To fight off the lunch-packing frustration, we’re sharing a list of our favorite tools for packing healthy school lunches. These will help to make it faster, easier, and more appealing for your kids.
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Are there any parents who actually enjoy packing their kids’ school or daycare lunches? Most parents I talk to admit that the daily grind of packing their kids’ lunches is one of the things they dread most about school starting back up.
Whether this is your first year packing lunches for school or your ninth, one of the factors that I have found to be most helpful when it comes to packing lunches is the containers you put the food in. Having the proper containers on hand can help with:
- portion size
- building a balanced meal
- preventing leaks
- offering a variety of foods
- making it easier for your kid to eat their lunch in the short lunch period
- packing ahead to save you time
In order to help you in your lunch packing journey, I have put together a collection of my favorite lunch packing tools, along with explanations on how I use them.
Tools for Packing Healthy School Lunches
As far as I’m concerned, bento boxes are a lunch-packing game changer. They are easy for kids to use, have compartments that make building a balanced meal a breeze, and reduce the waste of wrapping each item in foil or plastic wrap. Some of my favorite bento boxes include:
- EasyLunchboxes are the bento boxes I use most often. I have had my set for at least 6 years now and they are still going strong! They offer a generous amount of space, are easy to open and close, and are dishwasher safe. And they are super affordable! The one draw back is that they are not leak-proof, so fruit salads or other liquidy dishes are better served in a different bento box.
- The cool thing about Packit bento boxes is that the compartments can be adjusted to fit the needs of the meal at hand. That’s right, their compartment dividers are moveable.
- Sistema lunch cubes were the first bento boxes I bought when my now 15-year-old started preschool at age 2 and we still love them! They are very easy to open and close (making them perfect for younger kiddos), have generous compartments for bigger eaters, and even come with leak-proof yogurt/dip containers.
- My final favorite bento box is the Yumbox. This one is especially perfect for little kids for two reasons: 1) the box is SUPER easy to open and close and 2) the compartments are on the smaller side, which means that it is perfect for those littler bellies. Another thing I love about the Yumbox is that it is entirely leak-proof. And, if you are trying to avoid plastic food containers, they even make a stainless steel leak-proof bento box that is, honestly, a game-changer.
Reusable Snack and Sandwich Bags
Each time I use a plastic sandwich baggie a little part of me dies. It just feels so wasteful and unnecessary. Over the years, though, I have tried a lot of different reusable bags and have found that many of the fabric versions out there stain and fray easily, except for my favorite brand Lunchskins.
I have been using my Lunchskins bags for over six years now and I have decided that they are indestructible! They’re dishwasher safe, the fabric is thick and sturdy. I also love that their prints are cute enough for kids but neutral enough for grownups to bring to work as well (my husband uses them daily).
If you want something closer to the classic plastic sandwich bag, then ZipTop is the choice for you! These are a new addition to the lunch-packing tool world and I have to say that I am in love. Not only can you use them for sandwiches and snacks, but they’re leak-proof and freezer/microwave-safe, so you can use them for soups, salads, leftovers, pretty much anything you want! Seriously a game-changer.
My older son does not enjoy sandwiches, so he usually opts for leftovers. Often he’ll happily eat those leftovers at room temperature, but for dishes where he wants the food warm we use the Foogo line of Thermoses for over ten (!!) years now. We have found that they do a good job of keeping the food warm and are reliably leak-proof.
Bonus tip: if you want the food to stay really warm, bring a small amount of water to a boil, pour it into the thermos, and let it sit for a few minutes while you warm up the food. Doing this will heat up the internal metal so that it retains the heat of the food for longer.
Even if you send a juice box for your kid to enjoy with lunch, I am a big fan of sending a reusable bottle with water as well. This is for two reasons: 1) juice boxes don’t actually have that much liquid in them and 2) a reusable water bottle can be refilled if they run out of water, helping to ensure that they won’t get dehydrated.
There are three types of reusable water bottles that my family uses:
- Stainless steel water bottles like these from Klean Kanteen are light weight and easy to use
- Silicone bottles are super cool because they are freezable, which means that you can freeze water (or smoothies!) in them and then send them as an ice pack in the lunchbox
- If you want the water to stay nice and cold, then our other favorite are these Contigo stainless steel bottles that will keep the water cold up to 24 hours!
If you want to make sure that the food you pack stays cool and fresh, you have three choices:
- Use a silicone bottle as described above!
- Use a reusable ice pack like these ones which fit nicely in every lunch bag we have
- Use a freezable lunch bag which ensures that your whole lunch will stay nice and cool right up until lunch
What about disposable lunch equipment?
While I am a fan of using reusable lunch packing tools for environmental reasons, there are times when you need disposable lunch packing supplies as well. Here are some of the tools I keep in my house for when they are needed:
Sandwich and Snack Bags
I love the disposable lunch bags by my friends at Lunchskins! They are recyclable and sealable, which means you can make sure the food doesn’t fall out. In addition, they have a really nice feature that plastic bags don’t: you can write on them, which means you can label them either with your kid’s name or with a note about what’s in the bag.
These compostable bento boxes are a great option when you can’t send a reusable bento box. They won’t hold food in place as well, but they will still help with making sure that a balanced meal is sent. Bonus tip: When I use these, I like to put a rubber band around to help make sure they stay closed.
Ideas for Healthy School Lunches
So, now that you’ve got all the lunch packing gear covered, what do you put in it? In our kids’ lunches, we usually pack:
- a main course such as a sandwich, soup, or salad
- a fruit and/or vegetable
- cheese and/or yogurt or kefir
- an extra such a chips, granola bar, or small cookie
For more inspiration (and structure), check out our formula for a healthy school lunch.
We often pack healthy dinner leftovers in the kids’ main lunch compartments, such as this kid-friendly Mango and Black Bean Salad.
Want more ideas for feeding your kids? Check out these other resources from The Scramble:
To help make lunches and dinners go smoother, check out The Scramble’s family-friendly meal plans to see just how simple getting dinner on the table can be!