Some of us have already slipped back into the school routine, while others are just facing that shift. It can be daunting to return to that hard-and-fast schedule after weeks of a more relaxed one. I work from home, and one of the toughest parts for me is getting it together in the morning to pack a lunch for our son, but over the years I’ve developed some practices that make it less of a scramble every morning. None of these tips, which focus on planning ahead, are particularly sexy or revolutionary, but they do work. And try to approach this task with intention and an open heart…after all, you’re making lunch for people you love!
1. Menu Planning: I know some kids are perfectly happy—and prefer—to eat the same thing every day. Our son, Elio, is not one of them. Like his mom and dad, he loves variety. So I try to plan lunches at least a week, if not a month, out and write it down (I print out blank calendar templates from Google Docs). Like most kids, Elio is happy to buy school lunch on occasion, usually when it’s pizza or nachos, so I pencil those days in first and then work backward. Over the weekend, I glance at our menu to make sure we have everything on hand for the week ahead, as well as plenty of fruit and snack choices to round out his lunch box.
2. Leftovers!: A big part of that menu planning relies on leftovers, and I always make dinner with leftovers in mind. To keeps things fresh, I prefer to repurpose last night’s dinner so it seems new: Bacon-studded meatloaf can become the filling for an awesome sandwich; leftover bacon or grilled meat helps complete a salad; leftover dinner sausage can be added to beans and rice. Also, I usually wait a day before making use of those leftovers, so they seem less like leftover-y.
3. Working in Batches: The freezer is your friend. It’s as easy to make six burritos as it is to make one, or to portion out a pan of macaroni and cheese or a pot of soup into single servings, and tuck them in the freezer for a later date. I also like to make a batch of fruit salads at the beginning of the week and divide them into individual containers and store in the fridge. Homemade fruit salad is a) cheaper than buying pre-cut combos from the grocery store, and b) healthier than fruit cocktail. Use sturdy fruits that hold well, taste good together and won’t discolor: grapes, cherries, pineapple, certain melons, mango.
4. Sandwich Drawer: If your family loves sandwiches, and you have the room, dedicate a drawer in your fridge to sandwich fixings. We fill ours with Applegate Slow-Cooked Ham (our favorite), Roast Beef, Smoked Turkey, Genoa Salami, Provolone and Cheddar, plus jars of mayo and Dijon mustard, a bag of washed and chopped lettuce, pickles and other goodies we like in the mix. Having everything all in one spot, rather than rummaging around, really makes things easier. We keep sliced bread fresh by storing it in the freezer, and I often build a sandwich on frozen bread knowing it will defrost in time for lunch.
5. Snack Drawer: This is a similar concept—designate a kitchen drawer or shelf for lunchbox snacks and fill it with what you and your kids love: granola bars, homemade trail mix, pretzels, crackers, dried fruit, whatever. Again, though it might seem more convenient to buy already packaged single servings, it’s so much cheaper (and produces less waste) to buy bigger bags and then portion the contents into reusable containers.