Use a Juicebox as an Ice Pack
One PEOPLE mom recommends tossing a few juice boxes (like Mott’s Apple White Grape or Apple Cherry) into the freezer on Sunday. Then as you’re packing lunch each morning, skip the clunky ice pack and use a frozen juice instead. The juice will be thawed and ready to drink by lunchtime, and the rest of the food will stay nice and cold. Best of all, kids don’t have to worry about bringing the ice pack home each day.
Make Sandwiches Into Cool Shapes
“Sometimes just making food more fun for kids can brighten their day, especially during a school day when they might feel stressed about a math quiz, reading in front of others or even just missing you,” she tells PEOPLE. “Little pick-me-ups are good for everyone – no matter the age. Also, creating new shapes or presenting food in exciting ways can entice children to try new things. It makes the whole meal more engaging.”
Buy it! $9.71 (for pack of 4); amazon.com
Separate Snacks with Reusable Baking Cups
If you have picky eaters who hate when different foods touch — or you’re just incorporating snacks that might leak juices — take a hint from Camille Walker of My Mommy Style and utilize silicone cupcake liners. The flexible cups turn a regular lunch tote into a custom bento box, and you can use them for baking projects with your little ones on weekends.
Buy it! $12 (for set of 36); amazon.com
Let Kids Pack Their Own Lunch
Inspire some independence in older children by letting them pick and choose their foods. Charlotte Smith of At Charlotte’s House sets up labeled bins in the refrigerator and pantry, and puts out a chart so her kids know how many to grab from each container.
“It makes our mornings so much smoother and easier: no fighting, I’m not doing a million things before the bus comes, and the kids have to learn to pack what they will eat!” she says. “Win-win-win.”
Arrange Apple & Orange Slices Together to Prevent Browning
You’ve probably heard that lemon juice squeezed on top of apple slices keeps them fresher longer; the same principle applies here in this hack from Jennifer Kalynuik of Little Lunch Love. The acid from the oranges will keep the apples from turning a muddy color. It creates a cool-looking design, and kids get two fruits in one!
Write Notes on Bananas
Forget the sticky note and instead pen a short message or affirmation directly on a banana peel with a marker. Meghan Markle used the tactic during a charity project in February while she was still expecting her son Archie.
Or if you want to maximize lunchtime magic, use a toothpick to write secret notes on the banana. The message will be very faint in the morning but will darken as the day goes on.
Use a Thermos for Hot Lunch
Stainless-steel containers are not just for soup. Devon Weaver of Mama Cheaps heats up leftovers like pasta or pizza rolls in the microwave in the morning then dumps them into a thermos to send off to school. “A great tip for foods that tend to get a little soggy like chicken nuggets – put a paper towel or napkin in the bottom of the thermos to absorb some of the moisture,” she says.
This version from Target has a wide opening for easy filling and a fold-up spoon.
Buy it! $20 for 16 oz; target.com
Make Butterfly Snack Bags
This adorable idea from Emily Hunsaker of Hunny I’m Home DIY is an easy, low-budget craft you can do on weekends that will pay off big during the weekdays. The decorated clothespin acts as a barrier so you can separate two different treats, or use it to simply jazz up one. Check out her blog for the full instructions.