the one about how I hate packing lunches

As you know by now, my oldest daughter has started Kindergarten. The process of starting "official school" has brought about many changes in our household.

First, because she attends a private Catholic school, she wears a uniform everyday. There will be days when  she can wear what she wants, but so far, each day has been a uniform day.

I know many who turn their noses up at uniforms, stating that they remove the individuality from the child and force them to look like everyone else. I get that, I do, but uniforms have made my life significantly easier and less dramatic.

My children have beautiful clothes. Really, there's nothing they own that makes me cringe when they wear it (otherwise, why would we own it?). However, there are things that are best not to be worn to school. And those things, without fail, are the things my daughter would LOVE to wear to school.

Thank you, Uniform, for sparing that aztec-legging under the floral dress with the giant popsicle stain power struggle.

Another change for our house is preparing a school lunch for her daily. We are allowing her to eat a school lunch once per week, but the other days are lunch box days. The only problem with this is that I abso-freaking-lutely hate packing lunches. HATE.

For whatever reason, I just find the task to be daunting (first world problem, I know). I refuse to do it in the morning because we never wake up early enough to avoid the inevitable cluster that is the final five minutes before departure. Then, often times I am too tired to pack anything worthwhile the night before. Truly, it is a crapshoot if I am going to brush my teeth before I go to bed, so packing a lunch that is anything more than a box of Cheerios with a note that says "Love, Mama" slapped on it is kind of asking too much.

I decided to find a way to make packing lunches less of a chore. I took to Pinterest (duh) and found a few promising ideas. I decided to give one a try, and I am so happy I did!

I combined a few ideas and came up with something that has been an absolute life saver. I literally don't have to think about packing lunches, and most of the time, Noelle can pack her lunch herself.

I purchased mini plastic crates from Target, 3/$3.99, and some plastic baggies. I determined that one bin would be for "Starches/Salty Snacks," another bin would be for "Sweet Treats," another bin would be for "Cheese/Yogurt," another for "Meat/Protein," one bin for "Fruit," and a final bin for "Veggies."

The bins that do not need to be refrigerated sit on my counter. They are stackable, so they don't take up a lot of space. For the refrigerated items, I cleared a spot in my refrigerator and also used one of the crisper drawers in the bottom.

(I tried to take photos of this system, but my kitchen does not photograph well!)

I then filled the bins with 2 choices for each category. To start with, I placed appropriately portioned baggies of popcorn and pita chips in the "Starches/Salty Snacks" bin. For "Sweet Treats," I measured out serving sizes of chocolate covered yogurt raisins and trail mix into snack baggies. Her "Cheese/Yogurt" choices were Chobani yogurt tubes or Babybel cheese. For "Meat/Protein," I placed two pieces of salami in a baggie and hard boiled a few eggs. Her "Fruit" choices were baggies of grapes or strawberries. Her "Veggies" were baggies of baby carrots or celery with light ranch dressing cups to dip.

She can choose one option from each bin and pack her lunch herself. It took me approximately 45 minutes on a Sunday to baggie up enough food for two weeks' worth of school lunches. It takes her less than 2 minutes to pack her lunch herself, and she enjoys the job. By giving her healthy choices, I know that no matter what she chooses, she is packing herself a healthy lunch.

Once all of our bins are empty, I will refill them with new options. She knows that I also won't add more of one choice simply because she ate all of that one choice first. For example, she ate all of the baggies of grapes first, so I will not add more grapes until she eats the baggies of strawberries.

The one thing I don't care for is the amount of plastic baggies we use in this system, but I am having her bring all of her plastic baggies home in her lunch box, except for the ones with sticky fruit in them, and I will try to reuse them a couple times before throwing them away. We try to recycle and be as environmentally friendly as possible, so there might be another way to replace the baggies. For now, this is working for us.

What I love about this is that it is cost effective (I am estimating each day's lunch costs less than $2).

It is time efficient. As long as you have an extra 45 minutes or so on the weekend to wash and cut fruit and vegetables and bag up the other items, you can save yourself a lot of time and chaos throughout the week.

It is healthy. My daughter is obsessed with one day receiving a "real" Lunchable, but at $3 each and not the greatest nutrition facts, I just can't justify it. This way of packing lunches puts her in control of "choosing," even though I have done the guesswork for her. She feels like she is taking control of her lunch, and I am happy that no matter what she chooses, they will be nutritious.

It gets us off the PB&J hamster wheel. I love a good PB&J. I really, really do. But we simply were not thinking of anything else to feed our children, and I realized that there are other (and better) options out there. For a peanut butter fix, I can add peanut butter in small containers for her to dip her celery in, or we can save it for the weekends. A lot of schools are not wanting kids to bring peanut butter in their lunches anyway because of the allergy risk.

I have created a chart that I will be using when I am trying to think of new ideas to add to the bins. Feel free to download and use it, too! Just click the image and right click to save it! What would you add to the mix?

Now...if I could only convince her to sleep in her uniform the night before...

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