Get a good lunchbox. Something of good quality that can be washed. I hand wash with dish soap every weekend to keep them clean. Also choose one that is a decent size so that will hold reusable containers well. I found the great lunch bags above at Meijer for $5.99 and they came with a free six month subscription to Parents Magazine inside them! They unzip 3/4 of the way around the box so they will be easy to fill.
Get reusable containers or zipper bags. Reusable containers are better for the environment, but sometimes it’s easier and more time friendly to use bags. Do what works for your family.
Use your reusable containers instead of buying individually packaged snacks. My reusable containers double as fruit cups, applesauce cups, dip cups, jello cups, snack packs and more. I have multiple sizes and brands and each works for different things. Most of the ones pictured above came from Dollar Tree. The whole stack on the left came in (separate by shape) packages of 10 for $1. The one on the bottom right came in a six pack for $1. The one on the top right is Ziploc brand from Meijer.
Keep it cold. I save space by freezing portions of my kids lunch. Juice pouches freeze very well and thaw through the morning. Capri Sun and Kool Aid Jammers work very well and Capri Sun makes 100% juice and flavored waters that are healthy alternatives AND can often be purchased on sale. I also have started freezing sub style sandwiches that will go in my kids lunches this year. I will send condiments in a small reusable container for them to add at lunchtime.
Keep it hot. A good thermos will go a long way to help you save money. For those of you that have been reading for a while, remember all that cheap/free soup? Why not heat it up, drain and send with your kids for lunch?
Switch it up. The main things you look for in a balanced lunch are:
A source of protein – ie: Meat, cheese/dairy, bean or peanut butter
A grain – ie: Bread, pasta or crackers
Fruits and Veggies – I switch out what we do weekly to follow the sales at the stores.
Now, use those ideas to make it different every day. Buy your lunchmeat in bulk and make up sandwiches for the freezer so they are ready to go. Prepackage peanut butter in small containers (in your cupboard, they don’t have to be cold!) to go with celery sticks. Buy chunk cheese in bulk and slice/dice it, then put it in the freezer (do the same with thick ham/turkey for homemade lunchables). Send bread and butter with veggie soup in the winter. We buy raisins in bulk and portion them into individual containers then store in the cupboard.
Make it fun. Let them help. It will save you time. The raisins are a good example. I have my kids wash their hands, then they set up a workstation and start making the cups! I’ve found that having them involved in the making, makes them want to eat the food.
Don’t forget a treat. My kids are well aware that if the other food comes home and the treat does not that the treat will go away for a bit. But I also don’t overdue it. 1-2 Oreos or similar cookie is enough to have something sweet. My kids have also been raised to consider granola and fruit bars as treats, so they often get those as well.