With three kids at three different schools for the last four years our mornings have been and continue to be beyond chaotic! My oldest just started her Sophomore year in college, my middle is a Junior in High School and my baby is starting Kindergarten this year. To say we are busy in the AM is an understatement. We needed a system… and fast!
Set a morning routine that works
I began looking for ways to speed up our morning so we could save ourselves some frazzle during the week. Part of the problem was rummaging through the unorganized fridge looking for snacks to pack. I knew I had bought something but somehow it was always swallowed by the sea of condiments, nine packages of tortillas and overflowing produce. Sound familiar? Operation organize the fridge was step one.
One day while shopping for bins for the toy room it dawned on me… I could organize snacks the same way I organize Barbies and Shopkins! In a bin! All in one place so we could pull it out in the morning and pack away! Then put it back in the same place so it was ready again for tomorrow. Genius! I made one for the fridge, the pantry and my car!!
Meal prep your school lunches
So, every Saturday I hit the store and re-stock the snack buckets. Our go-to’s for school lunches/fridge bucket is always the same: mini waters, flavored water, lightly sweetened juice boxes, yogurt & applesauce packets, cheese sticks, single serving dip cups (we love hummus and guacamole), clementines and protein bars- G2G bars are a staple, everyone in our house loves them! We keep crackers, pretzels, trail mix, fruit leathers and individually portioned bags of granola and nuts in the pantry bucket, along with some healthier fun snacks and treats. Beef jerky, nuts, fruit leathers, and RXBARS are car bucket staples for hangry moments on the run!
I always add a little school prep to my Sunday weekly meal prep– I chop up extra veggies for dips (mini cucumbers, carrots and bell peppers) and put in individual snack bags. I make a double batch of banana and egg muffins for breakfast and freeze half for later in the week. Hard boiled eggs are always on hand. Tuna salad, pasta salad, and quinoa salad are on rotation and perfect for my older kids. A little extra time on Sunday goes a long way during the chaos of the weekly rush.
My favorite School lunch lunchbox systems
I like to have fun and pack playful/themed lunches from time to time, but most days I’m in a hurry and just need to get the kids out the door! In our ebook Clean Eating Simplified we dedicated an entire section to packing bento lunches for kids with an awesome food/snack guide by section to include all food groups. Its been a lifesaver. I printed the page, laminated it and keep it on our fridge for daily reference! We rotate between the Planetbox Rover lunch system (on our 3rd year with the same box), yumbox and the Omiebox (first year and loving it) which is perfect for hot lunches during the fall and winter! We love these ice packs too. Super slim and they stay cold all day!!
Other boxes we are loving: Pottery Barn Spencer bento and Bentgo. Also this homeschool stainless steel lunch tray is genius.
Stay consistent and empower your kids choices
I get so many questions on how I get my kids, especially my teens to eat healthy. It’s not easy and it’s a work in progress, but baby steps and consistency have been key. I learned early on that getting your kids to join the whole foods bandwagon is to include them in the process. Let them help pick out their snacks at the store, food prep, and menu plan. Kids like choices. Chances are they will not have the same lunch choices as their friends but throwing in a few fun healthier options they chose themselves + a small sweet treat will help!
Teenagers are hard. Most days mine will come home for lunch and eat what I have on hand, others its Taco Bell or McDonalds. That’s a whole other blog post, but in short control what you can at home and let them have the free agency to make good choices (and some not so good) when they are out. They will feel the difference. I always do.
My rules for enjoying school lunch:
- Eat your veggies first.
- Main dish second.
- Treat last.
- No sharing (mainly due to food allergies)
- Don’t waste. Whatever is still edible and leftover becomes your afternoon snack.
My rules for packing school lunch:
- Get the kids involved.
- Use all food groups.
- Don’t over pack. My little is a chatty Kathy and spends most of her lunch hour talking with friends. I’ve learned to pack her smaller portions and have a second lunch ready when she gets home.
- Hydrate. Skip the juice. Flavored waters, low sugar juices or milk are good options if water is a hard sell.
- Replace processed food with homemade as much as possible. My kid famous Powerballs (recipe here) have replaced cookies for the most part at our house.
- Always add dip. Its surprising how fast a stack of veggies will disappear with some yogurt ranch or hummus.
- Make food fun. If you have time. Cookie cutters, toothpicks, skewers, mini fruits and veggies or themed lunches are a great way to excite young eaters.
