Creating a Lunch Box System

I’ve become a somewhat expert at school lunches after doing them for 10 years (so far).  My lunch boxes started out looking a lot like the picture below, with a lot of processed, pre-packaged food. I’m not here to make anyone feel guilty for throwing together pre-packaged lunches!  It’s just over the years, I’ve focused on what’s important to me in regards to food for my kids, and have refined the processes over time to achieve that, and I want to share my tips with anyone who wants to know.

lunch box

Here’s a snap shot of the lunches I make for my kids at school these days.

Lunch Box Ideas - beafunmum.com

Lunch boxes used to stress me out but I’m surprised to say that, while I wouldn’t say I enjoy doing school lunches, I find it quite easy now, plus I do find myself thinking about creative ways to fill the lunch box with nutritious food my kids will enjoy.  This transformation comes down to this: you need to have a system. 

1. Have goals

It’s important to have a sense of direction when it comes to what sort of lunch boxes you want to create for your kids.  You don’t necessarily need to achieve them straight away but it’s good to have goals and work your way towards them.  For me, I strive for mostly rubbish-free lunch boxes that contain wholefoods, including a fresh fruit and vegetables. I also like to provide variety, and a bit of fun sometimes. One of the key turning moments for me in my lunch box journey, is the challenge I created for myself by converting 5 dinners into lunch box food, and you can read about it here. I’ve come a long way in my goals, and next on my agenda is to experiment with healthier baking options.

2. Invest in great products

I’ve tried many different lunch boxes over the years.  To achieve what I want with my children’s lunches, the lunch box needs to have compartments.  I like the Bentology lunch boxes (used to be called Laptop lunch boxes)  which I review in detail here.  They are on the expensive side, but do last well.  I will be reviewing other compartment lunch boxes (like the Planetbox lunch boxes, and Go Green Lunch Boxes) this year so keep an eye out of that.  Another more affordable way to achieve this is to buy an insulated outer case and simply fill with different sized containers which are filled with food (like Decor and Sistema containers you can get from the supermarket).  

Lunch Boxes

The drink bottles I buy for my kids are the Contigo brand.  I reviewed them here.

Drink Bottles

Another product I have found REALLY fabulous for the lunch box are silicone muffin cases.  I use them to cook bakery items. Then, I freeze them in the cases, and they go straight into the lunch box of on a school morning.  Anther way I use them is when they are empty, they are a great way to section small food in the lunch box (there are examples at the end of the blog post).

silicone patty cases - great for the lunch box

Using the freezer is imperative to my lunch box success (which I go into further below) and so I have dedicated containers to store lunch box food in.  These Sitema containers are great, and they are clear so I can see what is in them easily.

Create a lunch box system

I also have a few fun things to include in the lunch boxes to make things interesting. My favourites are the eye food picks I bought from Lunch Boxes With Love.  However, I don’t do fun stuff all the time, maybe about once a week or fortnight. If you head over to my Instagram @beafunmum and search for the hashtag #BAFM_Lunchbox you will see many examples of the realistic lunch boxes I make for my kids. Sometimes they are fun, and sometimes they are boring!

Creating a lunch box system

My Lunch Box Product List

3. Have a dedicated lunch box storage section

The system I use requires the need for containers. This is a bit of a pain, but it really makes it quick in the mornings.  I have lunch box items stored in my pantry in baskets.  One for drink bottles and lids, one for the containers and one for the lunch boxes and other bits and bobs I don’t use everyday.  

Creating a lunch box system

Creating a lunch box system

Of a school morning, I line up four lunch boxes, fill with containers and then throw in the food.  Last step is to place a lunch box size freezer brick in the insulted case and place the entire lunch box inside.

Lunch Box System

4. Use the freezer

My freezer is my best friend when it comes to the lunch box.  Food items can be taken out of the freezer in the morning and put straight in the lunchbox.  They will be thawed and fresh by eating time. The following items will keep for 2 weeks in the freezer. 

Sandwiches:

I tend to make sandwiches fresh, because I prefer to do that, but if you have a mad busy week ahead, it’s good to know you can freeze them ahead of time.

Make sandwiches with fillings like cheese and ham, vegemite, jam, tuna or egg.  It’s easy to include some fresh salad in the morning if that’s a preference.

Other Food:

Cakes and slices, muffins, canned fish, baked beans, zucchini slice, quiche are some snack ideas that are able to be frozen.

Organising the freezer:

  • It’s helpful to have dedicated draw in the freezer for lunch box items.
  • Separating portion size is easy with zip-lock bags. For a more environmentally friendly option, use individual containers or freeze in batches and place directly in the lunch box of a morning. For layering in containers, use a sheet of baking paper.

