Streamlining Your School Lunch Routine

by Amy Hemmert and Tammy Pelstring

It’s 6:45 a.m. The morning news is making it’s way to your sleepy brain, and you realize that it’s time to haul your tired body out of bed: time to get the kids up, get them dressed, and get them fed. And then you remember…LUNCH. You wish you could make it fun, healthy, and cost-effective too. But the clock is ticking, and you have to think FAST, so peanut butter and jelly it is, along with a bag of chips, an apple, a single-serve yogurt, a power bar, and a juice box.


It’s not as NUTRITIOUS as you’d like, and the single-serve packaging makes it a bit more expensive too, but it’s fast, CONVENIENT, and you know the kids will eat it. Make it through today, and you’ll be able to make changes tomorrow. If this story sounds familiar to you, and you’re tired of racing around in the morning only to find yourself stuck in the peanut butter and jelly rut, then these 10 strategies for improving your lunch routine may be just what you need. It just might change the way you feel when you wake up in the morning.


Don’t WAIT until tomorrow or the next day or the day after that. You only have a few years to shape your kids’ eating habits. And if you get them trained to each expensive, processed, high-sugar, high-fat convenience foods now, they will be doing it their whole lives. HABITS are much harder to break down the road.


TALK to your children about their lunches. Find out what nutritious items from each food group they’d like to see in their lunches. Provide healthy choices and allow them to CHOOSE from among them. A complete list of fruits and vegetables, grains, and proteins can be found at‘s Laptop Lunches product page under “lunch ideas”. Print off the list, sit down with your children, and ask them to circle the foods that they’d like to see in their lunches.
(we have also posted the list at the bottom of this article)


Take your hildren’s lists to the GROCERY store with you. Encourage your children to help pick the items from the shelf and put them in the cart. Practice reading INGREDIENTS labels together. If the items you select are high in fat, sugar, salt, and artificial colorings and flavors, put them back. Search for more nutritious alternatives. Children are more likely to eat wholesome foods that they’ve had a hand in choosing and preparing.


Make sure you keep the right foods in STOCK. Keep a copy of your lunch list in your wallet or purse so you’ll have it when you find yourself at the grocery store unexpectedly. Make purchasing nutritious lunch items part of your WEEKLY shopping routine. Keep dried fruits and nuts (for older children) on hand for use when the cupboard is growing bare.



Don’t forget about leftovers! Packing leftovers in your child’s lunch can save you TIME and energy, and kids love them. When you’re deciding what to cook for dinner, think about how you might incorporate leftovers into a lunch for the following day. Make a few EXTRA servings for dinner and pack them in small containers (stored in the the refrigerator) for lunch the next day. Here are a few ideas for making it work:

* If you make chicken breasts or grilled vegetables, prepare an extra serving and slice it for SANDWICHES the next day instead of purchasing deli lunch meat.

* If you’re making a salad for dinner, slice some extra VEGETABLES, such as cucumbers, carrots, bell peppers, and celery — and pack some extra dressing for dip.

* While you’re making dinner, boil a few EGGS. Pack the eggs whole, make deviled eggs, or use them in egg salad.

* Make extra pasta, couscous, or rice and make side SALADS for lunch by cutting up vegetables and adding salad dressing.

* Make an extra baked POTATO and pack it with nutritious toppings.

If you’re worried that it might seem less appealing the following day, consider packing it for lunch TWO days later, provided the food will remain fresh for an extra day.


When you’re doing the dinner CLEAN-UP, line up your lunch containers and fill them with wholesome food for the next day. In the morning you’ll be glad you did!


Make sure you have a set of reusable CONTAINERS clearly marked with your child’s name. Purchase a set of utensils that are the right size for your child. Invest in a sturdy refillable WATER bottle instead of relying on expensive, high-sugar single-serve juice boxes, cans, and pouches. Water is what your child’s body needs. For an all-in-one lunch system, consider the
Laptop Lunches kit.




Buying in bulk is less costly because you’re not paying for the PACKAGING. Purchasing in bulk allows you to purchase in QUANTITIES that are right for you. It’s a great way to try new foods too since you can purchase in small quantities to start. Kids love scooping and pouring these items too, so it’s a great way to keep them engaged in the lunchmaking process.


Children of all ages can (and should!) HELP make lunches. Even small children can pick up a few carrots and put them into a lunch container. Older children can make sandwiches, cut fruit, and fill water bottles. They can also take RESPONSIBILITY for rinsing out their containers when they get home from school.


