How to Create a School Lunch Packing Station
Streamline packing school lunches and teach your kids how to pack their own balanced lunch with a Lunch Packing Station!
Packing school lunch can feel like an endless chore. By the time you’re crafting your 50th little lunch of the year, all those meals can start to blur together, and the reward of making your kids’ lunches yourself feels very distant indeed.
But as your kids grow and mature, they can start to take over some of the responsibility for packing their own lunches. That’s awesome because it gives them the chance to have some choice about their foods (in a limited way–you should still be making the big decisions!) And it also gives YOU a break from packing lunches, so you can avoid burning out and declaring PBJ lunches until the end of time.
Here’s a tutorial for setting up a lunch packing station in your kitchen, so you can teach your kids how to pack their own school lunch!
How to Make a Lunch Packing Station
Step 1. Find a Space
You don’t have to have a huge space to create a well-organized efficient lunch packing station. A small cupboard or part of a shelf in your pantry will work just great. A few tips for a good space for your station:
- Choose a shelf or space that’s low enough that your kids can reach everything.
- Clear the space of other kitchen items or foods that aren’t intended for lunches.
- Designate one space for refrigerated items and one for pantry items.
- If you don’t have shelf space to spare, consider purchasing a small set of modular drawers or stackable shelves.
Step 2. Choose Containers
Usually it’s best to take foods out of packages and put them in bins to keep everything organized and easily visible for your kids. These are our favorite containers:
Step 3. Choose Foods
This is, of course, the most important part! Choose foods from each of the food groups, so you can teach your kids about the importance of packing a balanced lunch. Here’s a list of foods we like to stock our stations with for our kids to choose from. (You can also check out our Instagram Stories here: (Costco Haul highlight bubble)
- Whole grain crackers
- Fruit leather
- Beef jerky
- Granola Bars (Homemade or Store Bought – low sugar)
- Applesauce Cups
- Dried Fruit
- Nuts or seeds
- Trail Mix
- String Cheese
- Yogurt Cups
- Baby Carrots
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Snap Peas
- Hard Boiled Eggs
Step 4: Organize and Label
Once you have your space chosen and stocked, keep it organized so that your kids know just where to find everything that they need on their own! When it comes to labeling, keep it simple by putting the number of items they should choose on each bin. We like to have a few different bins. Label like this:
- Pantry Items Bin: “Choose 2” label.
- Refrigerator Bins:
- Fruit and Veggie Bin: “Choose 2” label
- Dairy Bin: “Choose 1” label
Step 5: Teach Your Kids
It is time for a little instruction! With any luck, your kids will be enthusiastic about having this privilege and responsibility. So make sure you stay positive and excited about this transition along with them.
The first time you talk about the new system with your kids, explain where they can find everything that they need, and model how to pack a lunch. You might do this just once, or you might do it with them for the first week until you think they have the hang of it.
Then it’s time to stand back and let them take the reins! You’ll need to replenish the stations every so often (ask them to let you know when they take the last of something.)
Your kids will love being a bit more independent, you’ll love a bit more freedom in the mornings. We have also found that kids are more likely to eat their lunch when they pack it themselves!
I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.Learn More about Natalie
this is great- thank you so much! i love the idea of letting my son pick his own food out- i do feel that this is going to help him end up with things he will actually eat! empowering for all 🙂
What do they choose from for their “main dish”? I usually do pj&j which is perfectly fine for one of my kids but not the other. What else is there?
Hi Steph! If there’s a fruit, veggie, grain, and protein in our kids’ lunches, we’re happy! Nut butter is a great grain/protein combo like you mentioned– others could be crackers and cheese, tuna sandwich, hummus and pita, or a muffin and cheese stick. There are lots more ideas in our post about 50 school lunch ideas, here: https://www.superhealthykids.com/recipes/50-packable-school-lunch-ideas/
Choose a shelf or space that’s low enough that your kids can reach everything. Clear the space of other kitchen items or foods that aren’t intended for lunches. Designate one space for refrigerated items and one for pantry items.
How can you prevent kids from eating too many of these lunch items at off-lunch hours, plowing through several granola bar after school or weekends for example? Do you keep non-lunch family snacks elsewhere?
Yes! Have a separate container of food that are set aside for snacks. As long as there is other food available, they are good about saving our lunch bins for lunches. 🙂
Thinking of the veggie basket, do you pre-pack a kid sized amount for them to grab and toss in their lunch, or just have them transfer some to another container?
We use bento-style lunchboxes, so our veggies are usually in a large container and then they take out what they need and add it to their lunchbox. Hope that answers your question!