7 Back To School Hacks for Pandemic Lunch Packing

by Victoria Le Maire, RD, LD

Last Updated: September 16, 2020

Life as we know it looks somewhat different as we begin the 2020-2021 school year. Parents are juggling multiple school schedules and are faced with new challenges due to the pandemic. In addition to adapting to hybrid learning, many parents must also shift to preparing school lunches. Buffet style lunches are no longer allowed in school cafeterias, which might encourage parents and their children to plan to pack lunch. Whether your family is doing remote learning or getting geared up to pack lunch for your kids on the daily, these simple suggestions will ensure you’re on track to succeed at building healthy, affordable, and convenient meals.
  1. Planning
    Start by understanding your child’s preferences and use this for guidance. What do they like to eat at home? Is it possible to shift that into a portable option? Have them write down a list of foods that they enjoy on school days. Add these items to your grocery list to make sure you’re well stocked each week. If you want to utilize Pickup or delivery, your children can add their own items or preferences to your Kroger.com account and pull meal items from these lists as you create your online cart each week.

    What does a healthy meal look like? A balanced meal consists of at least three out of the five food groups. Aim to round out meals with fruits and vegetables to promote continued optimal growth. Check out MyPlate for more tips and information.
  2. Preparing
    It might be necessary to use products like plastic utensils and sandwich or snack storage bags. Consider using paper bags rather than plastic as they are compostable and are an environmentally friendly method. These bags can be easily thrown away after meals to help keep students, educators and school employees safe and healthy. You can also use parchment paper and tape to wrap up a deli sandwich or sub.

    When preparing lunch meals consider portable convenient foods that may not require additional packaging.
  3. Fruits
    Fresh apples, bananas and clementines are fruits that don’t need packaging since they’re inherently protected by their peel. Alternatively, consider buying fruit cups packaged in 100% fruit juice as these are budget-friendly shelf-stable options that can easily be stored in your pantry for ahead of the school week. Have an eater that craves sweet things? Try dried fruit like raisins, cranberries or cherries.
  4. Vegetables
    Look for “snack pack” options for vegetable servings. Carrots can be a simple solution to help boost the nutrition of a school lunch. Did you know vegetable cups are also an option? These can be another helpful way to get a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals in your child’s meal.
  5. Grains
    Aim for whole grain crackers when choosing a crunchy snack for a boost of fiber. You can also add some ready-to-eat whole grain cereal into the mix.

    *Tip: a budget-friendly option would be portioning out crackers or cereal from a “family size” box at the beginning of the week and having them ready ahead of time!
  6. Dairy
    A great way to boost your child’s dairy intake lies within a string cheese stick or a cheese wedge. These are the perfect partner for a whole grain cracker!
  7. Protein
    Another “snack-pack” solution is packing a tuna pouch into your child's lunch ensuring they feel full and satisfied after their meal is complete. Add low sodium nuts and seeds for a crunchy plant-based option.

After you’ve gotten your groceries, it could be a fun idea to make preparing lunches a family event. Schedule packing lunches into your morning or evening routine. Have each child build their own lunch based on the principles discussed here. In no time, this will be less of a chore and more of a family activity, which leaves more opportunity for quality time among family members.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.

Victoria Le Maire, RD, LD

Victoria Le Maire, RD, LD

Victoria is a dedicated dietitian with a love for helping others develop a positive relationship with food, while setting realistic goals. Victoria has professional experience with various conditions such as strokes, diabetes and weight management. She strives to make a nutritious lifestyle attainable for all. You can catch Victoria scratch-cooking at home, trying new workouts at her local gym or spending time with her dog, Jack.