Stick with it and congratulate yourself often because your children are eating BETTER and you’re spending LESS on food. And the next time that alarm goes off and you’re struggling to get out of bed, give yourself a few extra minutes to relax because your school lunches have already been made.

Amy Hemmert and Tammy Pelstring, two California moms, are co-authors of The Laptop Lunch User’s Guide: Fresh Ideas for Packing Wholesome, Earth-friendly Lunches Your Kids Will Love. Together they created the Laptop Lunch System, a set of compartmentalized food containers, utensils and water bottle that sit neatly inside a stylish insulated carrying case. All of their products are available directly through

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  • 1 slice of whole-grain bread
  • 1/2 cup of cooked whole-grain cereal, rice, or pasta


  • 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables
  • 1/2 cup of other vegetables


  • 1 medium apple, orange, pear, peach, or plum
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1/2 cup of chopped fruit


  • 1 cup of skim or 1% milk or calcium-enriched soy milk
  • 1 cup of yogurt or cottage cheese
  • 1 1/2 ounces of reduced fat cheese
  • 1/2 cup of cubed tofu (made with calcium sulfate)
  • 1/2 cup of broccoli, spinach, turnip greens, chard, kale
  • 3 ounces of canned salmon


  • 2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish
  • 1/2 cup of cooked dry beans or tofu
  • 2 1/2 ounce soyburger
  • 1 egg or egg substitute
  • 2 tablespoons of nut butter or soy nut butter
  • 1/3 cup of nuts


  • bagel
  • baguette
  • bread sticks
  • crackers
  • English muffin
  • focaccia
  • lavash bread
  • pita bread
  • pizza bread
  • rice cakes
  • rolls
  • sandwich bread
  • tortillas


  • almond butter
  • apple butter
  • avocado (mashed)
  • banana (mashed)
  • brie cheese
  • cashew butter
  • cream cheese (lowfat)
  • goat cheese
  • honey
  • hummus
  • jam (spreadable fruit)
  • ketchup
  • mayonnaise/mustard
  • peanut butter
  • pesto
  • pizza or tomato sauce
  • pumpkin butter


  • carrots (shredded)
  • cheese (lite/low-fat)
  • chicken
  • chicken salad
  • egg salad
  • hard boiled egg
  • nitrite-free hot dogs
  • lettuce
  • shrimp salad
  • sliced avocado
  • sliced cucumber
  • smoked salmon
  • sprouts
  • tofu
  • tuna salad


  • apples
  • apricots
  • Asian pears
  • avocado
  • bananas
  • blueberries
  • cherries
  • cranberries (dried)
  • dates
  • figs
  • grapefruit
  • grapes
  • kiwi
  • mango
  • melon
  • nectarines
  • orange sections
  • papaya
  • peaches
  • pears
  • pineapple
  • plums
  • prunes
  • raisins
  • raspberries
  • strawberries
  • tomatoes


  • asparagus
  • beets
  • bell peppers
  • bok choy
  • broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cabbage
  • carrots
  • cauliflower
  • celery
  • cucumbers
  • eggplant
  • green beans
  • green salad
  • lettuce
  • mushrooms
  • seaweed (nori, wakame, hijiki)
  • shelling peas
  • snap peas
  • soy beans (edamame)
  • spinach
  • squash
  • sweet potatoes
  • yams
  • zucchini


  • apple crisp
  • applesauce
  • baked chips with salsa
  • dried fruit
  • fruit bar
  • fruit leather
  • granola
  • homemade cookies
  • notes from home
  • popcorn
  • pretzels
  • stickers
  • trail mix
  • vanilla yogurt with fruit


  • Cheese, avocado, and sprouts
  • Grilled cheese with cucumber or sprouts
  • Leftover grilled vegetables with cheese or pesto sauce
  • Cheddar or mozzarella cheese with apple slices
  • Brie cheese with mustard and sprouts
  • Cheese, tomato, sprouts or lettuce, and pesto sauce
  • Leftover turkey loaf with tomatoes, and lettuce or sprouts
  • Sliced leftover turkey, cranberry sauce, and lettuce
  • Sliced leftover chicken, honey mustard, tomatoes, and lettuce or sprouts
  • Sliced leftover beef with mayonnaise or horseradish, sliced tomato and cucumbers
  • Chicken salad made with celery, lettuce, and tomato
  • Tuna/cucumber/green pepper salad with tomato
  • Salmon salad with lettuce or sprouts
  • Shrimp salad with lettuce or sprouts
  • Lowfat cream cheese, and smoked salmon (with tomato, and red onion)

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