Homemade, Minimal-Waste Park Lunches for Summer!

Summer brings with it such freedom and possibility. Some of my favorite days are when the kids and I pack lunches and head out for adventure! On those days, as I’m scrambling trying to pack us up for the day, my priority is convenience. One struggle I always seem to face is what to do about lunches; I appreciate the convenience of pre-packaged lunch items to help us quickly pack and go, but each time I reach for them, my inner tree-hugger cringes.

Homemade, Minimal-Waste Park Lunches for Summer! | Twin Cities Mom Collective

Over time, I’ve found some substitutes for the pre-packaged grab-and-go items. With a little prep work, these allow us to quickly pack a lunch while keeping our bodies and the earth a little healthier!

I’ve learned that when I want the convenience of grab-and-go and the benefits of homemade, the freezer is my best friend. Many of the frozen items can also serve as ice packs if you want to travel simply. I’ve used smoothie jars, frozen PB&J, and frozen fruit as ice packs before! Experiment with your family’s lunch boxes to see what keeps your food cool the longest.

Tips:

  1. Purchase quality, reusable containers. I found some heavy-duty pinch and seal bags online that have been serving us well for things like fruit or sandwiches. I have reusable zippered snack bags that work well for crackers and chips.
  2. Mason jars are great to have on hand – they are fairly leak-proof and can store just about anything.
  3. Pick a Saturday to prep a bunch of things ahead of time, so when you have an opportunity to go adventuring, you’ll be ready! 

Suggested Grab-and-Go Meal Combos:

  1. Frozen PB&J
    Frozen grapes
    Smoothie ice pack
  2. Frozen Yogurt and Granola Parfaits
    PB Honey Balls
    Frozen watermelon
  3. Frozen cheese and summer sausage
    Apples from fridge
    Bag of baby carrots from fridge to serve family-style

Our favorite “Make-Ahead-and-Freeze” recipes:

Smoothie Jars (can double as ice packs*)

1 c. yogurt
1 ½ c. milk
3 fresh bananas
2c. frozen strawberries
½ c. frozen blueberries
fresh spinach (as much as you can hide in there without your kids noticing)

Place all ingredients in full-size blender. Puree until desired consistency. Makes 6 cups.

*If freezing, pour into jars and leave 1” at the top for expansion. I’ve found that these end up being an ice cream consistency after being in my kids’ lunch box for a few hours. I toss in a spoon so they can eat it rather than sip it.

Homemade, Minimal-Waste Park Lunches for Summer! | Twin Cities Mom CollectivePeanut Butter Honey Balls

3.5-4 oz graham crackers
2 large spoonfuls peanut butter
1 large spoonful honey

Place graham crackers in food processor and pulse until it crumbs. Add peanut butter and honey. Pulse until a workable “dough” forms. Roll into balls. Eat or freeze for later.

DIY Lunchables (can freeze*)

Summer sausage
Pepperoni slices
Various cheeses
Crackers

Prep containers of meat and cheeses ahead of time. Keep crackers separate to avoid them getting soggy.

*If freezing, the cheese may weep a little as it’s thawing. I experimented with different ways to address this, and found the best results when I included a cloth napkin for my child in the same container as the cheese. The napkin soaked up the moisture, but didn’t get wet, allowing it to be functional as a napkin for the meal as well.

Homemade, Minimal-Waste Park Lunches for Summer! | Twin Cities Mom CollectiveFrozen PB&J

A few years ago friend blew my mind when said she made up sandwiches ahead of time and threw them in her freezer so she could grab them when she and the kids went to a park. The ingredients and prep are pretty self-explanatory, but I will add that you can avoid your sandwich getting soggy by putting peanut butter on BOTH sides of the sandwich, then a thin layer of jelly in between.

Dessert Options to Freeze Ahead

  • Grapes (but watch this one – they taste amazingly like candy when frozen but if they thaw too much they’re just soggy old grapes!)
  • Watermelon chunks
  • Cookies and brownies – these freeze very well and within a short amount of time are back to their freshly-baked consistency. (Sometimes I take out a bag of frozen cookies and throw it in my purse when the kids and I go out for a short hike. If they need a little motivation to continue on, I announce a surprise cookie break just around the next bend.)

Now it’s your turn! What are your favorite go-to summer park lunch options for your kids? Be sure to comment below!

Amber has lived in Minnesota her whole life, with a 4-year stint in Iowa for college (Go Norse!). She and her husband met while both trying to kayak for the first time. The kayaking didn’t go well, but their relationship did! They’ve been married for over 10 years and have four incredible children. Amber describes herself as a recovering perfectionist, unashamed introvert, and extremely empathetic. Her favorite moments are those rare ones during the day when time stands still and she can see with fresh eyes the amazing little people who call her mom.

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