With the school year underway, it’s time to talk about the school lunch again. One unanticipated benefit of virtual learning was the reduction of stress around lunch. Generally, the kids had enough time to heat something up in the microwave, make a sandwich, or even eat what the adults were having.

When we first started thinking about lunch through the lens of innovative parenting, our process yielded a good increase in independence in our older kids. For our second grader, this has become something he just does. When asked about it, he said, “I like that I get to decide what I put in it.”

His observation was reassurance that our crazy idea had worked. He thought that lunch making was something that kids did. Of course, because the process of innovation is iterative, we’ve learned a lot of lessons on the way to this point. Here are a few.

School Lunch Lessons Learned

  1. Lunch independence can start early. Even if your child isn’t old enough to spread jelly on bread, they can still grab some ingredients from the fridge or pantry for you.
  2. Everyone likes a hot lunch. Thermos containers can keep pasta or even fish sticks warm for hours if they are heated up in the morning.
  3. Use a reverse grocery list. In short, instead of relying on a list of what you need to buy, create a list of what you usually stock in the pantry and post in the kitchen or near the pantry. Circle items as you run out of them or use it to help visually scan the pantry, fridge, and freezer before you shop.
  4. Inspect. Sporadically check the lunches or at least be in the kitchen when they are being made. Think of it as a low key surprise inspection. Checking helped us reinforce some of the values we were trying to promote. And, no, 15 Hershey kisses is not a good source of protein.
  5. Planning helps. I’ve written a lot lately about meal planning and lunch is no exception. You can use this handout to help your kids plan their lunches for the week.
  6. Clean the lunchboxes. Just because the kids are dumping out the trash and washing the containers from their lunch doesn’t mean that the lunchbox has also been cleaned. Plan to wipe them out with a household cleaner on a regular basis.
  7. Prepare in advance. The more lunch prep that can be done ahead of time, the better. School mornings operate in compressed time. You always need to leave before you realize that it’s time to leave. Most lunch items can be prepacked in containers or bags the night before. Set aside a shelf in the fridge for them, if possible.
  8. Don’t panic. Yes, sometimes your kid is going to forget their lunch. It’s not a big deal. You might need to turn the car around and hand it to a teacher in carpool. You should also find out what the school’s policy is on forgotten lunches. Some may not want you to drop anything off (they view it as disruptive) and will help your child figure things out. You may also be able to purchase a school lunch (just make sure that lunch doesn’t get forgotten regularly or you will have a different problem to deal with).

More School Lunch Thoughts

If you need to do a little bit more thinking, don’t worry. Please check out the previous posts in our school lunch series to help you out.

Hacking (and Packing) School Lunches, Part Two from Kosher Working Mom

Hacking (and Packing) School Lunches – Part Three from Kosher Working Mom

Plus don’t forget to download our school lunch planner!

School Lunch Menu Ideas

Inspiration can help get the lunch planning going. Here are few lists of lunch ideas to help you and your kids hack the school lunch.

School Lunch Ideas from Peas and Crayons

100+ School Lunch Ideas for Kids They Will Love from One Crazy House

30 Healthy School Lunch Ideas from Taste of Home

27 Easy Back to School Lunch Ideas for Kids from Budgeting for Bliss

33 Easy School Lunch Ideas for Teens from Raising Teens Today

Let me know how your lunch-making experience is going in the comments.