This is a heap of food I prepared ahead of time to freeze. 

Creating a lunch box system

5. Pre-Prepare

To aid the morning rush, much of the lunch preparation can be done the night before and the weekend.

Night before:

  • Cut up fruit and vegetable pieces
  • Portion yoghurt and crackers. I also make custard the night before sometimes and let it set in the containers that fit into the lunch box. Then in the morning, they get slotted in.

Weekend:

  • Make a batch of sandwiches and place them in the freezer
  • Bake home goods and freeze in portion size

6. Break it down

Instead of thinking morning tea/lunch food, I break the lunch box down into food types. So in each packed lunch I aim for this balance:

  • 1 x Fruit 
  • 1 x Vegetable
  • 1 x Snack Food (baked goods, energy balls, crackers, egg, cheese, yoghurt)
  • 1 x Lunch Item 
  • 1 x other (if needed, depending on the child)

This system allows for seasonal variety and helps me to shop smart. I’m fairly consistent with this system and so my kids are used to seeing vegetables in their lunch box.

7. Lunch box staples

It’s great to have your lunch box staple foods you can fall back on (like the humble sandwich). I have certain foods that I know work well in the lunch box and here are some of the items on my list:

Vegetables: corn on the cob, cucumber, mushroom, snow peas, carrot, celery sticks, baby corn, tin corn, avocado, cherry tomato

Fruit: small apple, tin fruit, stone fruit, strawberries, blueberries, grapes, kiwi fruit, small pears, watermelon pieces, pineapple pieces

Snacks: muffins, nut-free choc energy balls, apricot balls, rice crackers, popcorn, trail mix, muesli slice (another 2nd recipe for muesli slice), corn & cheese muffins, coconut bread

Protein: ham, salami, salami sticks, bean dip, cheese, boiled egg, hummus, yoghurt

Lunch: sandwich, mini quiche, zucchini fitters, meatloaf, pizza scrolls, zucchini slice, wraps, pizza, salad, flat bread 

Lunch Box tips

Lunch Box tips

7. Make it safe

I have a guest post from a dietitian you can read which gives great tips on making the lunch box healthy and safe: Lunch Box Tips

8. Make it fun

Once you have a good system down, it’s easier to find ways to make lunches fun. Try new foods and different ways of presenting them.  Below are a few links:

9. Lunch Box Examples

Below are a few lunch box examples and you can find even more ideas by looking through the lunch box tips on the blog under Lunch Box Ideas or on my @beafunmum Instagram feed.

Lunch box ideas

Tip: Depending on what is on the wrap, I separate the fill ingredients from the wrap in the lunch box and the kids make it up themselves fresh at lunch time.  

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Tip: Energy balls are fabulous in the lunch box and they freeze well.

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Tip: Silicone muffin cases are great for separating food in the lunch box.

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Tip: Leftover rice or pasts can be turned into an easy lunch box food.

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Tip: Food picks work well with cut up fruit and veggies. 

Lunch Box Ideas

Tip: You can make a big batch of pizza and freeze in small square portion for the lunch box (if kids like cold pizza)

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Tip: Try growing cherry tomatoes in a pot in the backyard. They are so easy to grow and it’s wonderful to be able to include food you grow yourself in the lunch box. Here’s a guide: Plant Pot Garden.

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Tip: Make sandwiches a bit more interesting by cutting them in different shapes sometimes, or make soldiers.

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Tip: Try new foods! The kids may not like it, but they might too, and it’s all about building your lunch box repertoire.

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Tip: Make quiche in muffins trays so they are in individual sizes.  This make it easy and quick to use in the lunch box. This is the recipe I use: Quiche Recipe.

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Tip: Think outside the box! My kids love it when I put plain corn chips and dip in their lunch box. The bean dip recipe is here.

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More

100 Lunch Box Ideas Printable

Lunch Box Food Ideas - Printable!

How I encourage my kids to eat veggies

Turn 5 Dinners into Lunchbox food

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Kelly loves life at both ends of the spectrum: wearing high heel shoes one day and hiking boots the next; sipping tea out of a pretty cup and slurping hot coffee from a camping mug; challenging herself physically and stopping for quiet unhurried moments to feel the wind on her face. Kelly and her husband Matthew seek to live a fun and adventurous life with their four children and pet bird.

