Select Region
Follow us!

How to Make At-Home Lunchtime Easier for Everyone

How to Make At-Home Lunchtime Easier for Everyone

Making lunch while kids are remote learning (and parents are working) is challenging—so we asked parents for some advice.

Now that remote learning has commenced for many families, lunch may be the most difficult subject in school—at least for parents. Because school and work schedules don’t always coincide, many families find themselves eating lunch at different times. Tracy Portnoy in Tarrytown has three kids with different school-schedules. “My 1st grader needs to eat around 11:15am before school starts. At noon, my 4th grader eats his lunch in five minutes and at 1pm, my 6th grader eats,” she says. Planning and making multiple meals, not to mention the cleanup, can be a real drain on an already chaotic day. So how can parents make it easier on themselves? We spoke to a few about what’s working for them.

If your family is in need of free lunches, the NYC DOE is offering its free grab-and-go meal program throughout the school year

Plan and prep meals ahead.

Getting organized ahead of time can make conflicting schedules a lot easier. There are online resources and meal planning apps like MealBoard, LaLa Lunchbox, and Cozi which help you prep for the coming week so you can store ready-to-go items in the fridge.

Many parents find it helpful to batch cook on the weekends and then dole out portions during the week. Genevieve Ko, a mom and cooking editor for the LA Times, suggests parents “cook a lot when you feel like it and save leftovers for the times you lack kitchen motivation. Morning people can make huge breakfasts that last until lunch; folks with evening meetings can prep enough lunch to stretch to dinner.”

Make the most of leftovers.

“If there’s a silver lining to school-at-home, it’s the ability to reheat leftovers for your kids midday” Ko says. “Popping a plate in the microwave takes less time than slapping together a grilled cheese sandwich, and it feels special to eat a steaming not-steam-table hot lunch.”

Or go the cold-food route: Roll up last night's protein or veggies into a wrap, tortilla, or taco. You can also use leftover rotisserie chicken, turkey, or fish for sandwiches or salads. Bonus points: Eating leftovers for lunch results in less food waste.

Create a cafeteria-like menu.

Sometimes kids just need to see the menu! Create a list of what’s available for lunch each day so they know what’s coming and won’t complain when it’s made.

Ko recommends establishing a regular lunch repertoire: “You can keep dishes in rotation to eat when cravings strike or assign certain lunches to certain days,” she explains. “My youngest always looked forward to ‘pasta Mondays’ in her school cafeteria, so I’m going to re-create that for her, both to make her happy and to eliminate the stress of decision-making for me.”

Rachael Conaty Maglienti in Irvington set up a mock cafeteria line for her kids who “were guided to pick up a tray, plate, etc. and then choose from the fruit, salad and dessert servings in little cups I had placed in a line,” she says. “And although I will only occasionally put on a pretend hair net to serve lunch, I will try to set it up with one or two different items that make my kids feel a little in control with some choice.”

Lunchbox It

Another option is to pack a lunchbox (or better yet have your kids pack it!) as if your kids are going to school. Theresa Dowell Blackington in Durham, NC, says she packs a lunch the night before for her pre-k and first grader. “It’s the least stressful option and most time-saving for us,” she says. If you need inspiration, Lisa Leake, author of 100 Days of Real Food, created this helpful lunch packing chart.

Encourage kids to make (or at least heat) their own lunch.

It’s possible! Beverly Chase in Brooklyn has an 11-year-old son who makes his working-from-home parents lunch every day. “It is really the only ‘chore’ that he does voluntarily, and it does mean that we have to eat deli meat sandwiches every day,” she says.

For those who aren’t so lucky, it might help to set the kitchen-stage for kids. Aimee Hartstein in Maplewood, NJ says she always has the basics on hand (“frozen pizzas, burritos, and sandwich stuff”) and schooled her sixth grader in a few basic concepts. “I vaguely taught him to make cheesy eggs, a grilled cheese, and a quesadilla,” she says. She also bought a quesadilla maker. “It’s divided into 8 “pizza slices” and presses together so he’d be more into it.”

Nicole Davis in Hastings says she makes croissants and muffins available throughout the day. “For lunch I have frozen lunches like Amy's, frozen farmer's market chili—all prepared, ready to reheat.”

Ko suggests boiling a bunch of eggs and keeping them in a grab-bowl in the fridge. To streamline daily lunch prep, she also likes preparing big batches of building blocks, such as grains and beans. “I keep them ready-to-scoop in refrigerated airtight containers,” she says.

This might be the year your 9-year-old finally learns how to make scrambled eggs. "Since schooling from home doesn't take as long as going in-person, you can use the extra time to add an important life skill to your child's curriculum—cooking in the kitchen!" Leake says. Check out our favorite kids cooking classes—not only will your kids gain a new skill, they might also start making lunch.

Finally, there is an upside to lunch at home. While the prep and cleanup can be a drag, lunchtime might bring the family together. Jessica Arinella in Westchester says her kids who became closer during the summer don’t see each other as often during school hours. “So they’ve been reconnecting at lunch,” she says. Chase points out that “pre-pandemic, we would be spending tons of money on lunch or we would never have time to stop and eat lunch at all. Now it's the only time of day we all stop doing whatever we are doing and eat together, even if it's just for ten mins.”

Easy Make-Ahead Recipes:

Meatloaf Muffins

Wagon Wheel Pasta Salad

Ham and Cheddar Muffins

DIY Instant Noodle Cups

Greek Couscous Salad

Easy Pizza Pockets

Mini Pepper Pizzas






More Articles:

Things to Do with Kids in Westchester this Weekend

Enjoy these fun weekend activities with your kids in Westchester. Start planning your weekend now.

Latest News:

Things to Do with Kids in NYC this Weekend

Enjoy these fun things to do with your kids in New York City this weekend. Start planning your weekend now with our editorially curated list of happen...

Family Activities:

Have a Laugh:

Best Memes of the Week for Parents

Here are the funniest parenting memes from Instagram, Facebook, and Reddit this week.
Shana Liebman


Shana Liebman is the features editor of NYMP. She’s a writer and editor who has worked for magazines including New York MagazineSalon, and Travel & Leisure—and she is the mom of two energetic little boys.

See More