Back to school means back to school lunches and while we welcome getting kids back to a school routine, many of us grumble about school lunch making almost immediately.

I knew very early on in motherhood that making school lunches would not be my job for long, simply because I disliked doing it. As soon as the kids were counter height I started teaching them how to make their own school lunches. This meant I needed to come up with a simple system so they could start learning as early as Kindergarten and Grade 1.

I also wanted to make sure their school lunches were healthy and not just a bunch of packaged food tossed in a lunch bag. I have 3 very active kids that do many different sports and with our background in nutrition, I knew how important getting enough protein, fiber, fruit and calcium is to growing kids. 

So, the kids and I came up with a list of healthy options that they would eat and I introduced them to the 5 container system. The filling of these containers was divided into age appropriate responsibilities, and required them to work as a team to ensure each of them had a healthy full lunch to take to school. 

The youngest fills water bottles & extra snack containers, the next oldest fills fruit/veg and dairy containers and the oldest fills sandwich and whole grains containers.

Wondering if this container system will work over an extended period of time or will parents eventually take over school lunches again? We started this when the kids were just beginning full time school and rotated between who filled which containers. Once old enough, they all took on the responsibility of making their own lunch instead of spitting responsibilities.

I now have 2 kids in high school and the youngest is in grade 7 and I can honestly say I haven’t made a school lunch in almost 5 years and my kids are all healthy and well fed. #Momwin 

You can buy the fancy multi container lunch systems or you can use any shape or size containers that fit in the school lunch bag and create your own. The key is to have a specific container for each food group and to teach the kids what goes in which container – aiming for a variety of healthy options.

Container 1 – sandwich/hot meal in thermos
Container 2 – sliced fruit/vegetables
Container 3 – yogurt/dairy with berries
Container 4 – grains/homemade snacks
Container 5 – extra snack – pretzels, dry cereal

Combine the containers with a checklist of options available for each container and a stocked fridge and pantry and you have the perfect recipe for healthy school lunches the kids can make themselves.

Teaching Kids to Make School Lunches

Container 1 – Sandwich /Thermos (Whole Grains and Protein)
The sandwich container doesn’t just have to hold a sandwich. Make an extra batch of oatmeal pancakes or French toast on the weekend and freeze the leftovers so the kids can toast up, wrap in tin foil and slip in their sandwich container on school mornings. Mix it up by replacing whole grain bread with whole grain crackers or a wrap with nitrate free meat slices and send hot meals on cold days such as ravioli, stew or left over homemade chicken fingers in a thermos. The goal of this container is to provide whole grains and protein.

Made fresh:
Whole grain bread with turkey, chicken or ham slices
Tuna on whole grain English muffin
Hard boiled egg and pita chips
Kielbasa, whole grain crackers and cheese cubes
Whole grain bagel, cream cheese and cucumber or fruit jam
Grilled cheese on whole grain bread
WOW butter or seed spread, banana in a wrap

From the Freezer & Heated
Whole Grain French toast
Whole Wheat Waffles
Oatmeal Pancakes
Homemade Chicken Fingers
Homemade Mac n Cheese
Chicken Quesadilla
Meatball mini sub
Homemade Pizza
Ravioli and sauce

Container 2 – Fruit/Vegetables
Full of antioxidants and vitamins, a colourful variety of fruits and vegetables should be a part of every lunch box. They may not love all of them, but repeated exposure may encourage them to try something new. Have kids pick two or three from this list per week that way they get some variety and you only buy what they will eat for the week. I find preparing large container ahead with sliced fruit such as watermelon, grapes, mango, strawberries and apples helps younger kids pick the fruit they want for their smaller containers.

Fruit                                                       Vegetables
Strawberries                                            Cucumber
Banana                                                      Carrots
Melon                                                         Celery
Apples                                                        Cherry tomatoes
Grapes                                                       Red Pepper slices
Orange slices                                            Broccoli
Mango                                                        Cauliflower
Blueberries or raspberries

Container 3 – Yogurt (Diary/Calcium)
Yogurt, yogurt based dips, milk based puddings and protein filled spreads can fill this container for something a little different. Calcium is the goal but substituting apple sauce or hummus still provides healthy options.

Greek yogurt with frozen berries
Cottage cheese with fruit
Homemade pudding 
Hummus for dipping veggies
Cheese cubes
Apple sauce

Container 4 – Baked or Whole Grain Snack Bars
Full of fibre and protein, providing snacks made with whole grain and real fruit everyday gives kids an energy boost that is healthy and not just a sugar fix. Make your own whole grain snacks or carefully choose store bought snack bar that is low in saturated fat, artificial flavours, colours, preservatives and added sugar.

Spinach Brownies
Oatmeal Applesauce Muffins
Double Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies with Zucchini
Nut Free Chocolate Protein Cookies
Oatmeal Banana Bread
IronKids Nutrition Snack Bars

Container 5 – Extra Snacks

This snack container is used as an ‘extra’ if they are super hungry that day or as a treat if we happen to have any hanging around. Most of the time it is filled with healthy options such as dried cereal or low fat snacks, but sometimes a gummy bear sneaks in there.

Whole grain crackers
Whole grain pretzels
Rice Cakes or Crackers
Shreddies/cheerios/ low sugar cereal
Roasted Chickpeas or Apple Chips
Air popped Popcorn

Sit with your kids and make up your own list of all their favourites and pick out the perfect sized container for each. Print it out in a chart or on fun paper and hang inside a kitchen cupboard so the kids can reference the list when making school lunches.  In no time it will become routine and the kids will be kicking you out of the kitchen, more than capable of making their school lunches themselves.

PIN this to your Back to School Pinterest Board for easy reminder.

School Lunches Made Simple Kids Can Do It!_PIN