Latest posts by Kelly - Be A Fun Mum (see all)

Comments

  1. Andrea says

    Hi Kelly, thank you thank you thank you for this timely article and sharing your ideas. My 5yo starts school in February, and I am already dreading the whole lunchbox thing. But your article makes it seem so easy. Bit of time for me to practise. :-)

  2. says

    Ah Kelly, I don’t have to make lunches for four every day but if I did I would come straight over here and follow this guide. You take the overwhelm out of the whole lunchbox thing. My twins get a hot vegetarian lunch at school – odd but true – and the big teens prefer to make their own. I do bake things for them and try to have plenty fruit in the house – that’s a job in itself!

  3. says

    This is a great post. I’m totally aiming to do something like this (atm my lunches look average at best), and I have had bad luck with lunch boxes breaking and just not being very suitable so the lunch box tips help too. Thanks – pinning.

  4. Carolyn says

    This may be a dumb question but do you put individual lids on all the boxes inside your “lunchbox” – having a blonde logic moment x

  5. Sandra Mackenzie says

    Hi Kelly,

    Such a great article, I sometimes feel like a failure as a Mum when I struggle to find something good and healthy for my kids to eat, while they don’t need lunchboxes yet (they are 2 & 3 and their day care provides all their food while they are there) I might just start making some for home lunches to get some practice in.
    Thank you

    P.S. Picture 6 Plum, not Plumb LOL.

  6. Sarah says

    Thank you so much for this! Some fantastic ideas!
    With the mini quiche – do you still put pastry on the bottom of the muffin case?

  7. Jane Orr says

    I love all your ideas!! My two oldest boys will be in year 9 and year 11 and since they’ve been in high school I find it really hard to get them to eat their lunches. Then they’re starving by the time they get home and eat everything in sight!!! My daughter is in grade 6 this year and I’m hoping she’ll be better once she gets to high school? I try to have healthy snacks for after school but i feel like making their lunches is a waste of time :( any ideas.

  8. says

    Kelly this is fabulous! I am starting to make lunchboxes for my 9 month old (for babysitting visits to grandparents and friends so that they know what she can have to eat!) and this is a great guide to having a system – even though my foods will differ I am going to start this system now and it can evolve with us. x

  9. Shelley says

    How to you keep everything from falling out? Once it’s put in the containers. Because if I were to close the lunch box with no fiver everything would be everywhere :)

  10. Julie says

    What size are your flat freezer containers? Trying to order from amazon, but I don’t see anything exactly like that.

  11. Maria says

    Great article, I struggle to fit enough into my sons lunch box, is four portions really enough? My son who is four will happily do two lunch sandwiches and fruit and yogurt and somehow i have to fit in snack break, and morning and afternoon tea ! I do individual containers for each thing…

  12. karen says

    Hi. With the insulated cooler bags for the laptop lunch box do you find just the singular work well or the duo one they have with the extra space for drink bottle?
    thanks

  13. Inger says

    Lots of great inspiration here, thank you for sharing! I might have to get those laptop lunchboxes – been holding off as I was thinking the little inside containers would get lost, but it’s smart to store them separately like you do. x from Norway

  14. Ros Gardner says

    Very impressed. Where was this when I sent my children off to school with Vegemite/Peanut Butter sandwiches and the fruit would usually come back everyday….my grandchildren will enjoy your concepts. Thank you for sharing !

  15. Sri says

    I found this really inspirational, and am looking forward to changing the way I think about packing school lunches for the five people in my family off to Preschool, Primary School and work (also school!) this year. Could you share where you get your silicone muffin cases from? I’m always buying paper cases, but it makes more sense to have something reusable on hand – and I like the different ways you make use of them in the lunchboxes. Thanks for writing this, it’s been both challenging and helpful. 😀

  16. Sarah Dohl says

    Your lunches look great – I have most of those cute supplies. My only question is, what do your kids think of their lunches when it has been tossed and turned in their bags for a couple of hours – it never looks the same as in the mornings!

    • says

      Hi Sarah!

      As long as they have food to eat, my kids are happy. Haha. But I do find these lunch boxes keep things pretty well (depending on what is in there). Everything stays in the respective containers (and two of them have sealed lids (for yoghurt etc). I asked my daughter to take a pic of the food at lunch time one day (with her iPad – she’s at high school) and this is what it looked like http://beafunmum.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/bento-laptop-lunch-boxes-.jpg

      The only stuff that escapes are little things like sultanas. If I put cut fruit up in silicone containers, it doesn’t stay perfect like that, but it still helps to keep them from getting all sloshed, squashed and bruised.

      Does that answer your question? If you have any specific food you’re curious about, let me know, because I’ve probably tried it somewhere along the line!

