Ahhh, lunch packing. No matter how creative we are there never seems to be enough new ideas to make it exciting and I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve absolutely loathed standing at the counter every night fixing lunches after a long day.
So much, in fact, that last year, I stopped.
I stopped standing at the counter every night. I stopped worrying about whether or not my lunches were creative or fancy or interesting enough. I stopped worrying whether or not they were perfect — the perfect temperature and texture and flavor at the very moment in the day at which they’d be consumed.
I stopped worrying, because — and I’m going to be honest — what I make for them at any other time is rarely perfect. It’s imperfect, but it’s edible and that’s what matters; whether or not it nourishes the body.
I stopped worrying, and let me tell you, the art of packing easy lunches? Is a beautiful thing.
Step One: Gather Tools of the Trade.
There are tons of great posts out there on how to pack lunches and what to use. Suffice to say, whatever your preferences of the moment, you can find the right dishes, water bottles, utensils and even lunch bags to suit them. These days I mostly use zip-loc bags, butcher paper, and these resealable dishes with the little ice packs built in. It’s not waste or plastic free, but it works for me for now.
Step Two: Stockpile Essentials.
As much as your budget will allow, but at leas a week’s worth; trust me, it’ll make your life easier.
Oh, and for the sake of all that is good and right in the world, do not put them all out at once. I’ve yet to meet a child who couldn’t The-Very-Hungry-Caterpillar their way through a month’s worth of snacks given the chance. “What do you mean we weren’t supposed to eat all twenty seven pudding cups today?
Step Three: Pre-portion Snacks & Sides.
Snack-sized ziploc bags and small resealable dishes are the workhorses of this method. Everyone needs a main dish to fill them up and keep them satisfied, but the sides and snacks are where the variety comes in. Once per week, usually on Sunday evenings, I pull out crackers, cheese, vegetables, fruits and whatever else I plan to include in lunches that week and portion them out into single-servings.
Step Four: Make-Ahead Main Dishes.
Like snacks and sides, main dishes are made — for the most part — once per week. Contrary to what our Grandmas taught us, well-made sandwiches won’t go soggy in hours. Use lettuce or spinach as a buffer between lunch meats and absorbent slices of bread, and plan for drier types of sandwiches or alternate main dishes to be consumed later in the week — wraps, bowls of soup that are quickly heated and poured into a thermos in the morning, and leftovers if your meal plans allow for them all work well.
Step Five: Assemble Weekly Grab-n-Go Bins.
Don’t forget drinks. And include just enough for the week; the rest of your snack-tastic stockpile can be stored elsewhere.
We keep three of these. One in the pantry for shelf-stable snacks, sides, and drinks; another in the fridge for cold snacks like fruits and veggies that I’ve pre-portioned out specifically for lunches; and a third for the week’s make-ahead main dishes. There are always other fruits and veggies available for snacking when they’re home, but they know the designated bins are for lunch packing and if Mom has to cut up more broccoli mid-week, heads will roll.
Step Six: Pack Like a Rat.
Not a sewer rat, or even one of the nasty ones I have occasionally found dead in various water troughs. No, pack like the rat from Ratatouille . Like a cute, inventive, creative rat. Definitely one of those. Which is to say, use the power of mix-and-match to keep things interesting without too much work. You’ve got your grab-n-go bins, choose different combinations from them daily, stuff those lunch boxes full and send the kiddos on their merry way. It doesn’t get much easier than that.