It’s that time of year—back to school! As we welcome the back-to-school season, parents everywhere are dusting off their little’s lunchboxes (and their own lunch box packing skills).
Your home may be extra wild right now as your family adjusts to a new school schedule and you’re managing supply lists, extracurriculars, and grocery lists. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and exhausted, I get it.
So today, I’m going to share four tried-and-true recipes for school lunches and seven tips and tricks to make your packing process easier.
Cheap and Easy Lunch Box Recipes
First things first, I’m a huge fan of the PFCF formula. That stands for protein, fat, and carbs with fiber. These are the categories I aim to cover in packed lunches for my littles. However, remember, lunch is just one meal in the day—it doesn’t have to be perfect. So as you look at the following recipe ideas, think about how you can cover all of these categories in your own little lunches.
1. Banana Sushi
This consists of a banana, a tortilla, and some kind of nut butter. I also love to sprinkle in flaxseed or chia seeds.
Add your ingredients to the tortilla, roll it up, and cut it just like sushi. My littles love it and I’m secretly hoping this will prepare them for real sushi later on.
2. Pasta Salad
The next dish I love is pasta salad. Pasta salad can easily cover all of your PFCF bases. It can also be served hot or cold. Both proteins and dressings can easily be changed, and these can help to completely change up the flavors and experience of your pasta salad without changing the core ingredients. Make it with chickpea pasta for an even bigger boost.
3. Classic Quesadillas
Another household classic is quesadillas. You can certainly take a traditional route and serve cheese or cheese and chicken quesadillas. Looking for something a little extra fun? Me too—I love to think outside the box.
For those willing to try new combinations, try a kale and white cheddar quesadilla—or pureed sweet potato and cheese. In my Revamp system, I go through a bunch of quesadilla ideas. The possibilities are endless!
4. Breakfast for Lunch
One of my favorite and cheapest lunches is breakfast for lunch. This could include things like scrambled eggs, quiche, waffles, pancakes, and French toast sticks. All of these things make for an excellent lunch because they travel and reheat well, and kids love them.
Of course—right? Leftovers are a great way to not only “meal prep” ahead of time but save time and money in the kitchen. However, I recommend introducing leftovers in a new way. For example, say you had stir fry last night. Instead of just plopping it into a container for lunch, try putting it in a quesadilla or wrap of some kind.
Get creative. Just like adults, kids don’t want to see the same thing for three days in a row either. With a little creativity, you can breathe fresh life into those leftovers.
Lunch Box Tips and Hacks
1. Embrace the Sandwich
I often hear parents looking to avoid sandwiches. So my first tip of the day is to remember that anything that can go onto a sandwich can also be made in a wrap, an English muffin, a bagel, croissants, or even crackers.
With that said, don’t be afraid of sandwiches. Sandwiches are a versatile food that can cover all of the PFCF formulas.
2. Browse the Grocery Aisle for Inspiration
Don’t be afraid to steal. To be clear, I’m talking about inspiration here (don’t actually steal anything).
Lunchables can be a backup plan for those crazy mornings or days when you forget to put something together and are on the way out the door. But if you’re looking for something with more of a homemade touch, try replicating pre-made meals you’ve found in the store.
For example, the pizza Lunchables consist of pizza rounds, pizza sauce, cheese, and maybe a topping or two. You could easily recreate that yourself while saving money at the same time. The same is true for the cheese, ham, and cracker Lunchables.
This is where the “stealing” comes in. Don’t be afraid to consult with the pre-made lunch aisle at your local grocery store for inspiration. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to make tasty and nutritional lunches.
3. Batch Your Lunches
A lot of the time, we spend more time switching between tasks. That’s when you switch from grabbing the peanut butter, jelly, and bread to grabbing the containers and the lunch boxes. To save time, prepare 2 or 3 lunches at once.
I like to pack Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday together. And then, on Wednesday, I prepare for Thursday and Friday.
Now, as a picky-eater specialist, I don’t recommend packing the same thing over and over. Change it up! Sometimes that’s as simple as changing the presentation (from sandwich to wrap, for example) or changing a side item. Even one small change makes a big difference!
4. Create and Rotate
Use some sort of rotation.
This will take some trial and error, but commit to finding 10+ lunches your child loves and put them on rotation.
For some, this might mean Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Wing (Chicken) Wednesdays, Leftover Thursdays, and Fish Fridays (or whatever meals your littles love).
For others, it could mean you simply have 10+ recipes you know by heart and can prepare in those Mon-Wed and Thurs-Fri groups.
The beauty of this hack is that it’s entirely personalized. If it works for you to have the same thing every Monday, then do that. But maybe it means Mondays are for sandwiches, and that gives you the necessary wiggle room to let your creativity soar.
5. Create a Lunch Box Packing Zone
Create a lunch-making zone in your fridge and pantry. Now, try and keep this out of reach of the kids so your string cheese supply isn’t emptied throughout the week.
I love keeping all of my lunch box packing ingredients in zones, whether that’s a single bin or a single shelf. This makes it easy to access all of your ingredients quickly. Say goodbye to searching for the applesauce cups!
6. Get Your Kids Involved
Get your kids involved in the lunch box packing process. Not your thing? I get it. I also love to unwind at the end of the night, put on my favorite podcast, and pack away. But, if it’s right for you, I recommend getting your littles involved. This gives them more autonomy and helps them feel ownership over what they’re going to eat the next day.
7. Freeze Your Food
Freeze some food! I’m not saying freeze an entire lunch and send it with them on the bus. Sometimes, just freezing one or two components can be beneficial.
First, it saves you money because food doesn’t go bad as quickly when it’s frozen. Second, freezing some components of a packed lunch can support your ice pack in keeping the lunchbox cool throughout the day. And third, freezing food can make it easier to pack. Just like pre-packaged food, frozen food is often easier to grab and go.
So what foods are good for freezing? I love freezing yogurt tubes, whether they’re store-bought or homemade. Juice boxes and juice pouches also freeze well. (And as a bonus, freezing juice frees up fridge space.) Uncrustables are another great example. They’re frozen in stores, so don’t be afraid to freeze your own homemade PB&J.
There you have it—a rich collection of lunch box packing tips and tricks to make the back-to-school transition a breeze. By embracing the PFCF formula and incorporating some fun and creative recipes in your rotation, you can ensure your child looks forward to lunchtime.
As you experiment, remember the goal is to make lunch box packing cost-efficient, faster, and less stressful while covering nutritional needs.
Before you finish dusting off your home’s lunch boxes, I encourage you to explore Revamp, the ultimate variety meal plan that will help you revolutionize your lunch box packing. This tool consists of 70 pages and 100 recipes for your littles, so you can bid farewell to recipe ruts and welcome a variety of healthy meals into your daily routine. Take the next step in enhancing your lunch box packing adventure and visit the Revamp menu today.