It's hard work packing up a lunch (or a few lunches) every day, so we've put together this list of tips, tricks and essential equipment you'll need to succeed.
Get lunch components ready ahead of time.
It's hard enough to get yourself and your kids ready in the morning, so how do you make time to pack up lunches, too? Making some of the components ahead of time will help keep you on schedule in the a.m. Your kids can help you cook up these recipes, and older kids can even do it on their own.
Once you've got your make-ahead item, just combine it with 1 store-bought food, 1 food you assemble that day and lots of fresh fruit and veggies. A balanced meal for kids should include low-fat dairy, iron-rich protein, nutrient and fiber-packed fruits and veggies and whole grains.
Pick up ice packs to keep food cool — and safe.
Be sure to stock up on ice packs before the beginning of the school year. Making sure your child's lunch is cool will maintain the flavors of the food – and help protect him or her from foodborne illnesses.
Bacteria grows rapidly between the temperatures of 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit in certain foods. This temperature range is known as the "Danger Zone." Tucking an ice pack into the cooler or lunchbag will keep foods out of that dangerous temperature zone.
To keep things ice cold, you can prepare cooked food, like meats or pasta salads, the night before to give it time to chill in the refrigerator before packing, or add a frozen juice box to their lunchbox as an edible insulator.
Certain foods don't needs to be kept cool to be safe. Whole fruits and veggies, hard cheese, canned meat and fish, chips, breads, crackers, peanut butter, jelly, mustard and pickles are all safe at room temperature.
Invest in a thermos to send off hot foods safely.
Soups make a great, simple lunch anytime of the year — so be sure to pick up a thermos to send it in! Try our Simple Homemade Soups.
Make sure to pick up a model that's airtight in order to keep leaks at bay and keep the soup piping hot or ice cold. You'll also want a model that stays cool to the touch so you don't burn those tiny hands at lunchtime.
To keep foods as hot as possible inside your insulated container, fill it with boiling water before loading up the food for the day. Let it stand a few minutes, empty it out, then add the soup of your choice.
Pick up reusable utensils and containers.
If you're planning to pack up a lunch every day, cut down on waste by purchasing some reusable containers. You'll need some durable plastic utensils, large containers for sandwiches, fruits and veggies and small containers for sauces.
They'll need to be travel-proof, so make sure the lids lock on tight. If your child will be using the containers to reheat food, be sure the vessel is microwave safe.
Once you've got the essentials, get creative! You can pick up plastic takeout containers in bright colors for a fun presentation. Or, try bento box containers — they come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and are perfect for storing kid-sized lunches.
Add personal touches to their noontime meal.
Lunchboxes stay closed until mealtime, so a lunchbox or cooler is the perfect place to add a reminder or personal note to your child. Have something special planned for after school? Tell them about it!
You can also include jokes, interesting food facts or trivia questions. They'll have something fun to discuss with their friends, and they'll look forward to lunchtime each day.