Back to school is here yet again, and with it brings a flurry of preparations. One ongoing challenge I personally deal with is packing lunches. Oh, the lunch box – my nemesis. Actually, I suppose my nemeses are monotony and my exhausted brain before coffee; the lunch box is just an innocent by-stander. But this year, I think I’ve finally landed on a winning strategy.
Similar to my dinner time method, I have adopted the habit of prepping all of our lunch materials in one session. I specifically wanted Ms. Spontaneity to help with the lunch-packing process this year, and simultaneously have been working in opportunities for her to learn and practice basic kitchen skills, so each Saturday we spend about 30 minutes preparing a week’s worth of lunches for grab-and-go convenience.
This has been a life saver!!! Each weekday morning, Ms. Spontaneity and Mr. Planned can grab everything they need to pack their own lunches. As a result of taking that one item off my to-do list each morning, I’ve gotten back both time and sanity, making a more relaxed morning for me…and hence, a more relaxed morning for everyone!
When I do my menu planning each week, I will jot down the entree for each lunch and add the items to my grocery list. I’ll also add a variety of fruits, veggies, and snacks, mixing it up based on what’s on sale and what we’re in the mood for that week. Since there are three of us, I plan for 15 packed lunches.
I still handle the prep for entrees (which I’ll cover in another post), but with just a little coaching and supervision, Ms. Spontaneity has been able to take over the prep work for nearly everything else! We both love the time together in the kitchen, with the added bonuses that she is picking up life skills along the way AND is more likely to eat the lunch items that she has worked hard to prepare.
Here are our steps:
Wash, chop and package all vegetables – 15 servings. We try to mix things up a little, so some packages have a mix of all the veggies for the week and some will have just one or two kinds. We may also portion out small containers of peanut butter or dip for serving as well. Our favorites include bell peppers, carrots, celery, grape tomatoes (technically a fruit, but we’ll roll with it), broccoli, cucumbers, snap peas.
Wash, chop and package all fruits – 30 servings. We might mix a few varieties together but mostly we stick to one kind of fruit per package to help everything last a little longer. Our favorites include pineapple, cantaloupe, grapes, apples (I find if I tightly seal the bags and press out all the air we have minimal trouble with browning; I also limit the amount of cut surface area, for example cutting an apple into quarters rather than many slices), watermelon, oranges, kiwi, berries.
Portion out snack items – 30 servings. Our favorites include a variety of potato chips, snack crackers, nuts like almonds or pistachios, cheese (sticks, squares, or spread), tortilla chips and salsa
Prep and portion out dessert – 15 servings. We’ll generally pack one “sweet treat” per lunch, and we try to keep it low key. Many times it will be something homemade like a muffin, bar, or cookies; however, we also like to do jello or pudding mixes occasionally, so we’ll prep and portion those.
On weekdays, everyone grabs an entree (which often incorporates more veggies), a veggie, two fruits, two snacks, and one sweet. Ms. Spontaneity is required to get grown up approval before actually packing things away to ensure good variety, and then everything gets stashed in the lunch bags. Each person fills up a water bottle to take and refill throughout the day and that’s it!
In order to keep produce from spoiling, make sure you are using more delicate items like berries and cucumbers early in the week and save hardier foods like apples and carrots for the latter part.
In order to help family members find the lunch options, I designate one shelf in my fridge for lunches and have a storage area – currently an unused bread box – for prepped pantry items.
Here are some links to the storage containers we use and love. Please note that if you choose to make a purchase through the following three links, I will receive a small percentage commission on the sale at no additional cost to you; this helps to cover the costs of blogging, so thanks in advance for your support!
Contigo THERMALOCK Matterhorn Stainless Steel Water Bottle, 20oz, Matte Black (These keep our water ice cold all day long – even when I leave it in the car for hours at a time on hot summer days!)
I hope this gives you some ideas to try out to streamline your own lunch-packing routine. I’m always on the hunt for more ideas and tips, so please share in the comments if you have any go to lunch items or prep ideas!