Preparing lunch for your children or yourself each morning can often feel like an time consuming task. Nevertheless by implementing a tips and tricks you can simplify the process and transform lunch packing into a smooth and effortless routine. This beginner’s guide will provide you with easy, actionable strategies to save time and reduce stress around lunch packing.
Choose the Right Gear
The first step to happy, hassle-free lunch packing is having the right tools and gear. This makes packing lunches quicker, easier, and much less messy. Here are some lunch packing gear essentials:
Invest in a set of reusable containers in different sizes. Look for containers that are lightweight, durable, leakproof, and easy for little hands to open. Stainless steel bento-style containers often work well. Make sure to get a variety with both compartments and single containers.
Insulated Lunch Bag
A high-quality insulated lunch bag will keep food fresh and prevent leaks. Choose one with enough room for all your containers and ice packs. Messenger-style and backpack lunch bags are popular options.
Toss in ice packs or reusable freezer packs to keep foods cold. Gel packs or container-style packs that snap into lunch boxes work great.
Avoid disposable utensils and pack reusable forks, spoons, and knives instead. Stainless steel, bamboo, or plastic utensils all work.
Napkins and placemats
Pack cloth napkins and foldable placemats to make lunch cleanup easy. Choose materials that are quick-drying and easy to wipe clean.
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Prep Ahead of Time
The key to stress-free morning lunch packing is prepping parts of lunch ahead of time. This avoids the need to make everything from scratch in the morning rush. Here are some do-ahead strategies:
Make large batches
On less busy days, cook and prepare lunch ingredients in big batches. Things like hard boiled eggs, quinoa, rice, roasted veggies and chicken can all be made ahead.
Wash and chop vegetables and fruits so they are ready to pack. Things like carrot sticks, grape tomatoes, apple slices, and orange wedges can be prepped and stored.
Measure granola bars, crackers, nuts, cheese sticks and other snacks into individual containers to grab and go.
Make freezer meals
Cook double batches of soups, mac and cheese, chili, and other freezer-friendly foods. Freeze in individual containers to defrost and serve.
Plan Balanced, Nutritious Lunches
Packing balanced, wholesome lunches ensures kids get the fuel and nutrition they need to stay focused at school. Follow these tips:
Include all food groups
Aim for a mix of protein, fruits, veggies, whole grains, and dairy in every lunch. Lean protein helps sustain energy while fruits and veggies pack nutrients.
Focus on whole foods
Emphasize minimally processed whole foods instead of highly refined convenience foods. Opt for fresh fruits over sugary packaged snacks when possible.
While encouraging kids to try new foods, also be sure to pack some familiar favorites they actually enjoy eating. This prevents waste and hungry tummies.
Reserve sugary treats like cookies and candy for special occasions rather than everyday lunches.
Use smaller containers
Portion foods like crackers, chips, and cookies into smaller containers to avoid overeating.
Master the Assembly Line
An assembly line approach helps you breeze through lunch packing with military precision. Follow these steps:
1. Clear a space
Clear off the kitchen counter or table to create an efficient work station. Have all your supplies nearby.
2. Set up containers
Line up all reusable containers, starting with the largest on the left and smallest on the right. Open them up and ready them for filling.
3. Add ice pack
Place any ice packs or freezer packs into the lunch boxes first. Having these ready will make bagging everything up faster in the end.
4. Work left to right
Start filling containers beginning on the left side with main dishes, then move to sides and finally snacks on the right. This keeps things orderly.
5. Seal as you go
Close up each container as soon as you fill it to avoid spills. Try filling containers the night before and stacking them in the refrigerator.
6. Toss in utensils
Remember to add reusable utensils, napkins and placemats.
7. Seal lunch bag
With everything packed, simply zip or snap your lunch bag closed and you are out the door!
Get Kids Involved
Making lunch packing a team effort teaches kids life skills and makes the task more fun. Here are kid-friendly ways to get them engaged:
Let each child pick their favorite reusable containers and make those “theirs” each week.
Plan the menu
Talk through the options and let kids help select their foods for the upcoming week’s lunches.
Bring kids along grocery shopping so they can help pick out lunch ingredients for the week.
Do prep work
Kids can rinse fruits and veggies, portion snacks into baggies, grind sea salt onto slices of cucumber, and more based on age and ability.
Pack their bag
Older kids can fully pack their own lunch bag each morning with parents double checking at the end.
Younger kids can decorate the lunch bags and containers with stickers, drawings, and other little touches of self-expression.
Mix Up the Routine
Shaking up the usual lunch routine now and then adds an element of surprise and excitement. Try these fun food presentation ideas:
Bento box style
Divide up foods into fun shapes and designs in the compartments of bento-style lunch boxes. Use cookie cutters to make shaped sandwiches.
Assemble colorful foods like cheese cubes, grapes, apple slices, and olives onto decorative skewers for a whimsical pick-and-eat lunch.
Toast and slightly cool wedges of quesadilla, then wrap in foil for an interactive lunch. Kids can unwrap and enjoy dipping in salsa.
Make individual sized English muffin pizzas with toppings or use bagels, pita, or naan for unique single-serve pizzas to pack.
Craft themed lunches around their current interests – dinosaur shapes, princess tea parties, space travel, zoo animals, or underwater scenes work great.
Put leftovers from dinners to good use in lunches the next day. Here are helpful ways to repurpose leftovers:
Cook once, eat twice
When cooking family meals, intentionally make extra with the plan to pack leftovers for lunches. Casseroles, soups, chili, and pasta dishes all work well.
Mix and match
Pair leftovers together in creative ways, like leftover chicken mixed into pasta salad or last night’s roasted broccoli added to today’s sandwich.
Freeze individual portions
Freeze single serving leftovers like rice bowls, mac and cheese cups, or meatballs so kids have homemade “heat and eat” lunches.
Transform dinner leftovers into savory breakfasts to pack by adding things like cheese, avocado, hot sauce, or an over-easy egg.
Save sauces and dressings
Extra sauce, pesto, or dressing can be packed alongside leftover pasta, grains, or proteins to rehydrate.
Troubleshoot Common Issues
Despite best efforts, lunch packing dilemmas pop up. Arm yourself with these troubleshooting tips:
If you discover lots of soggy messes, invest in higher quality leakproof containers. You can also put damp foods like yogurt and applesauce in zip-top bags before packing.
Keep a master lunch packing checklist on the fridge. Cross items off as you pack them to prevent forgetting utensils, ice packs or other pieces.
Resist the urge to pack only preferred foods. Continue offering a rotating variety to gently encourage more adventuresome eating.
Use an insulated bag and ice packs. Stick to non-perishable foods if lacking refrigeration options to avoid foodborne illness risks.
Start with smaller portions and add more as appetite grows. Teach kids to close up and save uneaten portions to help reduce waste.
Make Mornings Easier
These final tips will help ensure your mornings run smoother:
- Pack lunches the night before when possible.
- Lay out clothes, shoes, coats and backpacks by the front door the evening before.
- Make breakfast quick and easy like smoothies, toast, cereal or eggs.
- Set a lunch packing station with all supplies in one spot.
- Keep morning routines consistent using visual schedules for young kids.
- Allow extra time and build in contingencies for any mishaps.
- Offer rewards like stickers for independent lunch packing.
- Stay positive and make lunch packing together time, not chore time!
With the right tools, some advance preparation and teamwork, you can make lunch packing a breeze instead of a burden. Ditch the daily stress thanks to these kid-friendly, time-saving hacks. Soon your whole family will be out the door each morning with nutritious, delicious lunches packed and ready to power happy, healthy days of learning and play!