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Inside: “Disposable lunches” is the new challenge with preschools, daycares, and schools having new health and safety guidelines for the upcoming school year. If you’re worried, we’ve got you covered with disposable lunch products and lunch ideas to make your life easier.
By: Alysha Fagan
I’ve spent YEARS perfecting my system of packing cute lunches for my kids. In fact, that is probably how we became friends in the first place! Oh the times I’ve had poking red bell peppers through the end of star-shaped food cutters with a straw just so my child will eat a vegetable in their school lunch. I place it nicely in their pretty sectioned lunch boxes so my picky eater’s food doesn’t touch (because the world will end if it does, right?) They take it to school and most of the time they eat it. My efforts paid off.
Fast forward to today, when we’re already stressed out about if there will even BE school in the fall and what that will look like, I’ve heard from parents all over the country that say their towns and daycares are calling for completely. disposable. lunches. Whaaa..?
What “disposable lunches” means will likely vary from location to location, but I’ve come up with 9 strategies for building disposable lunches successfully.
Strategy 1: Utilize School Provided Lunches to Make Disposable Lunches Easier
School provided lunches are a beautiful thing. They involve zero thinking or effort on our part and provide convenience for parents who already have so much on their plate.
While “hot lunch” could look different this year as schools may be favoring disposable lunch options like prepackaged sandwiches & fruit cups, those are wonderful options that provide nutrients your kids need to make it through the school day.
You will have peace of mind knowing your child had a full belly and was able to focus on learning!
Strategy 2: Stock Up on Disposable Lunch Containers
If you’ll be sending lunches every day, you need the right supplies to make a disposable lunch packing system!
Here are a few of my must-have disposable lunch packing items for the fall
Disposable Lunch Bags:
You may have a bag stuffed with other plastic bags that you save for… something. Well, now might be their time to shine! They are great for kids because you can tie them which makes for an easy handle. They fit in backpacks and of course, are disposable.
Disposable Snack Bags:
When you have a picky eater, if the foods touch it can be a complete no-go. Which means, throwing all the lunch components in one bag may not work. Instead you can choose to use individual snack bags to separate out veggies, crunchy snacks, soft sacks, or wet snacks like cut fruit, etc. Sandwiches can be wrapped in parchment/wax paper, cling wrap, or aluminum foil. I like these sealable paper sandwich bags because they are recyclable. But, any of these standard bags will do the job perfectly and your kids can even decorate them (bonus activity for when you just need 5 minutes to yourself!)
Maybe your child is really missing their ninja turtles lunchbox they picked out for school last year. You can likely find some zip top bags with their favorite characters like Mickey Mouse or Buzz Lightyear.
Disposable Dip & Sauce Cups:
I’m not sure about you, but my child is a dipper. I almost always pack a dip or spread with any vegetables in hopes they’ll come back devoured! These condiment cups with lids are the perfect size for dips, hummus, or sunflower seeds.
These disposable fruit cup containers with lids are perfect for daycare and great for all kinds of lunch sides like yogurts & pudding.
Yogurt Hack: fill plastic popsicle bags with your favorite yogurt. Freeze it & use it as an ice pack. By lunch time it will defrost and your kid has a no mess disposable yogurt tube snack!
There are lots of options for this, you can grab some at your local dollar or party store to save some money and get some fun colored forks and spoons for your little one. There are also some great recyclable options out there if that is your thing too, like these wooden disposable lunch utensils.
Toothpicks are essential to our food packing formula. I often add food picks with lunches to make them more novel. Since our favorite food picks won’t be compliant, I found these disposable ones that still offer just as much fun!
Strategy 3: Make Your Own Disposable Lunch Ice Packs
Not being able to stick a fresh ice pack in with lunch will be a struggle for so many. But, luckily I have some disposable lunch hacks on how to make your own!
- Fill zip top bags with water and lay flat in the freezer
- Freeze sandwiches like PB&J. They will thaw out by lunchtime!
- Freeze disposable water bottles
- Buy disposable ice packs that your child can throw away
Strategy 4: Pack Foods That Will Stay Fresh Until Lunch Time in Disposable Lunches
Official guidance is to include 1 or 2 ice packs in all lunches to ensure that the food stays safe. Since you may not be able to add in an ice pack, you’ll need to choose foods that do not require refrigeration or that can make it to lunch time without going bad.