- Have zero expectations. You’re doing the best you can. I learned long ago that once kids hit elementary school you lose almost all control. Junior High and High School even more so. They learn what a hostess cake is and your no longer the cool mom. You’ve taught them well, you’ve sent them with healthy options, the rest is up to them. Trust them to make good choices, 9 times out of 10 they will.
Dont forger to feed yourself
Ok, you’ve made a healthy breakfast + lunch for your kiddos, you’ve sent them off to school, the kitchen is clean, now it’s time for YOU. Its time to enjoy yourself a quiet healthy breakfast and go get active! This was a hard concept for me to grasp. I always found something else that needed to be done. No longer. I am embracing ME time and I’ve never been happier. The laundry can wait and so can the dishes. You however, cannot.
My new favorite morning routine is to make all of our lunches while I pack the ones for my school aged kids. Even if the younger kids and I still end up eating at home, it’s nice to have their lunches already prepped and ready to go!
I found it is easier to get up early to workout, that way I make sure I get my ME time. I also make my kids lunches while they are eating breakfast.
Jenna Walker Holmes
I have taught my kids to pack their own lunches. They know they must have a fruit and veggie, a main dish and a treat. Makes my life SO much easier!! I also love to make things ahead of time (homemade taquitos, pizza buns, etc) for them to heat up and pack.
We are all about saving time over here! I have a few different lunches I pack, we have our elementary schooler, three home schoolers, and our guy in college(Dad). I try and make sure I prep the main things in the evening and then in the mornings I can add the fresh fruit and veggies into the mix! Being that we have food allergies, separating items is a must!!
One of my favorite ways to pack lunches is to throw dinners leftovers into their lunch Tupperwares as I clean up. Some of my kids love to take salad for lunch- so I just make my dinner salad a little bigger and pack it up for lunches as I clean up dinner!
I don’t have any kids to pack lunches for, but I do have a one year old. He is really liking the Chobani kids yogurts, string cheese, and I’ve been getting the Annie’s snacks for him for a little treat. I am just trying to learn more about healthier eating because I want to be healthier and I want to teach my kids to be healthier too! Thanks for all your ideas! They are so helpful!
Thanks for your tips and tricks! For breakfast I ask my kids the night before and get ready what I can. On Sunday’s we plan our weekly lunches and dinner and I shop accordingly. My goal is to prep better for the week too!
Great tips! I like the bin idea for snacks and getting my especially picky 4 year old to eat healthy is always a challenge. My youngest is 2 and I’m still trying to lose the weight I gained initially from pregnancy. Appreciate the motivating words at the end!
I love your posts! I like to use veggies that can be used in various dishes throughout the week. It makes meal prep easier. Cucumbers can be served with hummus as a snack or served with tuna as the "bread" part of the sandwich.
I love to pack lunches in the morning making sure they always have a fruit and a vegetable. I also like having them get involved. Having everything ready the night before is what saves us. Love your tip about the make ahead breakfast!
Thanks for the tips! Definately keeping the kids involved when packing or even letting them do it themselves helps a LOT especially when things get busy and we are packing in the morning.
Kellie Justesen Harris
Those are great tips! Thanks! To make our mornings easier I try to get as much as their lunch ready at night. Then add a few things in the morning. I also get clothes laid out for everyone, and backpacks packed with homework
and such at night too. Getting things mostly ready at night has been a lifesaver for me! My kids love picking out their lunch, I have them pick a protein, carb, veggie, fruit and sweet treat. (My kids are lactose intolerant so not dairy for us).
There are so many helpful ideas in this post! I like that you prep Saturday and Sunday getting groceries and chopping up pre-made bags of things. Our best idea has been to make lunches the night before – even when the evening is busy so that our morning is less crazy (I’m not a morning person at all 😆). Also my kids are 12,10,7 and 4 so the older 2 mostly make their own lunches and then help direct my 7 year old.
Love your at home lunch rules!!
I love the bin idea!! What a great way to keep everything ready to go and so the Kids know what they can eat for snack time!
Garrett Julianne Egbert Nash
I love to have left overs for lunch the next day!!! Quick and easy! I also like to freeze healthy pancakes, waffles etc so we can just zap/toast and go!!!
I seriously love the bin idea!!! I would have never thought to put one in the fridge and the car too! Thank you for all the great tips!
Thanks! t’s a great hack! I hope you love it!