Back to school lunches girlfriend adviceHey Girlfriend — are you and your kids ready for school to start?

Many of the school districts in the mid-west have already begun classes with the remainder set to start in the next few weeks. Even in areas of the country where kids don’t return to school until after Labor Day, there seems to be a sense of getting ready for back to school.

Everywhere I look there are articles about making school lunches fun and healthy. These are articles are well-reasoned, creative, and full of great food that my kids won’t eat.

So here are five tips that actually work in my house. I hope they help in your house too.

Have the Kids Create the Menu

After one too many crazy mornings punctuated by a request for lunch to be something we didn’t have, I mandated the menu system.

Menus must be completed Sunday afternoons. It’s a chore, just like taking out the recycling and feeding the dog.

I generally grab a piece of paper and scribble out a simple grid. Each kid gets a square for breakfast and lunch each day. Then they must fill in what they want for breakfast and lunch for the entire week. (I only use this for Monday through Friday, but I’m sure it will ease weekend battles too if you want to include Saturday and Sunday!)

We have rules about the menu in our house. For example, you can only have “special cereal” (cereal with a sugar content higher than the national debt) for breakfast once a week. If it’s on the menu, there are no arguments about whether you’ve already had your special cereal day.

If you don’t fill out the menu, that’s a choice. But then you are stuck with whatever I happen to make for you and there can be. Absolutely No Fussing.

Make a Week’s Worth of Lunches at Once

The worst part about making kids’ lunches was trying to get everyone out the door on time—including me. Too often I’d end up with mascara on only one eye or different shoes or something. So I learned to make lunches en masse.

It turns out that there is not much that can’t be done ahead of time. I will usually make all the lunches for the week on Sunday evening (or Monday morning). Peanut butter and jelly can be made and frozen. I just grab them out of the freezer in the morning and they are thawed by lunchtime. The real trick is having enough clean containers on hand to store everything.

Chips or pretzels can be measured out (I like to buy the really big bags and send ‘lunch size’ amounts in plastic containers) and stacked up ready to go.

Plan for Fruit

This is probably the hardest one for me. I still haven’t figured out how to prepare a week’s worth of fruit at once. I usually wash about two days worth of grapes or berries at a time and package them up once they’re dry. I try to plan this so that the mornings when I am super rushed are the mornings when the fruit is already prepared.

Control the Number of School Bought Lunches

When the BoyChild was little, there wasn’t much on the school lunch menu that he would eat. But he LOVED buying lunch. Our solution was to allow him to buy once a month. When the school menu came home, it was his responsibility to study it (with help when necessary) and decide which day he was going to buy. It was also his responsibility to mark BUY on the menu for the day he was purchasing lunch.

These days the kids are much more interested in the a la carte items, so we have a new system. In August, I make a guess as to how much one lunch a month will cost for the school year and deposit that much in their accounts. How they allocate it is then their issue. Want to buy a cookie a day? Your choice. Want to buy lunch three times this month and no more for the rest of the semester? That’s ok too. But I’m not adding anymore money to the fund.

Relax About It

Well, I’m more or less not adding any more money to the fund. There have been occasions where stress and life have conspired to leave me with no bread in the house or no time to slap together anything resembling a sandwich. At which point all the rules fly out the window as I hurl cash at the children yelling, “You get to buy lunch on me today!” No one has ever complained.

What are your tips for making school lunches? Leave your comments below—we all need more ideas!

Judi is Chief of School Lunches at Girlfriendology.com. She is not really ready for summer to end, but she is definitely looking forward to the routine of school.

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