Now that you have an idea of what to pack for your kids’ lunches, it’s time to consider how to pack them. Consider the following tips, courtesy of Reader’s Digest.
1. Get some kid-approved gear - Tired of going through countless brown paper lunch bags and plastic sandwich bags? Stock up on some lunchboxes that will take your family straight through the school year. Soft-sided, insulated lunchboxes are the norm these days. And food can go into lidded plastic storage containers. Look for ones divided into several individual compartments, or for bento boxes with removable, interlocking pieces.
Or get smart about brown bagging - For older kids who are averse to carrying lunchboxes, double-bag their regular brown paper lunch bags for added insulation and strength. The perfect ice pack for this scenario? Just wet a few paper towels, fold them and place inside a re-sealable sandwich bag. Freeze overnight and place in the lunch bag in the morning.
2. Time it right - It’s nearly unanimous: Parents say packing lunches at night is key to getting everyone out the door on time on busy mornings. Tip: Make lunches while you’re already making dinner, or right after dinner but before you do the dishes; the kitchen counter is already messy, some of the items you’ll use might already be out, and all the cutting boards and utensils can go straight into the dishwasher with the dinner dishes.
3. Prep once, eat often - Have a PB and J lover (or two) on your hands? Make a whole loaf or two of sandwiches and refrigerate or freeze them individually. To keep them from getting soggy, spread peanut butter all the way to the edges and limit jelly to the center area. When it’s time to pack lunches, just grab a sandwich and add a piece of fruit, some pretzels and a yogurt – done!
4. Pay attention to temperature - When it comes to food safety, the cooler (or hotter) a food starts out, the better. For example, store sandwiches in the refrigerator until right before it’s time to leave for school, and heat up soup as much as possible before pouring it into the thermos and sending your kid out the door.
5. Freeze the drinks - Store juice boxes in the freezer. They’ll keep a lunch bag cool, and they’ll thaw and be ready to drink by lunchtime. This trick will work with water bottles as well, or juice poured into an empty plastic bottle; just make sure the bottles aren't filled completely, so there's room for expansion when the liquid freezes.
6. Keep hot foods hot - Not all kids like sandwiches. If you have a soup or pasta fan on your hands, invest in a short, wide-mouthed insulated thermos. These come in kid-friendly designs and will safely store hot foods (like beans and rice, or mac and cheese) for up to six hours. Tip: Keep your thermos hotter by filling it with hot water and emptying it just before adding the (steaming hot) food.
7. Protect fragile fruit - Some whole fruits are more durable (apples, bananas) but others are prone to piercing, bruising, or even smashing when jostled – not the most appetizing outcome for picky kids. To pack delicate, juicy fruits like pears, peaches, or nectarines, wrap a paper towel around the fruit before bundling it into your child’s lunch bag. Bonus: The paper towel doubles as a napkin.