There are few parenting tasks more universally hated than the making of school lunches. After all, it ain’t easy: Prepare a nutritious and delicious meal your child will actually eat, whilst working around the endless list of foods they are not allowed to bring to school; pack said culinary masterpiece so that it stays warm/cold; find the right lid for the container you packed it in; and get you and the fam out the door on time. All that and your kid still returns home with a half-eaten lunch, because the tomatoes were touching the cheese. Serenity now!
Fear not: We’ve rounded up some sanity-saving tips and tricks that are so good, you might even look forward to lunch-prep.
12 genius school lunch hacks every parent needs in their life
Upgrade from lunch boxes to bento boxesSave time, money and hassle by eliminating plastic baggies and individual containers altogether. Bento boxes are already divided into perfectly proportioned sections, so you'll never find yourself cursing over an entire dishwasher of mismatched lids again.Melissa via Flickr
Use a sponge as an ice packIce packs are expensive and, apparently, quite easily "lost." A sponge will do the trick for a fraction of the cost: Just soak, freeze overnight and place in a resealable plastic bag. Alternatively, a frozen yogurt cup works well, too, and will be perfect eating temperature come lunchtime.Laurel Macleod
Master the art of the apple puzzleKeeping apple slices from turning brown before recess rolls around is no easy task…until now. A few strategic cuts and that boring, old apple becomes a 3-D puzzle. In a rush? Simply slice into equal parts the old-fashioned way, reassemble and hold the pieces in place with a rubber band.YouTube
Pre-freeze your water bottleIf you've ever tried cramming ice cubes into a water bottle only to melt into a puddle of tears, you're going to love this: Fill your child's water bottle halfway before bed and place it in the freezer on its side. In the morning, simply fill it the rest of the way and you're good to go.Dave Lundy via Flickr © 2013
Make lunch while you make dinnerChopping celery for soup? Cut a few more for lunches while you're at it. Or, better yet, just make enough soup for leftovers. No need to be fancy here, just practical, because ain't nobody got time for school lunches.Tracy Benjamin via Flickr
Freeze food in individual portionsLeftovers? Good. Frozen leftovers that never get eaten? Bad. Make it easy on yourself: Put your leftovers in large freezer bags and freeze just until they start to harden. Then, use the handle of a wooden spoon to section the food into lunch-size portions before returning the bag to the freezer.Laurel Macleod
Preheat your ThermosThere's nothing worse than a bowl of lukewarm soup, so while you're waiting for it to heat up in the morning, fill your Thermos with boiling water. The added heat will ensure that stew stays piping hot until noon. (Bonus: You can reuse the water to give your morning dishes a quick rinse.)Laurel Macleod
In fact, use your Thermos for everythingDon't limit your Thermos use to soups and pastas; these hot and handy containers are also great for keeping nuggets, spring rolls and other such items nice and toasty until it's time to eat.Laurel Macleod
Use silicone muffin liners as food dividersIf you've got little ones who don't like their food to touch, silicone muffin liners make perfect dividers. They're not only soft and malleable so they'll fit into any space, but they're also waterproof, so you don't need to worry about the melon juice inching toward the crackers.Melissa via Flickr
Remember: Cookie cutters make the best sandwichesIf your kids routinely come home with the crusts from their sandwiches rolled into a ball, save yourself the mess by removing the crusts with cookie cutters. Ones that yield the least waste are best, but we think your kids will love them no matter which ones you use.Tonya Staab via Flickr
Oh, and they work for fruit and cheese, tooThis is the part where you use your smaller cookie cutters to trick your kids into thinking healthy food is fun (because it totally is!). Cheese shaped as mice? Don't mind if we do.Melissa via Flickr
Put food on a stickMaybe your kids see a pile of broccoli and get scared, but put it on a sword (a.k.a. bamboo skewer)? Suddenly, they're slaying that forest of evil,green trees. They'll be too busy having fun to realize what (or how much) they're eating.Thinkstock