With school in full swing, I’ve had to figure out how to ensure that all four of my kids have school lunches packed each day, because I can’t afford the $7,682 bill I’d get from the school cafeteria each month if I didn’t. (Seriously, who had the idea to let third graders add a la carté chips and cookies to their meals?)
Because my week gets so busy, I’ve figured out how to do one massive lunch-packing session on the weekend, making all of their school lunches — and even packed lunch for me and my husband — for the whole week in under 30 minutes.
Here’s how I manage it, and what I do to keep the lunches fresh. Because, yes, they really do stay fresh all week long.
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Related: The essential school lunch shopping list: Everything you need to make packing school lunch easy.
Packing school lunch for the week: The prep
Every weekend, I make one trip to the grocery store to buy everything that I need for our breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for the whole week. (Yes, this means that I have to meal plan, but the weekly meal plans we publish here make that easy.) Once home, I set the bags on the kitchen table while I spread enough Fit Packer boxes across my counters to cover four lunches for each of us (because we all get to buy once a week).
Then — and this is key — I unload the groceries directly into the Fit Packer boxes.
Before anything goes into the fridge, I open packages of lunch meat, roll the slices up and place them into the lunch boxes. The package goes straight into the recycling. I pull the Pringles from the bag, pop open the box, divide them up, and toss the empty package into the trash. You get the point.
Transferring lunch items straight from the bag into our lunch boxes like this is so fast and eliminates the step of putting away a big portion of my groceries. It also opens up space in my fridge so that I have room to store all of the lunches I make.
The hardest part of this new lunch strategy is that, until Wednesday, my fridge is completely packed with Fit Packer boxes. In fact, I have even thought about getting a smaller dorm-sized fridge just for lunch boxes — but I haven’t gotten that far yet.
A note on Fit Packers boxes: Go ahead and get the 16-pack, even if you don’t need that many. Your kids will step on them or throw them away or they’ll just get disgusting over time. Eventually, you’ll use them all and the 16-pack is just a few dollars more than the 7-pack. If you prefer the bento-style boxes with compartments, they have those too.
Related: 5 items to buy at Costco to save a bundle on school lunch.
Packing school lunch for the week: The lunches
There are a million bento lunch ideas on Pinterest, and I rotate through the ten or so that my kids enjoy the most. If there’s a meal that’s made special for a picky kid — like a PB&J sandwich without the J — I’ll just put a note in the box, which is easy for the kids to read given the clear lids.
Note that my kids have access to a microwave in their lunchroom, which is how we make the DIY Pizzas and chicken nugget lunches work.
Related: More than 10 easy non-sandwich school lunch ideas.
Packing school lunch for the week: Keeping it fresh
This part is surprisingly easy, because there’s no weird trick. What keeps the food fresh is the very tight seal on these boxes. In fact, sometimes my first grader needs his teacher to help him open his box. Using the tiny souffle cups to hold items that I don’t want to get soggy or touching other food also helps. And when I make salads for myself — like the taco salad above — I keep the meat separate, especially if I plan to warm it up before I add it to the salad.
Edited to add: Many of our readers have been worried about my kids’ Pringles getting soggy as they sit and wait to be eaten. We appreciate your concern! My kids have never complained, so I tested some that had been packed four days ago. They still had a bit of crisp left to them, but they definitely didn’t taste like they do fresh out of the can. As I see it, we have options: Go ahead and pack them like this, but send the lunches with chips on the first day. Or, pack the chips in sandwich bags and leave them on the counter to grab along with your lunch as you head out the door. That said, my sliced red peppers are just as crispy on Friday as they were when I sliced them on Sunday.
Packing school lunch for the week: Is this crazy?
When I mentioned on my private Facebook page that I’ve started doing this, my feed exploded with comments asking how (and why) in the world I’d want to do all this at once. So much work. But, I have to say, not having to worry at all about lunches during the week is so worth it.
No more remembering that I need to pack lunches at the exact moment I’ve started the next Game of Thrones episode. No more rushing — and fussing at the kids — on school mornings because we’re running late.
Yes, my Sunday routine is busy. It takes some motivation to go to the grocery store and then immediately pack lunches, especially since I also prep all of our dinners for the week after that. But, getting 25-ish meals made in less than 30 minutes is so worth the effort. In fact, now that I’m in a groove, it honestly takes more like 15 minutes — especially if the kids help too.
Then, on school mornings, everyone just grabs a lunch on the way to the car.
Like I said, game changer.
I’m curious about the chicken nuggets and pizza with toppings. Do your kids eat these cold or room temp? I can’t imagine chicken nuggets tasting good not heated up? I’d love to know though how that works for your kids.
Liz, my kids’ lunchroom has a microwave that they’re allowed to use once they hit 2nd grade. So, they warm up the nuggets when they get to school. As for the pizzas, two of mine heat them up and one eats them cold…because he likes them that way. Weird!
Thank you for putting this article together! Game changer!
Amazing, right? Let us know how it goes!
Yay, Cher! Good luck. Let me know how your boys like them!
Where do you find those rectangular pizza crust?
I don’t know where she got hers, but our Costco sells multi-packs of rectangular flatbread, which if cut into quarters, looks a LOT like this. I bet that would work. Or mini-naan bread too.
Yes, Melanie! That’s exactly what I’ve done. Our grocery’s deli has circular pizza crusts near the naan, which I usually use (and cut in half) but they were out, so we went with this rectangular flat bread cut in 1/3.
Do you think the brand of boxes is a key to this all staying fresh?
Kristen, The Fit Packer boxes have done a great job in keeping everything fresh for me. They have a really tight seal. When I needed more, I tried these Freshware boxes and they’ve worked well too: http://rstyle.me/n/cteupuxb9w. They’re microwavable (which is great, since my kids’ lunchroom has a microwave) and dishwasher safe.
How long do those fit packet boxes last? Are they meant to be reusable? Thanks so much for the great ideas!
I absolutely love this. I’ve thought of it and never had the motivation. With a few edits, like packing a bunch of sandwiches or wraps into a glass Pyrex- (to save using the containers) then dividing into individual stainless lunch containers in the morning – I’ll be doing much better than I am now! I’m going to try this, thx for the motivation!
Omg sooo much plastic packaging waste.? So sad. ?.