Meal Ideas

8 Tips to Make Lunch Packing Easier

From an award-winning meal planner
8 Tips to Make Lunch Packing Easier

Hi there! I’m Jess Dang, and I have been running Cook Smarts, an online meal plan service, since 2013. Despite my professional background, I still struggled when it came time to pack lunch for my oldest kid when she started preschool in 2017. 

I kept thinking, how different would lunch be than dinner? I have no problems with coming up with dinner ideas -- why would lunch be challenging?

But for some reason it was.

I think it stems from 2 reasons. My kids’ lunches are often different from my lunch, whereas for dinner, our family all eats the same thing, so additional planning and decision-making has to be done on top of an already very long to-do list.

And secondly, the packaging presents another hurdle. At home, you can just put all of the food, whether it’s hot or cold, on the same plate. But when lunch and snacks need to be packed to go and sometimes sit unrefrigerated for a couple of hours prior to eating, it requires a bit more thought.

Luckily, I’ve found a few ways around these challenges and school lunch packing doesn’t feel as painful as it used to be. 

In our latest ebook, I make lunchtime decision making so much easier with 100+ mix and match school lunch and snack ideas. The best part? We’re offering it for free to all of our PlanetBox friends -- download our Guide to Awesome School Lunches here!

However deciding what to pack is only one part of the school lunch process. We still need to make sure the food gets packed up as easily as possible, so here are my 8 tips to make school lunch packing less of a pain:


Make it someone else’s job -- As moms, we often feel like we have to do everything and forget that we need to delegate better. School lunch packing doesn’t have to be your job or only your job so think about how a partner, child, or other caretaker can help you with some part (or all) of the process. Even toddlers can help pack part of their snack; even though you might need to help more in the beginning, you are getting them ready for an important life-long skill. 

Prep ahead what you can -- Whatever time you designate for snack / lunch packing, it’s likely going to be a hectic time because that’s just the nature of family life. If you prepare a few things every week ahead of time, it will make lunch packing time less work and chaotic. If there are veggies and fruit that can be washed and prepped ahead of time, fill a clear container with grab and go produce that will make packing much more efficient.

Here’s my prep routine: Every week I will air-fry a protein such as chicken breasts, tofu, or chickpeas, hard boil some eggs, cook a huge pot of broccoli, pick 1 grain to cook in our rice cooker, and also make a jar of chia pudding. Just having those done as options to fall back on makes a huge difference when it comes time to pack. 

Make it accessible -- Store containers and possible snack / lunch items in places where kids can reach them. Our snack / lunch containers are stored in a bottom drawer and food items that kids can pack are all in designated places.

Pack everything the night before -- If you’re not packing up a hot lunch, before dinner cleanup is a great time to pack up lunch. It’s one less thing to do on busy chaotic weekday mornings, which is always a win.

Bulk pack for the week (or as many days as you can) -- This does require more containers and fridge space but you can also do it for the amount you have. So if you have enough containers to get ahead for 3 days, then just pack 3 lunches. You definitely don’t need to pack ahead for the whole week. 

Heat up your thermos -- This is an optional step, but if I’m packing hot foods, I do warm up the thermos with boiling water. I’m already boiling water for my tea every morning, so I just add enough to fill the thermoses too.

Use an ice pack -- I will be honest. I do not always use an ice pack in my kids’ lunches, but I want you to be safe, especially if you’re packing deli meat, eggs, yogurt or other dairy (that’s not contained in a cold thermos). If you have an insulated lunch bag plus an ice pack, your kid’s lunch will be much less likely to develop bacteria that could make them sick.

Display your meal plan -- Having your meal plan (for lunch and dinner) visually displayed is helpful for the whole family. It’s something you can easily refer to, instead of wondering, “What am I making again?” Sometimes simply just knowing what you’re packing up for snack and lunch for the week is the little help you need to make the process smoother. We offer a great printable for displaying your school lunch plan in our Guide to Awesome School Lunches, which you can get for free here!

I hope that with our lunch packing tips you are going to start the school year with a lot less stress and a lot more inspiration! 


Submitted by Jess Dang, Founder of Cook Smarts, an award-winning online meal plan service

Find more meal planning tips @cooksmarts

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