Lunch Packing Guide: COVID Edition


The 2020 daycare/school year may look a little different than previous years. Your kids may be returning full-time with safety precautions, doing school from home, or maybe doing a mix of both in-person and remote learning. Whatever it is, it will be an adjustment for all of us. And no matter what, our kids still need to eat and have lunch. Packing something the night before, or the morning of, is still going to be a great routine to get into, even if home schooling, and I want to help you start the year with confidence and a flexible lunch packing plan. 

‘Cause you see… now, more than ever during this pandemic, is the time to work on your mindset around lunch packing first (<–this blog post will help!). Everything else comes second. 

Here are my main tips for how I want you to think of things.

Keep things easy

Seriously. My #1 parenting and feeding tip here is: don’t over complicate things (pandemic or no pandemic). We tend to look at fancy lunch boxes online and think they need to look like that in order to be nutritious, fun, and exciting. Let me tell you something though – I’ve packed what others consider to be “pretty fancy” lunch boxes for my kids their entire life and it’s been made up of nothing but leftovers or regular and random food items from my fridge, pantry, or freezer. I just open my cupboards and fridge in the morning and think “What do I have in here?” and just throw random whole foods together. I’ve got tons of ideas for you inside my free ultimate lunch packing guide here to help you out! 

During this time where we have to work, parent, and maybe even homeschool our kids (on top of preventing them from getting sick)…we need to lose the idea of sending the perfect looking lunch and just focus on the basics. Sandwiches are totally fine (think of fillings like bean spreads, rotisserie chicken, soy butter, and tuna salads). Things that you might think don’t make a lot of sense together (like noodles and pitted olives) can be totally normal for your kid. Don’t overthink it. Keep a safe food present among the lunch items, and don’t be afraid to pack less preferred, easy foods you already have prepared in with it. Just follow my formula for fiber, fat, protein, and produce and whatever foods land from each of those categories – go with it!

Be flexible and gracious with your own needs as a parent

Much like life, we have to be ready to make adjustments as we go, but give yourself grace. Some days you’ll be on the ball and packing amazing lunches (click here for a full blog post on lunch ideas!), planning ahead, getting your child involved, keeping it varied, and heck – it may even look pretty – and other days you throw in a lunchable and call it a day. No child ever died, or didn’t grow up to have a job, because of a sub-par (in your mind) lunch that was packed here and there. My advice is to embrace and acknowledge your needs as a parent, and tell yourself “I packed xyz and I’m a great mom/dad”. “I’m acknowledging my need for more time in the morning today so I packed xyz. I’m a great mom/dad”. “My child loves the surprise of having xyz for lunch. I’M A GREAT MOM/DAD!”. 

There is NO mom/dad guilt allowed here at MLE…got it? 

Let go of what you can’t control

Take a deep breath and know that we can’t control what happens outside our home, or what our child decides to eat even within our home, but we can control what foods we choose to serve and how we react. Remember what your child eats while at school doesn’t make up their nutrition for the day. Even outside of just calories, nutrient wise your child is likely getting what they need if they’re eating a good snack at school/home and at least portions of their breakfast and supper. Need help understanding the nutrition needs of a toddler and how to help them eat? Check out my Feeding Toddlers online course! I also don’t want you to hound them about why they didn’t eat so and so at lunchtime. The last thing we want picky eaters to feel is pressure around eating what’s packed. 

At the end of the day, here is what mindset I want you to have going into this school year. Ask yourself…Did I do my job of serving as close to a balanced, varied lunch as I could? Great. You succeeded! Whether your child ate it all, half, or none, depending on the day – guess what…that’s their job (read more on their job in feeding here). They’ll eat what they’ll eat. Don’t let your worries go past your job.

Enlist your child’s help

I know initially it might seem like this just creates more work for you. But even letting them pack just one item every morning in their lunch box makes a world of difference by increasing the chances they’ll eat what they’ve packed! Kids and toddlers who pack their lunch feel a sense of pride and control over what they’re eating. You can give them the option between two items in each category of foods (see my free lunch packing guide here for all the ideas). That way, you’re keeping clear boundaries with their food options, but giving them the control they might yearn for over their own food. And you’re exposing them to the food in a positive way so they get more familiar with it and learn valuable lunch packing skills. Make it a part of their morning curriculum at home if they’re homeschooling, or make it an after dinner routine the night before if not. Once you do it a few times, and your child comes to expect it, it becomes really easy!

I typically tell you to take your child to the grocery store once a week to choose a couple items (maybe new foods!) to incorporate into lunches, but with the pandemic, you may choose to do online grocery shopping instead! Again, this is easy to make it part of homeschooling curriculum. My kids loved scrolling Instagram with me and picking out a lunchbox that had a cool item they wanted to try next! It’s a great way to get them to branch out with lunches on their own accord, and gives you inspiration for new lunch items to pack as well!

Leave lunch boxes at the door and consider your lunch gear

The last thing we want to do is track germs inside the house by bringing lunch boxes (school bags etc.) into the home from outside. I suggest teaching your child to drop all their bags and lunchboxes at the door (in the mudroom if you have one), wash their hands first thing before coming in further, and then you can go and retrieve their lunch containers to wash and disinfect them. Lunch boxes that are easiest to clean with dish soap and warm water, and that can be truly disinfected, are going to be non-fabric ones. My favourite ones of all time are the PlanetBox lunch boxes, made of stainless steel, are dishwasher safe, are so durable, and they hold so much food in them. I have other suggestions for great lunch box options here you can browse through as well. 

I also suggest upgrading your child’s water bottle to one that can hold enough for the whole day. Most schools have closed off access to water fountains to prevent the easy transfer of germs. That means, your child can’t refill their water bottle if they’ve drank what you initially gave them. A bigger water bottle = more water = no problem for your child to have enough for the day.

And there you have it! 

My tips for packing lunches during a pandemic school year. Got anything more to add? I’d love to hear from you on Instagram! Leave me a comment below this image here or send me a DM!

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meet edwena

Registered pediatric dietitian, mom of two picky-turned-adventurous eater, and the creator of the Texture Timeline™ – an exclusive tool to help move your baby through easy to more advanced purees and finger foods to prevent picky eating.

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