Are you ready for back to school and school lunches? You probably know how to pack a school lunch, but do you know how to pack a school lunch your kid can actually eat?
Lunchtime in most schools is startlingly short, and kids only have about 10 minutes to eat. Isn’t that crazy? But what you send for lunch and how you pack it can mean the difference between happily fed kids or lunchboxes returned with a ton of food leftover or thrown out.
According to the School Nutrition Association, the entire time allotted for lunchtime in schools across the nation can be as little as 20 minutes. This includes getting in line for lunch, walking to the lunch room, washing hands and standing in line to get food. By the time they sit down, kids only have about seven to nine minutes to eat.
Did you catch that? 7 to 9 minutes to actually eat lunch!
This is why your child gets home from school STARVING. And why any carefully packed lunch you sent in the morning is usually thoroughly rifled through, but not much is eaten. You’d shudder to know what percentage of school lunches get thrown away.
To avoid so much food waste and the time suck of waiting for hot lunch, have kids bring a packed lunch to school.
Skipping the hot lunch line gives kids precious extra minutes to get in a sufficient amount of food to get them through the rest of the school day. And if they help pack it, their lunch will include foods they are familiar with and, thus, more likely to eat.
The benefits of sending your child to school with a packed lunch are worth the effort!
(Before you get sucked into a Pinterest black hole looking for ideas, I collated some quick and easy resources on my pin board.)
Here’s what you need to know to help your child get food in their tummies in the fast-paced, chaotic environment of a school lunch room:
4 Tips on how and what to pack in a school lunch
1) Size matters
Sliced meat, cheese cubes, pickle chips. A whole apple is easy to toss in, but it takes precious minutes to eat. Core and slice it instead. Tangerines are faster to peel than oranges. In fact, peel fruit beforehand and put it in a small, reusable container to keep it fresh. Grapes and bananas are quick options.
(Pro tip: teach your child to peel bananas like monkeys do–pinch off the bottom end and eat the banana upside down. I don’t know why it doesn’t led to a mushy banana end, but it doesn’t.)
2) Use a thermos
Leftover soup and pasta make great, easy-to eat lunches. Heat the food in the microwave in the morning while you let the thermos warm up with boiling hot water in it. Dump the water out, add the heated food and it should stay warm until lunch.
(Pro tip: metal thermoses work best to keep foods hot. There are some great ideas on this pin board for different foods to put in a thermos.)
3) Finger foods
Veggies with humus, nuts, cooked cold beans or veggies, leftover chicken nuggets, and fruit or yogurt tubes are fast options.
(Pro tip: take chewing time into account and you’ll understand why a whole sandwich may not work as well as crackers and slices of ham or cheese.)
Younger kids might struggle to open packages. The lunch room monitors help hundreds of kids, so there may be a line to get help. Consider putting food into containers your kid has demonstrated they can actually open (quickly is implied here).
(Pro tip: don’t send scissors in your kids lunch to open things. Schools don’t like scissors at lunch and you’ll get to chat with the principal.)
Ask your child for suggestions and get feedback about what works and what doesn’t. If you a chance, pop by the school lunch room and just watch what happens. I think you’ll find it a pretty horrify–, er, enlightening experience. #feedingfrenzy
Knowing who you are going to sit by is stressful enough for kids at lunchtime. Let’s give them a fighting chance to get calories into their little bodies.
And if it isn’t easy, it isn’t going to get eaten.