Mia will pack her lunch most days and Nick will need to pack at least once a week (sometimes twice.) I'm trying not to obsess about perfection, but just spend some time and thought now on how to best use my time and money to create nutritious, enjoyable meals with a variety of options that I can mostly grab from the pantry or freezer and have ready to go. Let's be honest: it doesn't take that much time to throw together a pb&j or ham sandwich. But it's really, really nice to be able to grab one from the freezer to throw in a lunchbox. Packing the night before is really helpful with frozen stuff, it'll usually thaw by morning and you can heat or just leave it out to reach room temp by lunchtime for kids. So I've started making batches of stuff to eat for lunches now and stashing the extras in the freezer for school lunches and I though I'd share a few in case you're in need of ideas.
Muffins and Mini Muffins - Cranberry Apple Millet Muffins and Banana Blueberry Zucchini are on tap around here.
Smoothies - Make sure you make them extra thick and put them in the lunch in the morning and they'll be perfect by lunchtime!
Ravioli - They're inexpensive and so easy to just have in the freezer without any work and always make my kids happy. Heat in the morning and add some sauce (or not!) and they're ready to go.
Quesadillas - Fill a tortilla with cheese, beans, veggies, chicken, taco meat (whatever you have) baked them for 5(ish) mins on each side at 350 degrees. Cut them into wedges and freeze on baking sheets (it helps to keep them flat,) then throw them in big freezer bags or containers and grab a few when you need them. You can heat them or bake to warm them, but I think it's easiest to wrap in a napkin or paper towel to absorb any liquid and stick them in the lunch frozen. They'll be room temp by lunchtime.
Corn Dog Muffins - I first saw these on Pinterest and they're genius! I like the method of just making corn muffins and adding chopped up hot dogs rather than a big hunk in the middle, but do whatever makes you happy! Make it insanely easy by using a box mix (Bob's Red Mill and Arrowhead Mills make great versions that have ingredients that aren't complete junk!) or make corn muffins from scratch and add hot dogs before you bake. Freeze after cooking and pull out of the freezer the night before or defrost in the morning before adding to the lunch box.
PB&J, Ham & Cheese and other sandwiches - I know, I know. It's not that hard to throw together a sandwich in the morning. But it's so easy to make a bunch when you already have everything out. You can leave them whole, cut off crusts, cut out in fun shapes, use a cute sealer-and-decruster if you feel especially fun. I started doing this long before I needed to think about packing lunches for school and I'm always so happy to have them when we want to pack a lunch for a park or if we're going somewhere and my husband loves having some sort of sandwich ready to throw in a lunch since he leaves by 6:30am every day.
Beans + Rice - I always make more than I need and freeze in small portions. They love to add some cheese, sour cream, salsa and peppers to mix in.
Pasta with Tomato Sauce and Mini Meatballs - It's so easy to make a batch of pasta and freeze. I attempted homemade Spaghettios last week and it was a hot, hot mess. But pasta with sauce and meatballs? That I can do! I found the mini meatballs at Target and they were perfect. Freeze individual portions of pasta topped with sauce and meatballs (or sausage slices, they love that!) and heat in the morning.
Mini Pizza Crusts + Toppings (or just mini pizzas, but it's fun for them to put together!) - Use your favorite pizza crust recipe (here's my standby) and just bake in kid-size-serving rounds. Poke them a few times with a fork before baking to help to keep them flat. After they're baked, freeze. Nothing special is needed to defrost, just pull it out the night before or the morning of the lunch and add separate containers of sauce, shredded cheese and any toppings for kids to add at school. (Alternatively, you could throw in a mini pita or sandwich thin and they might not ever know the difference!)
Frozen Fruit: Make a big fruit salad with fresh or already frozen fruit, stir in a bit of sugar or a few tablespoons of orange juice (the sugar isn't necessary, it just helps to keep the fruit more crisp) and freeze in small containers. I do this all the time at home anyway in the winter - pulling out frozen fruit in the morning to thaw on the counter, then eating it at lunchtime - and it's always so great. The kids never care if it's a little sloppy, berries taste so good slushy!
If you're looking for a ridiculous amount of school lunch inspiration in general, check out my School Lunch Pinterest board! More ideas for lunches to come next week!