  17. Amy says

    I absolutely love these ideas. And the storage is genius.
    Unfortunately one of my children would eat only 2 of the delicious items in the pictures, and the other would eat 5. Picky eaters who consistently refuse to try anything new is frustrating.
    I’m using these ideas for me though, when I go back to work!

    • says

      Ack, yes!! It can be tricky with fussy eaters. One of my kids has been a challenge, due to sensory issues, and consistency and forming a food culture at home has helped. There are still things that she just can’t stand, like anything with mayo, melted cheese and spicy things, but she will try a lot of other things now which is great (and she likes her veggies because she knows they are good for her). I talk about developing our family food culture here http://beafunmum.com/2014/05/ways-to-encourage-kids-to-eat-vegetables/

      My other three kids aren’t fussy, which is SO much easier!!

  18. Bianca says

    I have 5 kids and have rarely made their lunches as I found it always comes home.
    The day care they all attended had the 3 yr old children making their own sandwiches once a week and since then I’ve never had to make a lunch.
    My 3 yr old has also been packing her own lunch for over a year (I just help with the sandwich/wrap) that way I know she knows what is in her lunch before she goes to kinder as she only packs what she likes (that changes each day)
    I have a similar set up with the lunch boxes and small tubs in the cupboard and I get my kids to stick to 1 sandwich/wrap, 1 fruit, 1 savory snack, 1 sweet item (either home baked or packaged) we live in queensland and they don’t have fridges at school so we often stay away from yogurt or meat products that need to stay cold.
    I also have a very small freezer or I would try freezing items for them to include.
    Some very good ideas I just wish my kids would be happy to try new items (not just in their lunches)

  19. Elizabeth says

    Love the tip to freeze sandwiches on the weekend. When I had 3 to provide lunches for, and they had to leave home at 7:15, being able to grab a roll out of the freezer was so easy for them. I used to make a bunch of bread rolls with a variety of fillings. I found chicken and mayo, cheese and vegemite, cheese and ham all froze really well. Also used to do grated carrot, cream cheese and shallots, plus a few others I can’t remember!

  20. Laura says

    Love this post, it’s so helpful, you have done all the hard work for us :)
    I’m not a mum but a student who is hopeless at making ‘packed’ lunches, but always know I should be.
    This step by step guide (with suggestions and options – yay for options) is so easy to follow and modify,
    I now try to have lunch packed the night before ready to go but if I haven’t managed that – step 6 is so useful when i’m only half awake in the mornings but will definitely want something descent to eat by midday.

  21. Lucy says

    Oh man, seeing this post makes me think I’m overfeeding my daughter. She would have double that in her lunchbox each day, and eat it – and she’s only 6. It’s all healthy what she has, but maybe I need to rethink how much she has! Thanks for a fab post. :)

  22. says

    Great ideas thanks Kelly.
    I find the Egg free policy of our school (can be in cakes) very challenging as one of my twins has food sensory issues too. Last week we found three lunchboxes in his wardrobe with decomposing mouldy sandwiches. Oh the joy of finding that.
    He would happily eat an egg every day for lunch.

    They were my good Tupperware boxes though so we had to clean them out.
    I am going to show him this post and ask how we can help him improve his lunch eating habits.
    Plus it’s too hot for yoghurt/custard etc with bags left outside on 30+ days.
    I love my Contigo Thermal cup for tea, didn’t know they made drink bottles.
    Ecococoon Bottles are our favourite water stays icy cold all day.

    • Bianca says

      I find that with ice packs the lunchboxes do stay cool.
      I put an ice pack in bottom and also an extra frozen water bottle in the insulated lunchbox.
      the child can then either drink the ice water or keep as an ice block :-)
      hope that helps

  23. Lisa says

    Hi
    I was wondering if you could please tell me what lunchboxes you use & where do you get them from plus where would you get the containers inside them from???

  24. Bianca says

    Hi
    Thanks for an easy to follow guide for packing lunch boxes without the usual sandwich (my son does not eat bread) !!!
    Do you put individual lids on each section/part or just the box container?
    In your pictures I could not see lids?
    Also what labels would you recommend to put on containers, as my kids love losing there lunchboxes!
    Cheers
    Bianca

  25. Rebecca Fauske says

    Hi Kelly …. loving the inspiration from this article. I just found Munchbox containers (www.munchbox.com.au) and I’m very keen for it to arrive, together with all the little picks and fun stuff. I’ve got 3 lunch boxes to make each day at the moment and in the near future it will be 4 just like you! So whether or not the kids derive any fun from it all, at least Mamma will! One little idea I found on my Google travels tonight was using silicone icy-pole moulds to put things in as well. Just another one of those cute & colourful ideas.

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