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Complete Guide to Disposable Lunches for School and Daycare

Complete Guide to Disposable Lunches for School and Daycare

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.

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.

Image of a disposable lunch bag for sandwiches made out of white paper with blue sharks on it. There is a sandwich inside and a clementine next to it.

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!

Disposable Utensils:

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

Image of a disposable lunch idea comprised of a pear, cheese stick, granola bar & celery sticks filled with peanut butter, topped with raisns.

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:

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

Snack sized portions of summer fruits & vegetables for disposable lunches laid out in a grid design. Carrots, spinach, berries, grapes, zucchini, peaches,  cabbage, corncob, melon, green beans, & cherries.

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:

  • Apple
  • Banana
  • Clementine
  • Plum
  • Peach
  • Apricot
  • Pear
  • Bell pepper
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Snap peas
  • Grapes
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots

If you cut these fruits and veggies up, include a disposable ice pack if you can.

Three home made fruit & veggie cups with disposable lunches. One has watermelon & blueberries. The next has mango & Cucumber. The third has carrots cut into star shapes and blackberries,

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:

  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Honeydew
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries
  • 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
  • Celery
  • Cooked veggies

Related: Need More Ideas for Including Variety Into School Lunches? Snag My Free Veggie Shopping List & Meal Planner!

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.

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

Image of a disposable lunch idea comprised of a banana, kiwi, yogurt cup with fresh strawberries on top and recyclable eating utensils

I compiled a list of 10 simple & balanced disposable lunch ideas that we’ll be using in the fall:

  1. PB&J + Yogurt + Dried Fruit + Carrots
  2. Frozen Deli Meat Sandwich + Red Bell Pepper + Clementine (needs an icepack)
  3. Muffin + Nuts + Cheese Stick + Celery w/Dip (needs an icepack)
  4. Chicken Wrap + Fruit Cup + Snap Peas + Packaged Snack
  5. Bean Salad + Hummus + Pita Chips + Olive Cup (needs an icepack)
  6. English Muffin Pizza + Banana + Broccoli w/Dip
  7. Pasta Salad + Apple + Green Bell Pepper (needs icepack)
  8. Chicken Nuggets + Dip + Sweet Potato Chips + Watermelon (needs icepack)
  9. Nut/Seed Butter & Banana Roll Ups + Pretzels + Carrots
  10. “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!

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Thank you for this. Our schools haven’t announced the rules yet for this fall, but this gives me some peace of mind and some great ideas. Love all your stuff, thank you for putting in the time, effort, and love!!

  2. Thanks for these ideas! I didn’t know fully disposable lunches were a thing (maybe not in our area, yet)
    For the disposable ice pack – My MiMi used to freeze a wet paper towel in a ziplock bag for our ice pack vs just the water – it absorbs the water as it melts. We’d then use it as a cool clean up cloth on our hot picnics. 🙂

  3. Hi,
    I just wanted to say thanks for the article and tips. I am concerned with all the amount of single use plastic that is going to be used in situations like these and I know your trying to be inclusive for everyone but I also think that it’s important now, more than ever to have more sustainable options for the single use lunch packing. I did see some options in the article but there are tons of different compostable containers on the market today that you can buy in bulk, the upfront cost of some might seem steep but with another family willing to split cost it’s something to look into. Also what about just an old school brown paper bag instead of the plastic ones to bring the lunch in? There are lots of other price friendly sustainable options out there. I know plastic is necessary for some things but we really can and should be making a bigger effort to stop using it when we can. Providing those options on a platform like this can make a world of difference!

    Thank you,

  4. Great idea Ali….Thank you for sharing what your Mimi did. I can certainly add that to my meal planning hacks for my 2.5 year old twins…and for my own lunch as well!

  5. Awesome stuff! Thanks for all the links. This article gave me a lot of questions for the school with regard to lunches. Our school is nut-free, so I was really surprised to see PB&J and waffle with nut butter on the rotation. Would you recommend hummus (choc flavor for the sweet ones) for PB and edamame for nuts for a one to one swap? Any other swap ideas? I don’t want to make it complicated 😉

  6. This is so helpful as our preschool just announced fully disposable lunches this week and they were providing food so the news was a bit of shock. This is all really helpful.

  7. I was just stressing about all disposable lunches (my district hasn’t specified yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they tell us last minute). Your suggestions and product links are extremely helpful!

  8. Love those sandwich bags! Super cute!

  9. Thank you so much for posting this!! It has definitely given me good ideas to use for my kids! And another idea I thought I’d pass on. For the reusable water bottles, I make a silicone bracelet with their names on it and put it around the water bottle!

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