by Debra Caffrey
Though it only takes a few minutes to do, and we should be used to feeding our kids three meals every day, there is something about packing lunchboxes that makes all parents moan! By the time the end of the school year is upon us, it’s not an exaggeration that we’re just throwing random items into the lunchbox without much care or sense! Now that school is in full swing again, it’s time to reevaluate our game, and figure out how we can streamline the process to make packing lunches smoother (and a little less tedious). Here are a few of my suggestions to help you expedite and actually enjoy the process:
1) Keep it Simple
Beware the appeal of beautiful Pinterest images and mom blogs of gorgeously perfect compartmentalized school lunches. You can draw inspiration from what you see, but let’s get realistic here—my child is not going to eat fruit sushi roll-ups or veggies just because they are cut in the shape of stars and flowers or arranged in colorful silicone muffin liners. Perhaps your child won’t either! Keep things simple by focusing on what your children really do eat, not what you wish they were eating. A little experimentation is fine, but save introducing new foods for dinnertime and keep lunch about what you know your kids will eat to get through the day.
2) Don’t Overpack
If you’ve ever visited your kids during lunchtime at school, you may already be well aware that there are many other things going on besides eating! Kids are being social, letting loose, fooling around, decompressing from academics and dealing with a bunch of other internal issues during the brief time they have to eat. We all worry about our kids eating enough, but proper nutrition can be comprehensive over the course of the day. For lunchtime, remember that kids don’t have a lot of time to eat and probably do not have as huge of an appetite as you may be worried about. Pack lighter than you think and keep portions realistic, not overly ambitious.
3) Create a “Lunch Making Station”
Designate a specific cabinet or drawer in the kitchen to be the “lunchbox” workplace. Keep all necessary Tupperware, Bento boxes, Thermoses and the like there, as well as helpful accessories like straws, utensils and napkins. Further, you can appoint a “grab and go” spot in both the pantry and fridge for easy-to-pack items like juice boxes, cheese sticks and mini bags of chips for easy assembly when it’s time to pack.
4) Make the Freezer Your Friend
To save time in the long run, prep big batches of favorite lunch foods to freeze in gallon-sized bags and use for lunches during the week. This can be done with many items such as mini egg frittatas, pizzas, homemade soft pretzel bites, savory muffins and breakfast-for-lunch foods like mini bagels and breakfast burritos. These make great lunches and can be defrosted and reheated quickly before packing.
5) Prepare and Pack the Night Before
It may feel like the last thing you want to do after a long day, especially after cooking and cleaning up dinner, but preparing lunches and getting everything all set the night beforehand is crucial if you want to avoid feeling the lunch-packing dread that inevitably will come day after day. It’s a great feeling to prepare lunches in the evening, leave all bags in the fridge, and not have to worry about it early in the morning! Prepare, pack, and assemble everything at night and don’t forget a special note! I often try to get this done while I’m waiting for water to boil or something to finish baking in the oven for dinner. Then, in the morning, all you need to do is throw an ice pack in the lunchbox, or warm up a hot lunch, and you’re done!
Finally, be sure to involve your kids in age-appropriate lunch prep duties. Most school-aged children can prepare some or all of their own lunch and it’s a perfect opportunity for them to learn the weight and responsibility of meal prep. Giving them onus over their own lunches can help avoid wasted food, too. Like anything else when it comes to what goes on in the family kitchen, a little bit of preparation goes a very long way to save both money and sanity.