It’s back-to-school time, which means new clothes, freshly sharpened pencils and school buses filling the streets. While parents may rejoice when kids return to the classroom, they may not welcome some of the more, well, annoying things about the fall rush, like packing lunches, supervising homework and driving carpool. (Why do kids have to eat all the time? Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks — it never ends!)

Packing school lunch for multiple children every day is hard enough, but add in the extra requirements that it be nut-free, appetizing to a picky child, cold enough to stay fresh and dry enough not to get soggy, and you’re pretty much conjuring up unicorns each day. (And don’t forget in the added pressure of our kids’ teachers judging us based on what we send.)

Lucky for me, I’ve got friends in low places: the trenches of mommyhood. Here are the best tips I've heard for dumb-easy lunches (read: no cucumbers cut into the shape of stars) from the most authentic of sources.

1. Make a handy food chart, like this one. Fill each column with easy things you have on hand, and you can mix and match ingredients into the lunchbox as you see fit. Proteins can be anything from string cheese and yogurt to deli meat. Heck, even the cheese on a slice of pizza qualifies in my book. I leave off the “sweet treat” section since my kids seem to be growing Kit Kats under their bed, but you can tailor as you see fit.

2. Keep it simple. If your kid insists on yogurt every day, so be it. Don’t make life more difficult for yourself by changing things up. Also, pro tip: Stick the yogurt in the tube in the freezer the night before, then pop it in their lunchbox in the morning. No need for an ice pack since it’ll be defrosted to just the right temperature by lunch.

3. Veggie cups. ‘Nuff said. Did you know that vegetables come in little cups just like fruit? This was the coolest discovery I made this summer. Hidden in the canned vegetable aisle next to the cans of artichokes and hearts of palm are the perfect lunch-sized cups of corn, peas, green beans and carrots. It ain’t fancy, but it’s better than sending Oreos.

4. Have a plethora of single-serve snacks on hand. I keep mine in a three-drawer storage bin and let the kids pick their own snacks for the day. The top drawer is stocked with different flavors of squeezing applesauce and the bottom drawers are carb-y snacks that aren’t too unhealthy — pretzels, Chex mix, popcorn and whole-wheat crackers. The kids have to pick one snack from the top drawer and one from the bottom two. They love getting to have a say in what they bring to school, and I love delegating some of the work.

5. Frozen breakfast foods are your friends. If I had all the time in the world, I would make my own pancakes and waffles, but some days, I’m lucky if my kids are wearing clean socks. After my unofficial perusal of the frozen aisle in the grocery store, I found the Aunt Jemima mini pancakes had the fewest ingredients of all the mini pancakes I found. That means there’s less of the processed stuff. I pop them in the microwave for 30 seconds and then slide them into a Thermos. It’s a hit every time.

6. Whole fruit is the easiest fresh fruit to pack. To avoid being completely derelict, I try to send the kids with fresh fruit or veggies at least a couple times a week. The easiest way to do this is to send a whole apple, plum or peach, or even a whole mini-cucumber. Sometimes I send cut-up peppers, cucumbers or strawberries — I do this by cutting up the fruit on Sunday and putting them in a Ziploc bag lined with a paper towel to absorb moisture and keep them from getting too soggy.

There. Not so bad, right? What tips do you have for easy school lunches? I’d love to get your ideas in the comments below.

6 super easy tips for packing school lunches
These strategies make the chore of filling lunchboxes more bearable.