all wake up late despite good intentions (see night is new morning rule!). You’re already late, the fridge is empty and it is straight up panic time. But it’s going to be okay. Try one of these “probably have” lunches and serve an extra helping of veggies at dinner:

  • Thermos of milk and baggie of cold cereal
  • Thermos of hot water with raw hotdog and wrapped slice of bread (hot water cooks hotdog by noon)
  • Small pot of salsa, some shredded cheese and a handful of corn chips aka “emergency” nachos
  • Small containers of chopped tomatoes with basil from pantry and dash olive oil and a sliced stale(ish) baguette for Presto Bruschetta
  • Olives and a cheese string
  • Toasted sliced waffle, small dipping pot of syrup, and a handful of raspberries
  • A frozen (cook it) “pocket” style sandwich from freezer in a Thermos. Yes; it works; yes, I’ve sent it too many times to even feel shame anymore.

And worst case? Hit up the local coffee shop en route to school and fill a pre-warmed thermos with one of their bowls of soup. Throw in an apple and a Bear Paw snack, and BOOM – you just steered this disaster bus back off the shoulder of the road.