Smart Home

5 ways Amazon Echo can help you make better school lunches

Say goodbye to boring brown bag lunches.

Kids help make lunch Credit: Getty / monkeybusinessimages

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Is your kid tired of the same old peanut butter and jelly sandwiches day in and day out? It’s one of the most obvious meals to pack for school lunch (and I’ve certainly made a fair share of PB and J’s for my daughter). But, if you’re in search of new ideas to keep your kids’ bellies satisfied all year long, then you may want to enlist the help of Alexa.

Using an Alexa-enabled speaker, like our favorite, the Echo (2nd Generation), doesn’t seem like it would be a useful tool for school lunch ideas. However, there are several Alexa skills that can simplify and streamline the process. To enable one of the following skills, head to the Alexa app on your iOS or Android device. From generating new recipe ideas to keeping track of your at-home menu, here are five Alexa skills that can help you with school lunch ideas.

1. Help you (and the kids) know what’s for lunch

What's for lunch
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Alexa can help you keep track of upcoming meals.

“What are you packing me for lunch?” is a question that’s asked frequently around my house (and I sometimes feel like a broken record when my 6-year-old asks me that same question several times throughout the morning). I tried writing out my family’s meals for the week on our kitchen chalkboard, but I don’t always get the chance to do so. By using the “Meal Planner” skill on your Alexa-enabled device, you and your family can ask, “Alexa, ask Meal Planner what is for lunch?” Whether it’s Pizza Friday or Taco Tuesday, the Meal Planner skill can help your family stay in the know when it comes to what’s on the menu. (This skill can also be used for breakfast and dinner.) To add a dish, say, "Alexa, ask Meal Planner to add pizza for lunch tomorrow."

2. Discover new recipes

New recipes
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Tired of eating the same meals? Ask Alexa to for new recipe suggestions.

After day five of the same old lunch, your child is probably craving something different. By using the “AllRecipes” skill, you can ask Alexa for the recipe of the day if you’re looking for inspiration. Or, if you have a meal in mind, say, “Alexa, ask Allrecipes to find me a recipe for sandwiches” to hear a few options. Have a picky eater on your hands? The skill also offers “kid-friendly recipes” like fruit salad, tacos, and muffins.

If you have the Echo Show or Echo Spot, you can follow the recipe instructions on the screen. No screen? No problem. Alexa will send the recipe to your phone, but you'll need to give her your number first.

3. Find out what’s on the school cafeteria menu

School lunch
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Wondering what's on the menu for school lunch? Your Echo may be able to tell you.

If your child buys into the school lunch program, it can be easy to forget what’s on the menu for the day ahead. To find out what’s on the cafeteria menu for the day, just ask Alexa to help. The “School Menus by Nutrislice” skill has access to lunch menus at more than 12,000 schools nationwide. First, you’ll need to tell the skill your child’s school district by saying, “Alexa, open School Menus," and then, for example, say, "My district is Douglas County School District." Once you set your school district, you or your child can ask Alexa, “What’s for lunch?” to prepare for the day ahead.

4. Set a timer so you don’t overcook the pasta

pasta time
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The Echo can set multiple timers to help you cook several things at the same time.

Pasta dishes, like spaghetti or ravioli, are easy meals that can be kept warm inside of an insulated container until it’s time for lunch. While you’re busy making sure the kids are getting ready for school in a timely fashion, ask Alexa to set a timer while the noodles (or another hot meal) cook to perfection. Make sure to tell Alexa how long you would like to set the timer for. Your Echo will play a sound once the timer is done, so you don’t have to worry about losing track of time on school mornings.

5. Add items to your grocery list

Grocery list
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Tired of losing your paper grocery list? Add the items you need to a virtual list by using your Alexa-enabled device.

Have you ever gone to the grocery store without a list, only to forget several important items that you really needed to make lunch the next day? The “OurGroceries” skill can help you keep track of your shopping list. As you move around the kitchen in the mornings, making breakfast and packing lunches, you can just say, "Alexa, ask OurGroceries to add milk to shopping list,” or whatever item you happen to be running low on. However, to make the skill work, you’ll need to install the OurGroceries app, available for iOS and Android devices, on your phone. Now you can stay on top of your back-to-school grocery list, one item at a time.

These are just some of the ways that Alexa can help you streamline lunchtime and add variety to your child’s midday meal. Still searching for new foods and meals to introduce during lunch? We’ve rounded up the 10 most popular back-to-school lunch ideas on Pinterest for additional inspiration.