Neatly packed bento-style lunchboxes have become an Instagrammable trend in recent years. But re-creating the healthy kids lunch ideas you see on the internet can also be a valuable time saver.
As we move toward an uncertain back-to-school season, saving time is going to be top of mind. Most parents still don't know if their children will be distance learning at home, attending school full time, or operating on some sort of hybrid concept. As we try to juggle working from home, digital schooling, and keeping kids fed, we're all looking for ideas that will help keep things simple -- that includes with the morning lunchbox routine.
Below, we've rounded up smart finds that will help you prep delicious school lunches this year.
Ready to get crafty in the kitchen? Browse more real food ideas.
Invest In divided containers
Do you ever wonder how mommy bloggers achieve those perfectly portioned, styled lunch boxes? The secret is divided containers. Though it might be tempting to pick up some storage containers at Dollar Tree, consider investing in harder working models. These stainless steel styles, for example, will survive backpack dings and tons of runs through the dishwasher. Purchase a few with different amounts of dividers to prep several lunches for the week.
Then, you're ready to get prepping! Pick up individually portioned dips or hummus packages from the grocery store, then fill the smaller dividers with veggies, cheese cubes, apple slices, pretzels — you name it. Or put a sandwich or pizza bagels in the large space, then fill the smaller dividers with berries, banana slices, raisins, or carrot sticks.
When you're prepping multiple lunches for the week, vary each arrangement and ingredients slightly. It won't be any extra time for you, and your kiddo won't feel like they're eating the same thing every day.
Make your own Uncrustables
Kids love Smucker's Uncrustables sandwiches, but you can make your own for a fraction of the cost. Not to mention, you can source your own preferred nut butter, jellies, and jams and avoid preservatives. All you need is this handy sandwich cutter.
Tara of Unsophisticookhas nailed the formula for non-soggy Uncrustable sandwiches. First, she spreads a thin layer of peanut butter on both slices of bread, then adds about a teaspoon of jelly to the center of the bread.
Then, she uses the top layer of the sandwich cutter to remove the crusts and presses down firmly on the center sealing piece to seal the sandwich all the way around (and achieve that coveted grocery store look).
To save time, you'll want to make a big batch of these to freeze. Flash freeze for a few hours on a cookie sheet, then move the sandwiches to a gallon storage bag to place in the freezer. For in-person school days, pre-package your sandwiches in individual sandwich bags and pack for lunch. By the time your student hits the cafeteria, the sandwich will be perfectly defrosted.
Of course, stainless steel containers are great, but if you're really stretched for time, cut yourself some slack and go disposable. This can come in especially handy if your child will be attending school or daycare full-time. We all want to be eco-friendly, but in the middle of a global pandemic, disposable options are nice to limit the number of items going back and forth between home and school.
Kids Eat In Color blogger Jennifer says to stock up on supplies before school starts. You can still be environmentally conscious with these recyclable sandwich bags, but regular Ziplocks will work as well. You'll also want condiment cups, utensils, and disposable ice packs.
Or consider Jennifer's genius hack and fill plastic popsicle bags with yogurt and freeze them. The yogurt will act as an ice pack and thaw throughout the day. By lunch time, kids will have the perfect Gogurt snack.
Microwave a meal
On days when the kids are at home and you're booked with conference calls, give yourself a break and pop something in the microwave. A Kid Cuisine can be a rare treat for little ones with themed meals, or opt for something with ample nutrition from Kidfresh.
If you subscribe to a meal service for yourself, add a few kid-friendly selections to the rotation to make weekdays a breeze. For example, Freshly meals are individually portioned for adults, but would make the perfect children's lunch size for two kiddos. Something like a homestyle chicken with mac and cheese and green beans or cauliflower-shell bolognese are smart ways to sneak in a serving of veggies.