Want your kids to pack (or make) their own lunches? Here’s how to create lunch stations in your pantry, fridge, and freezer.
This post was created in partnership with Produce For Kids.
Whether “back to school” means in-person, online, or some of both for your kids, one thing remains the same change: They still eat lunch every day.
If you’re already zapped from summer lunches, the idea of back-to-school lunches may feel utterly exhausting. Lunch stations to the rescue!
I created lunch stations for my kids a few years ago to help them pack their own lunch boxes. And it worked! So well, in fact, that I kept the system going. But it can easily work for kids who are prepping their own lunches at home too.
How to make lunch stations
Here’s what you do: Corral frequently-packed or prepped items into three bins: one for the refrigerator, one for the freezer, and one for the counter or pantry. Your bins don’t need to be fancy, but here are some options like the ones shown here:
You kids can obviously choose other things to pack or make, but these bins create good starting points. (And I don’t know about your kids, but sometimes mine need help narrowing down the options–or they may not even notice the can of soup in the pantry or the burrito in the freezer unless I point it out.)
Lunch stations are also a way for you to make packing and making healthy choices a little bit easier. Decide together what you include, and swap out the items regularly to encourage variety. Here are ideas to get you started:
Counter Lunch Station Ideas
- Bread, bagels, and tortillas
- Nuts & seeds
- Boxes of macaroni and cheese
- Cups or cans of soup
- Fruit cups (packed in juice)
- Trail mix
- Unsweetened applesauce
- Dried and freeze-dried fruit
- Energy bars
- Pouches of tuna and salmon
- Canned beans such as refried beans
- Dried seaweed
- Squeeze packets or jars of nut or seed butter
- Whole grain crackers
- Mini boxes of raisins
- Homemade muffins
Refrigerator Lunch Station Ideas
- Containers of leftovers
- Pre-washed salad greens
- Deli meat + cheese
- Baby carrots
- Pre-washed veggies like sugar snap peas and broccoli florets
- Cups of ranch dip
- Cheese sticks and individually wrapped cheese wedges
- Yogurt in cups or tubs
- Washed and chopped fruit
- Individual cups of hummus, guacamole, or cottage cheese
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Individual boxes of milk (dairy or non-dairy)
- Homemade energy bites/bars
- Washed grapes
Freezer Lunch Station Ideas
- Frozen veggie burgers
- Frozen edamame
- Frozen burritos
- Frozen pasta (ravioli, tortellini)
- Frozen vegetables
At what age can kids pack or make their own lunch?
All kids are different. Obviously, young children will need help making or packing their own lunches, but even preschoolers can learn tasks like spreading nut butter on bread and pouring a drink. Young grade-school kids can select items for their lunches and prep simple things. This pediatrician and author of Raising An Organized Child says kids can start packing their own lunches starting in third grade.
Need help teaching your kids to pack their own lunches?
My free 5-day email course, Pack Your Own (Darn) Lunch, walks you through the basics of passing off the job. It includes resources, recipes, and printables to make it easy (and, dare I say, fun). Sign up for the free email course here and soon you’ll be putting your feet up with a cup of coffee or glass of wine instead of packing lunches.
About My Partner: Produce For Kids
I currently serve as the official dietitian for Produce For Kids, a cause marketing organization dedicated to creating a healthier generation. Since their start in 2002 by Shuman Farms, Produce for Kids has raised more than $7 million to benefit children and families. They work closely with Feeding America and other charities that benefit children and families nationwide.
I wrote this post as part of their annual Power Your Lunchbox campaign, which helps families set up a routine for nutritious lunches. This year, the program’s brand partners (including the products from Zespi Kiwifruit, Litehouse, and Crispy Green shown above) have committed to a donation to United Fresh Start Foundation to increase access to fresh produce for children and families.
Produce For Kids also has loads of healthy recipes and family-friendly tips on their website, and they’re really fun to follow on Instagram (sometimes you’ll find me there doing IG Lives!). Or join their Facebook Group, The Healthy Family Project, to talk about feeding kids.
I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.