• Posts on this site contain affiliate links. This means that when you purchase through these links, we get a small commission off of those purchases; in other words, it helps to keep this site running, cover fees, and support our family!

Lunch to Go | Hacks for Busy Families

As a family that is always running this place and that, I love hacks that help make busy life a little easier, so I am excited to partner with Smucker’s to share my on-the-go lunch hacks with you.

As parents, we are often running from place to place, activity to activity. Sometimes in the rush you can forget to pack certain food groups or forget to pack lunch altogether. Rest assured, fellow parents, there are hacks for making lunches quick, easy, and complete so you can grab it and go all year round.

These Lunch Hacks to Go will help busy families to be unstoppable in their everyday routines. Learn ways to save time making lunch, don't forget to pack certain foods, and grab a free printable! Lunch | Back to School | Travel with Kids | Parenting | Hacks | To-Go | Quick and Easy | Lunch Ideas | School Lunch | Free Printable | On-the-Go | Time-Saving | Tricks and Tips | Food | Kids
Great for Pinning Image Pin It Button

If you are anything like me as a parent, you want things to be readily available. You don’t want your schedule to fall behind. You don’t want to forget to send your child everything he needs for a complete meal. You want to be prepared, feel “Unstoppable“, win a gold medal (or at least a silver medal) for your parenting.

Whether you are packing lunch for a day trip to the mall, school, field trips, or just in case your chores-on-the-town take a little longer than you had planned because the kids are tagging along, these “Lunch to Go” hacks will save you time and precious brain power…and we all know how important that is.


Packing lunches requires some preparation, sort of how Team USA trains and trains before they can compete. One of my biggest time-hogging chores, personally, is cutting up the fruits and vegetables, splitting them into single servings, and moving them into baggies. Sometimes I choose single-serve containers of these, but I like to have fresh fruits and veggies available too, so it is very important and time-saving to have them pre-cut.

Set aside a certain amount of time to clean and cut a handful of different fruits and vegetables that we have, ones that will not go bad quickly, and I will sort them out either into baggies that I freeze to thaw and eat later, into one big container I can easily access, or automatically make single-serving packs of each. This way I have them prepped and ready for both planned trips and last-minute ventures.

Pre-Packed Lunch Kits

As you prep your fruits and vegetables ahead, go ahead and pack a few lunch kits ahead of time. Hard pencil boxes work well for this. They are inexpensive, stackable, and big enough to fit a full lunch in if needed.

The hard shell also prevents foods from getting smashed and they fit right into most soft lunch bags, which are added bonuses. Pack everything and keep it stored in the refrigerator or just pack non-refrigerated items and add the refrigerated foods before you head out the door.

Lunch to Go Pencil Box

Keep Ready-Made Lunch Items Handy

Maybe you’ve had a rough morning. Maybe you’re sick. Maybe you’re running late because those tennis shoes were simply not the right tennis shoes and your child simply will not get up off the floor until he has the tennis shoes…the ones with the blue and green (can you tell we’ve dealt with this?). Ready-made lunch items like Smucker’s Uncrustables are just what you need to keep your schedule moving smoothly. I love how convenient their frozen sandwiches are and the fact that both of my kids will eat them, hassle-free.

Uncrustables Olympics Team USA

Every day life can be a hassle. Uncrustables wants you to be unstoppable, like Team USA. Uncrustables can be added into a lunch bag before you head out the door and in 30 minutes to an hour they are ready to be eaten. They stay fresh for 8-10 hours after they’ve been thawed, so they will be just right come lunch time.

Know What to Pack

Knowing what to pack for lunches helps me provide my family with complete and wholesome meals, just like Team USA needs to know what is expected of them ahead of time so they can bring it all when the competition begins. I have created some free printable Team USA-inspired lunch mats, reference cards, and labels to help guide you while packing lunches. Think of these as your lunch coaches, helping you pack each food group.

Lunch to Go Printable Lunchbag Mat

The lunch mats can be placed inside of your lunch box at the bottom and you can place each item on top to make sure you have them all. I have provided multiple sizes, as I know lunchboxes can vary in size. I have also provided a small version you can use as a reference card if none will fit your lunch bag. I recommend laminating this so it can be used multiple times over and so that it holds up to everyday use.

Lunch to Go Printable Lunchbag Mat in Use

The lunch labels are shaped like rings and contain each of the food groups. You can cut these out and tape them into place on your lunch bag or box if the mats will not fit (perfect for bento lunch boxes.). I have provided a couple different sizes.

Lunch to Go Printable Lunch Labels

You can print the full set for free below:

A pop-up window will show; scroll down with the scroll bars or with the page down or down arrow buttons on your keyboard to download.

Download Your Free Lunch Mats and Labels

Be Grab ‘n Go Ready

A great way to save time for yourself or even involve your children in packing lunches is to have a grab ‘n go station. You can organize these in special bins or shelves in the refrigerator and pantry. If you have younger children, designate the lowest shelf in the refrigerator/freezer and pantry as the “Lunch Items” shelf.

