Is your lunch-packing enthusiasm waning?
Do you find it hard to pack nutritious lunches that actually get eaten?
Are you sometimes frustrated by the amount of food that comes home in lunch boxes, uneaten?
Are you packing your own or your spouse’s lunch each day?
This is what you need: quick-to-pack, healthy meals that you and your kids will actually want to eat. Right?
As a teacher, I see a lot of lunchboxes! I also see what kids try to sneak off to the garbage can when they think I’m not looking. For more than a decade, I have also packed lunch for myself and my husband every day.
Here are 10 tips to help you pack delicious lunches all week long, without the stress. The first 5 tips help you to plan and organize the lunch-making routine, and the next 5 tips help you get that lunch packed and eaten! Become a packed lunch superstar!
1. Plan for your lunches when you plan your meals.
If you menu plan, lunch plan at the same time.
If you cook on the fly, plan your lunches as you prepare for dinner.
Plan for on-the-side items like veggies, fruit, and homemade baked goods. I make a list of what I want to have available for the week and stock up on weekends.
Keep and refer to a list of the lunches that worked really well versus those that didn’t.
2. Prepare ready-to-go lunch items in advance to save time later. If the carrots are cut and the cucumbers sliced, they are more likely to find their way into lunch boxes.
Use extra minutes in the kitchen to prep veggies, cut up fruit, throw together a salad, or whip up a salad dressing.
Make double batches of baked goods and freeze them.
3. If you’re packing for your kids, involve them as much as possible in the process. Kids are more likely to eat the items they chose to put in their lunch.
My nephews start to pack their lunches for the next day as soon as they come home for school. They clean out their lunch boxes and pack their choices for the next day: a fruit, something from the veggie drawer, cheese or yogurt, and a treat. My sister-in-law then adds the main part in later. This saves her time when she gets home from work, and allows the boys to take ownership of what they will be eating the next day.
Other families provide a few options for their children and then allow them to pack their lunchbox themselves.
Older children can help with the lunch planning and meal prepping.
4. Avoid the lunch-packing rush by packing lunches in the evening, not in the morning. Mornings are already busy enough!
Make lunches while you’re cooking dinner. If you’re prepping food anyway, it’s easy to chop a bit extra and put it in a lunch container.
5. If you’re using dinner leftovers as lunches for the next day, pack these right before serving dinner.
If you have a husband like mine who likes to “clean up” the meal by having second helpings, put aside lunch portions before you serve the meal so you don’t have to scramble for new lunch ideas at the last minute. Of course, I would never let my family go hungry! But putting extras out of sight helps to distinguish between being actually still hungry, and just wanting to eating something because it’s still sitting in front of you.
It’s a great feeling to get up from the dinner table and know that lunches are already packed and ready to go!
6. Use containers that fit your needs. There are a lot of lunch containers out there! It’s important to find some that work for you, and your kids. Consider:
- Are they food safe? Cheap plastics may leach chemicals into your food.
- If they are for your kids, are they easy to open?
- Are they leak proof? (It’s no fun to eat a lunch covered in yogurt, sauce, or juice.)
- Will they keep food hot/cold?
- Will they protect the food from getting squished?
- Do they make food look appetizing?
- Are the sturdy? Will they last a long time?
- Are they the right size for the foods you like to pack?
I like using glass containers in my own lunches — they’re sturdy and readily available! I make full use of my Mason jar collection. 😉
If your husband uses a microwave to heat his lunch, you’ll probably feel better about sending his food in glass rather than plastic.
Also think about sizes. When I consistently want to pack a food that doesn’t easily fit in something I already have, I write it down and watch for sales to solve that issue.
7. Make it pretty. We eat with our eyes first. If food looks unappetizing, we are less likely to want to eat it.
Put lemon juice on cut apples, pears, and other foods that brown.
Separate foods in a large container (silicone muffin cups are great for this!).
Arrange foods attractively in their containers.
I often see students in my classroom refuse to even taste an item in their lunchbox because of the way it looks. Taking an extra minute or two to concentrate on appearances really does make a difference!
8. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. I don’t know how many times I have seen a student open a thermos, take one bite, and then put the lid back on and tuck it back into their lunch box. Most of us agree that lukewarm food is not appetizing.
A desktop lunch-sized crock pot is one of the best things I have purchased for myself. My lunch is always piping hot when I am ready to eat it.
If you are packing for kids or eating lunch away from your desk, it’s worth the money to invest in a high quality thermal container that keeps food hot for several hours.
On the other side of the spectrum, ice packs and thermal lunch bags will help keep cold foods cold. Cheaper thermoses also do a much better job at keeping foods cold than they do at keeping things hot.
9. Protect soft foods. Squashed bananas, bruised apples, and mushy peaches are unappetizing. Kids often chuck them straight into the garbage can without even trying a bite.
Wrap them in a cloth napkin, a fruit cosy, or put them into their own sturdy container.
10. Make it personal.
Pick a lunch bag that makes you happy. Although packing lunches is still not my favorite task, I do smile each time I take my beautiful yellow lunch bag out of the cupboard.
If you are packing for others, a little note or fun extra touch (like a happy face drawn on a banana) can bring a smile to the eater.
A relaxed, happy eater is more likely to eat their lunch and digest it well.
What are your best tips for packing nutritious and delicious lunches? Please share!
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