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Make-Ahead School Lunches to Make Weekday Mornings Less Stressful

Your life is about to get a lot easier. And a lot more delicious.

Erica Silverstein · about 1 month ago

  • cooking
make ahead school lunches

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It’s 7 a.m. You’re barely a few sips into your morning coffee, and the kids are making Cheerio towers and building pillow forts — everything except getting ready for school. You need to round them up cattle-style for a toothbrushing excursion, but those empty lunch boxes are staring disdainfully at you. With the bus coming in 15 minutes and your work email pinging, how will you manage to prep a healthy to-go meal and get everyone out the door in time?

Our advice: Prep those lunches the night (or weekend!) before, so all you need to do before school is throw premade meals and snacks in brown bags and dole them out. Try one (or all!) of these make-ahead school lunches to make your weekday mornings so much less stressful.

DIY Uncrustables Freezer Sandwiches

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Princess Pinky Girl

If you take only one thing away from this post, let it be this: You can freeze sandwiches. Is your mind blown? Instead of making one sandwich per kid every day, make a batch of sandwiches on the weekend, freeze them, and then take out sandwiches as needed. Some fillings freeze better than others, but nut butter and jam is always a sure bet. Princess Pinky Girl shows you how to replicate store-bought Uncrustables for a more affordable and customizable make-ahead PB&J.

Fruit and Yogurt Cups

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Organize Yourself Skinny

Fruity yogurt looks like a snack, but it could easily be a lunch box centerpiece. After all, yogurt hits the protein and dairy food groups, fruit’s got vitamins and minerals, and granola has that satisfying crunch. Organize Yourself Skinny shares her tips on how to prep fruit and yogurt cups that will last all week in the fridge, so your morning meal prep is all about the grab-and-go.

Pizza Cupcakes

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Somewhat Simple

If your kids enjoy cold pizza for breakfast, they’ll likely enjoy pizza cupcakes for lunch. Choose your favorite toppings and bake these pizza rollups in muffin tins for that perfect portable shape. Store them in the freezer, heat them in the morning, and pop them in a lunchbox when Monday morning rolls around.

Mexican Lentil Bake

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Healthy Little Foodies

More adventurous eaters — or anyone who can be convinced to try a finger food that looks like a brownie and tastes like a taco — should check out Healthy Little Foodies’ Mexican lentil bake. It’s a sturdy casserole that can be made ahead then sliced into individual lunchbox servings. Pack it up with a salad or veggie sticks, and some tortilla chips for that fiesta feeling.

DIY Lunchables

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Eating on a Dime

Kids who are grazers love the Lunchables concept — a Bento-style lunch box filled with a variety of cheese, deli meats, fruits, veg, carbs, and treats that they can munch without committing to just one entree. Skip the pre-packaged Lunchables and make your own with these tips from Eating on a Dime. You can prepare the entire lunch the night before, or pack up lunch-sized portions in advance and have the kids gather up their favorites before they leave for school.

Egg Cups

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Super Healthy Kids

Make-ahead breakfasts often work well as make-ahead lunches — especially if your students were assigned to the 11:15 a.m. lunch period. Sneak veggies into breakfast favorites by baking up a batch of egg cups or mini quiches at night, then freeze the bite-size treats once cool. Warm up individual portions each morning and pair with fruit, a yogurt tube, and perhaps a donut hole dessert for an easy lunch.

Taco Bar

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My Kitchen Escapades

“It’s raining tacos!” the kids sing with glee, so be the rainmaker by turning their bento box into a taco bar. My Kitchen Escapades shares her recipe for make-ahead taco meat her family will eat hot or cold. You can put together your portable taco bar in the morning, or save more time the night before by putting portions of cheese, salsa, and guacamole into to-go containers.

Corn Dog Muffins

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Live Simply

You may think of corn dogs as just greasy appetizers at the state fair. Homemade corn dog muffins, as Live Simply points out, are both tastier and healthier — as well as a fan-favorite make-ahead school lunch. These cornbread muffins with all-beef hot dog pieces inside pair well with healthy snacks, like veggie sticks and fruit skewers (of course, there needs to be food on a stick!). Just don’t forget to pack the ketchup.

Thermos Chili

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Allie Go Lightly

You may remember the Thermos from road trips and picnics of your childhood. If you’re looking for a lunch prep timesaver, it’s time to get reacquainted with this magic container that keeps hot meals hot. April Go Lightly has a killer family-friendly sweet potato chili recipe, plus instructions for how to reheat it and send it to school in an insulated container. Kids not chili fans? Soups and pasta dishes (all hail the mac n cheese!) are great Thermos — and tummy — fillers when you need more creative lunchbox ideas.

Mini Pancakes

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What Lisa Cooks

Pancakes are another breakfast idea you can steal for a make-ahead lunch because: A) They taste delicious hot or cold. B) They’re dippable, and all food is more fun when dipped, and C) You can serve them on a stick. When you’re mixing batter at a reasonable hour (not 6:30 a.m.), you can get creative: Grate in zucchini or carrots, add protein powder, mix in fruit, or spice it up. Double the batch and freeze what you’re not using the next day for future lunches.

Bean and Veggie Nuggets

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Healthy Little Foodies

Ah, nuggets. What praise is left for the almighty nugget that hasn't already been sung? Well, for starters: They’re tasty hot or cold, pair nicely with a yummy dip, don’t technically require utensils, and — wait for it — you can cook them in advance and chill them in the fridge or freezer. Try a slightly healthier, vegetarian nugget with Healthy Little Foodies’ bean and veggie nugget recipe. Your morning is saved, and the only things coming back in that lunchbox will be crumbs.