You may have noticed all the little colored stickers on each package of food. Pick up some colored stickers and designate one color or shape for each food group.

Lunch to Go Labels

We used this key:

  • Grains = Black
  • Proteins = Blue
  • Dairy = Yellow
  • Fruits = Red
  • Veggies = Green
  • Treats = Golden Star

Since I did not have black stickers, I simply used a permanent marker to color some of the stickers black.

Stick these onto the packages/pre-bagged foods on the lunch shelves. Choose one of each color to add to the lunchbox. You are in control of the foods available, but your child is allowed to make his own decisions. This activity can also be used for teaching about nutrition and the food groups.

Offer a Lunch Menu

If your child enjoys foods that sometimes need to be prepared last-minute or you cannot have everything placed neatly on one shelf, offer a menu. This can be simple or slightly detailed; it is up to you. Personally, I would model it slightly after a kids’ menu at restaurants, listing a few quick food items your child typically enjoys in each food group.

Go ahead and laminate this so you can use dry erase markers on it. Your child can choose what he wants for his entree, side items, beverage, and dessert by writing a check mark next to each item he wants. Again, this offers your child the freedom of choice, but keeps things within reason and doable for you. If you laminate it, add several different choices and simply cross out those that are not currently available at the time, then erase the marks when they are available again.

Always Have Napkins

Messes are inevitable. Keep napkins in your lunch bag or box at all times, ready to clean at a moment’s notice.

Lunch to Go Hacks Square

Side note: in case you’re wondering, yes. I totally bought this lunch bag just for me. The boys have their own lunch bags–I saw this one and I just knew I had to have it. Seriously though, cats with mustaches.

School, family adventures, or long car rides–whatever the event, your busy family can be ready to go with these “Lunch to Go” hacks.

I would love to hear from you in the comments below–-Do you have a busy family? What are your tips for getting lunch together so you can get out the door quickly and prepared?

Read Also: Lunch Ideas for Busy Moms and Why I Clean the House Every Night

Know someone who would love this? Hit the “share” buttons below! Be sure to follow Arts & Crackers on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or the others at the top right!


  1. Uncrustables have saved us on many an outing. Thanks for the printable!

  2. I tried my first Uncrustables at a Ladies’ Tea. It was delicious. They will work well in Mom and Dad’s lunches too. They are also a great addition to church and other pot luck dinners. Much healthier than hot dogs.

  3. We like the Uncrustables! They are easy to have real fast for lunch. We like string cheese, a healthy granola bar, nuts, and fruit. You have great ideas here. The fruit cups are a great idea.

  4. Wow, I never thought of using pencil boxes for organizing lunches. I can’t count how many soft multi-grain bars have been have been wasted because they’ve gotten too squished to eat.

  5. You have some great ideas! When we go shopping we tend to be gone for a long time because I try to go as infrequently as possible. I often start to drag because we get hungry but I don’t want to stop long enough to eat because I just want to get it done (can’t stand fast food.) I have never tried Uncrustables but I plan to try some up now. I can throw those in a small lunch bag with some carrots,etc. and we can grab lunch in the car then back to business!

  6. I love Uncrustables…even as an adult for a quick, healthy meal and/or snack! I have packed them for lunch for my daughter and even myself – plus they have been perfect to bring with us to picnic, school and karate functions and events! Delicious, balanced sandwich!!

  7. These are really great tips! So many good ideas that make you prepared that I wouldn’t have thought of! I love the printable! My kids love uncrustables!

  8. Jennifer Sullivan

    Freeze the Uncrustable and it will keep the rest cool and be ready to eat at lunch as well.

    • Yep, they come frozen and when you are ready to eat it, you just pop it in the lunch box still frozen and it’ll be ready in as little as 30 minutes!

  9. Great ideas! I especially like using the pencil box because I hate when my food gets crushed.

  10. I love the diagram to slide in the bottom of the lunchbox.

  11. I feel like we are always in a hurry- those sandwiches are perfect for days we need to be out of the house early. Love that it makes lunch a no prep ordeal, and my kids love them, so it’s a win ??

  12. My 5 kids all eat hot lunches at school unless of course they ave a field trip so I am lucky on this one. Another story for summer when they are home

    • That’s always good! These are great for when you are traveling too or have a day out for shopping or other activities, so you don’t need to stop for fast food.

  13. Thanks for sharing your great ideas! The Smucker’s Uncrustables are a big favorite in my house. My son takes lunch to school on occasion but it nice to have stuff ready for on the go when your busy.

  14. Pingback: Encourage Healthy Choices With These Silly, Fun Exercises for Kids

  15. Pingback: Unconventional Stocking Stuffer Ideas by Category

  16. Pingback: Back to School Free Printables - The Mommies Reviews

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.