Lunch items with protein that tend to be safe for a few hours without refrigeration:
- Yogurt with active cultures
- Muffins (The Kids Eat in Color Real Easy Weekdays meal plan has lots of nutrient-dense muffin recipes)
- Frozen waffles with nut or seed butter
- Sandwiches without deli meat
- Nut Butter + Spreads
- Pasta with Olive Oil + Add-ins (if made fresh in the morning and immediately cooled and then put in the lunchbox to reduce moisture accumulation)
- More easy no-refrigeration ideas
Foods that are most likely to cause food borne illness in a lunch box without refrigeration are: leafy greens or pre-prepared salads, cooked rice, cooked potatoes (or potato salad), deli meat, and cut or pre-prepared (purchased at the store) fruit – melons and berries are the highest risk, but others can be contaminated as well. Make disposable ice packs and include in the lunches if you want to send these foods.
If in doubt, send a disposable ice pack!
Strategy 5: Make Smart Choices for Fruits & Veggies in Disposable Lunches
Wash your hands and all produce thoroughly before putting into a lunchbox. If you cut the fruits and veggies, use a clean knife and cutting board and quickly put into a clean disposable container.
Uncut fruits and veggies that do not require cooling:
- Bell pepper
- Grape tomatoes
- Snap peas
If you cut these fruits and veggies up, include a disposable ice pack if you can.
It’s a really good idea to include a disposable ice pack if you send these fruits and veggies, as these are the fruits and veggies most likely to cause food borne illness:
- Leafy salad (including any of the following: lettuce, spinach, cabbage, kale, sprouts especially if any of them come out of a bag)
- Corn on the cob
- Cooked and cooled potatoes
- Cooked veggies
Strategy 6: Buy Shelf Stable Foods for Disposable Lunches When It Makes Sense
It is okay to include packaged snacks in disposable lunches, even if it is not your norm. This is a great time and reason to use pouches if your child likes them. If you do send pouches, check to make sure the pouches you choose do not require refrigeration.
- Granola or Snack Bars
- Individually Bagged Snacks
- Fruit cups
- Olive cups
- Applesauce Cups
Strategy 7: Have a system for Water Bottles
In an effort to avoid shared water fountains, many schools are talking about water bottle policies. If your school will allow the use of a reusable water bottle, choose a sturdy one & write their name on it.
If a reusable water bottle is not allowed, buy prepackaged water in bulk & use stickers to decorate the outside. You can also use a sharpie to write your child’s name or color the caps so they know which one is theirs.
Strategy 8: Have a Rotation of Easy Disposable Lunch Ideas
I compiled a list of 10 simple & balanced disposable lunch ideas that we’ll be using in the fall:
- PB&J + Yogurt + Dried Fruit + Carrots
- Frozen Deli Meat Sandwich + Red Bell Pepper + Clementine (needs an icepack)
- Muffin + Nuts + Cheese Stick + Celery w/Dip (needs an icepack)
- Chicken Wrap + Fruit Cup + Snap Peas + Packaged Snack
- Bean Salad + Hummus + Pita Chips + Olive Cup (needs an icepack)
- English Muffin Pizza + Banana + Broccoli w/Dip
- Pasta Salad + Apple + Green Bell Pepper (needs icepack)
- Chicken Nuggets + Dip + Sweet Potato Chips + Watermelon (needs icepack)
- Nut/Seed Butter & Banana Roll Ups + Pretzels + Carrots
- “Snacky Lunch” Hard Boiled Egg(s) + Crackers + Cheese + Nuts and/or Raisins + Fruit & Vegetable (needs icepack)
Strategy 9: Talk to Your Kids About the Changes
There is so much for us to wrap our heads around as adults and I imagine it is very confusing for our little ones. This is a good chance to come up with a strategy for talking to your children about the changes that will be happening at school this year.
They may be used to lunch time being their chance to socialize with friends and could feel anxious or uncertain about these new rules. It is so important to talk through these emotions so they feel prepared and can start the year on a positive note!