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

Lunch packing tips: How I pack a week's worth of lunches on Sunday and keep them fresh all week long | Cool Mom Eats

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

Smart lunch packing tips: Chicken Nugget lunch | Photo (c) Kate Etue for Cool Mom Eats

Frozen organic chicken nuggets, yogurt squeezer, grapes, and Partake Foods gluten-free and vegan carrot oat cookies (shh, don’t tell my kids they’re healthy)

 

Smart lunch packing tips: Protein lunch | Photo (c) Kate Etue for Cool Mom Eats

Sliced deli meat, protein-packed granola bar, string cheese, frozen edamame (which will thaw by the time they get to school), almonds, and grapes

 

Smart lunch packing tips: Paleo lunch | Photo (c) Kate Etue for Cool Mom Eats

For the grown up paleo-friendly lunches: deli meat, red peppers, edamame, and almonds. We usually add hummus, but I ran out! The white pill is our calcium supplement, so we don’t forget to take it.

 

Smart lunch packing tips: peanut butter rollups | Photo (c) Kate Etue for Cool Mom Eats

Peanut butter rollups, Pringles, mini m&ms, and grapes (they were on sale this week!)

 

Smart lunch packing tips: Taco Salad | Photo (c) Kate Etue for Cool Mom Eats

Another paleo-friendly lunch: Romaine, corn, back beans, tomatoes, and guacamole. I also cook some chicken ahead of time, but store it separately so that I can reheat it before topping the salad. 

 

Smart lunch packing tips: DIY Pizzas | Photo (c) Kate Etue for Cool Mom Eats

The kids’ favorite DIY Pizzas: Two pre-cooked pizza crusts, pizza sauce, organic pepperoni, shredded mozzarella cheese. You can add olives, green peppers, or pineapple slices too!

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?

Lunch packing tips: Do it all at once -- it works and stays fresh. This is how. | Cool Mom Eats

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.

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