The Ultimate List of School Lunch Must Haves

The thing I dread most as the warm days of summer draw to an end and the air holds the hint of an autumn chill…is packing school lunch.

I live in Upstate New York, our children go to school when there’s 3 feet of snow on the ground, and they have recess as long as the temperature is above 20 degrees Fahrenheit. They waddle outside, bundled up like Randy from A Christmas Story, and give half-hearted attempts at 25 minutes of state recommended play.

They try their best to bend their little snow-pant clad bodies through the tunnels and onto the swings. They can’t really pump their legs, but you wouldn’t want to create a breeze in that weather anyway. No, Upstate NY kids know better than that.

Full speed on a swing at 20 degrees can cause a negative temperature wind chill. They know not to try to monkey bars without gloves or else you’ll stick to them. They adapt.

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Mostly they’re just cold and waiting to go back inside.

With that brutal arctic imagery in your head, I now need you to understand that I hate packing school lunch more than I hate that weather. If I had to choose one daily inconvenience, I would rather skid into the school parking lot at a semi-dangerous speed, because we missed the bus while I was trying to shovel us out, than pack a lunch.

It’s dramatic, yes. But it’s not untrue.

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If you feel this way too, I totally get you. If you’d rather shove bamboo shoots underneath your fingernails than ever pack another school lunch, then you’ve come to the right place.

There are products out there that make the process run smoothly.

Never again will you be standing in your kitchen, staring at an empty lunch box wondering what the heck you should put in it and why, just WHY, can’t the cafeteria serve chicken nuggets and strawberries every day exclusively, since that’s all the kid eats anyway.

Never again will you be frustrated by your child bringing home two pieces of soggy bread that she licked the peanut butter out of like a dog while sitting at the lunch table among other students.

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Never again, Wonder Moms, will you place a Wal-Mart grocery order for pick up just because you don’t want other people to see how many Lunchables you buy.

I present to you: The Ultimate List of School Lunch Must Haves, created by me, hater of all things school lunch.

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Lunchboxes!

These organizational wonders will make packing lunch easier than a walk alone through every aisle of Target, with a Grande White Chocolate Mocha Latte, no whip.

YUMBOX: If your little cherub doesn’t have a YUMBOX, you’ve never really happily packed a lunch. The YUMBOX comes in a variety of colors and designs, so you’re sure to find one that your kid loves.

Designs aside, this lunchbox comes equipped with six individual compartments. Each is labeled, with an appropriate portion size for each food group. The YUMBOX contains compartments for dairy, protein, grains, fruits and veggies, with a small space for dipping sauce or even a handful of M&M’s!

The YUMBOX contains compartments for dairy, protein, grains, fruits and veggies, with a small space for dipping sauce or even a handful of M&M’s!

YUMBOX was built to be completely leak proof, and it is! My daughter, for example, loves to bring chips and salsa or yogurt and granola for lunch. The yogurt doesn’t leak out of the YUMBOX, and it also doesn’t leak into the other compartments!

This fact alone makes your lunch options endless.

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As long as your child can snap it closed, they can toss it into their backpack without making a huge mess. Am I the only one who has thrown out an entire backpack due to a spill? I know I’m not.

YUMBOX is slim, lightweight, BPA and phalate free and made with completely food safe materials. While the company states that it’s top rack dishwasher safe, I highly recommend taking the time to hand wash it. You’ll extend the life of the product tenfold.

A YUMBOX is a great investment, and packing a lunch will go from a hot coal walk to a walk in the park!

BENTGO BOX: It’s kind of like the YUMBOX, only not. This time around, you’ll get six compartments…but they aren’t labeled. Blasphemy! The Bentgo is like the YUMBOX for mom’s who are lunch independent.

On a serious note, this is a great lunchbox. It doesn’t leak, and each serving of food will stay put. The Bentgo was designed for kids who don’t have the time to place their lunchbox neatly into their bag before they head to the bus.

It comes with a free 30 recipe cookbook, full of healthy lunch ideas and meal plans. I use the recipe book more than I use the actual lunchbox.

I use the recipe book more than I use the actual lunchbox.

Bentgo also has a charitable side. They work with Feed the Children, a non-profit that gives resources to hungry children and their families. Bentgo has pledged to donate a minimum of $100,000 to Feed the Children through 2018.

I owned the Bentgo Box before the YUMBOX, and I still use it consistently. The YUMBOX caters to the lazy in me by making me think less, but the Bentgo is a reliable, durable option.

★★★

Recipe hacks…

Make healthy lunches easily with zero effort. Well, almost zero.

HOMEMADE LUNCHABLES: The reason we’re obsessed with Lunchables is because everything is already done for us. The reason our kids are obsessed with Lunchables is because they’re full of tasty preservatives and nitrates.

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The good news is, you can make the same exact thing at home with minimal effort. Get your hands on some nitrate free deli turkey or ham. Aldi makes a wonderful version of both for a very reasonable price.

You can use a biscuit cutter to make each slice into a circle, but my child doesn’t mind them piled up, as long as they have their own compartment, of course.

For the cheese, choose cheddar and cut them into square, thin slices. I try to use the Organic Valley block cheese if it’s readily available. If not, Trader Joe’s makes a delicious cheddar block cheese!

Toss a pile of Ritz butter crackers in the mix and you’ve got yourself a homemade Lunchable. The aforementioned lunch boxes will hold these perfectly, with room for sides.

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Speaking of sides…

I’m the type of person who does not get up early. I’ve been trying and failing for about 10 years now. Sunday’s are a great day for meal prep. Unfortunately, I suck at that too.

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Let my lack of dedication benefit you. I’ve got three of the best recipes ever for lunch sides. They will compliment your homemade Lunchable hack perfectly, and your kids will wolf them down.

ENERGY BITES: These versatile little buggers can be made in so many different ways. You can switch up flavors and add on ingredients easily, tailoring them to what your littles love. I make mine the same way pretty much every time – and then toss in anything yummy I have laying around.

Tools:

A bowl and your hands

Ingredients:

1 cup dry oatmeal

1/2 cup chocolate chips/peanut butter chips/M&M’s (try holiday colors for a Christmas treat!)

1/2 cup organic nut butter

1/2 cup ground flaxseed or shredded coconut

1/3 cup of raw honey

1 tsp vanilla

Combine all ingredients into the bowl and fold it together with your hands. Form into balls and place on a baking sheet in the refrigerator to chill.

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COOKIE DOUGH DIP: It’s not cookie dough, but your kids will have no freaking idea. Mine shovel this into their little gullets by the spoonful. It’s also great with pretzels and graham crackers.

Tools:

Food processor or blender

Ingredients:

1 can of chickpeas, drained, rinsed and patted dry

1/8 tsp of salt

14 tsp baking soda – IMPORTANT! This will give the dish its cookie dough texture

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup of nut butter (I’ve used peanut, cashew and almond butter in this recipe. All are delicious, but peanut butter gives a nice, peanut butter cookie dough taste)

1/4 cup of milk for thinning the mixture

**You’ll be able to tell if you need milk when you’ve finished blending. I include it in the recipe every time, because there has never been a time where I didn’t need it. I use Unsweetened Vanilla Almond milk, but coconut or skim is just as delish.

A heaping ¼ cup to ½ cup brown sugar, to taste

Mini chocolate chips – as many as you see fit

3 Tbsp of oatmeal

Everything but the chocolate chips will go into the food processor. Mix until the beans are silky smooth, and then fold in chocolate chips. Chill. Devour.

★★★

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VANILLA FRUIT SALAD: This little side dish is so refreshing, and you can use any fruit you’d like in the recipe. It’s versatile and ridiculously easy to make. Plus your kids will love it. Mine love it, and these are children that I sometimes have to bribe to eat pizza.

Tools:

A bowl

Ingredients:

4 cups of your favorite fresh fruit (I prefer strawberries, green grapes, fresh mango, fresh peaches and blackberries)

½ cup – 1 cup lemon juice (fresh or bottled)

2 Tbsp vanilla pudding mix

Combine your sliced fruit and gently toss it in a bowl. Strain lemon juice over any fruit that may brown (bananas and apples). Continue to mix thoroughly, adding the pudding mix as you go. It is so good!

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There you have it. My go-to self made guide to surviving lunch throughout the school year. I also get by with a variety of pre-packaged cookies and snacks from Brandless.com. Organic with gluten free options for $3 each, you can’t beat it.

If this eliminates morning stress for at least one of you, then I feel I’ve done my job. If anything, it will give you a break from the monotonous routine of peanut butter and jelly and Goldfish crackers. Best of luck mama’s…and Godspeed. Only eight more months until summer vacation!★

★Want more tips, tricks and products to hack the dreaded packed lunch? This month Mommy Hacks  helps you win at parenting, one packed lunch at a time. Head over to Mommy Hacks today to receive our welcome box, The Art of Packed Lunch!★

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Chelsie Dautrich is a full time freelancer/online shopper and work at home mom. She lives in Upstate New York with her two girls, one husband and one rescue dog. Likes: Coffee, shopping, the written word, horses and really long walks without her phone. Dislikes: Making dinner, lines and reduced fat Oreos.

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