Do you have a love/hate relationship with lunch packing?
Or do you just HATE it?
Wouldn’t it be nice if you liked it?
Or even loved it?
After my morning workout, the first thing on my agenda for the day is packing lunches. While I admit to being a wee bit excited on those days off from school when I don’t have to pack any lunches (hello, extra coffee and cuddle time with my early morning riser, daughter #2!), I also have to confess that most days I actually enjoy packing lunches for my girls.
Weird, I know.
But let me tell you why.
There’s two major factors: Perception and Preparation.
I see packing lunches as an opportunity to provide healthy food for my girls when they are away for the day. Besides the seven plus hours they are at school, they often have two hours of dance class afterwards. Their growing bodies need good fuel! I don’t want them to be cold or hungry when I’m not there to provide relief. That’s why I make them wear a jacket even when it’s 64 degrees out and pack their lunches daily.
Besides providing healthy food for the day, seeing what I pack for their lunch helps teach them what healthy meals look like. So when it comes time for them to pack their own lunches (more on that below!) and cook their own meals, they have (many, many, many!) images in mind of healthy meals.
I believe, as a parent, it’s my job to teach my kids healthy eating habits. If I let advertisers lead the way, my kids will certainly not get the message I’d intend for them. We must remember that food manufacturers have the primary intention of making money from the products they produce, not ensuring that our kids are properly nourished.
A well packed lunch provides nutrition and energy for today and teaches your kids how to eat in the future.
Even if I perceived lunch packing as valuable, if I wasn’t prepared, it would still be a miserable experience. Staring at an empty lunchbox with no idea of what to fill it with is not a good way to start the day.
Fortunately, through years of lunch packing experience (more than seven already) and trial and error, I’ve got a system in place that allows me to pack lunches for both my girls in about 10-15 minutes.
The most important thing is having a plan. At the beginning of the week, or even better, before grocery shopping, I quickly map out the week’s lunch options. This minimizes decision making in the mornings. I am a big fan of limiting the number of decisions I have to make in the early morning hours. Case in point: I pick out my workout outfit the night before and leave it near my charging cell phone when I go to bed.
Here are the six categories I use to plan lunches, along with some ideas for each...
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I make good use of dinner leftovers at lunch time and usually make one bean-based lunch staple each week, either a hummus or a salad, that can be served as a dip or in a wrap. On Fridays, my oldest usually gets PB&J to celebrate the end of the week. She’d eat PB&J every single day if I let her (and I can’t blame her, since I ate it daily for most of elementary school and middle school), but I limit it to once a week since it’s not the healthiest option.
What I like to include: hummus & vegetable tortilla wraps, soup, leftovers like pasta or stir-fry, a sandwich, bean salad or a grain salad
This lunch includes the beloved PB&J, bell peppers & cucumbers with French dressing (in container), cantaloupe, pretzels and Strawberry Fig Bars. Packed in a Planetbox Launch with a silicone baking cup divider and cute alien snack pick.
The side complements the main course and usually is comprised of a grain, if the main dish doesn’t contain one. A very large main dish sometimes doesn’t need a side.
What I typically include: Tortilla Chips, Pretzels, Bread & Vegan Butter or Cheese Spread, Crackers or Pita triangles
This lunch includes pinto bean & corn salad, carrots with French dressing (in container), tortilla chips, cantaloupe and a square of dark chocolate. Snack container include pretzels and mandarin oranges. Packed in a Planetbox Rover, with a cute alien snack pick. Snack in a Sistema Klip-It dual compartment snack container.
I aim to include between a cup and a cup and a half of vegetables between each girl’s lunch and snack. Some of these may be in the main dish, but I usually include some raw vegetables on the side as well. Selection varies based on the season.
Our raw vegetable favorites: Carrots, Cucumbers, Radishes, Celery, Bell Peppers, Cherry Tomatoes, coleslaw, spinach or lettuce-based salad
This lunch includes a hummus and veggie wrap, Sriracha coleslaw made with green cabbage, Kalamata olives and strawberries. Snack container includes the ever popular pretzels and mandarin oranges. Packed in a Planetbox Rover. Snack in a Sistema Klip-It dual compartment snack container.
Those vegetables don’t get eaten without a dip or dressing on the side (at least in my girls’ lunches)! Just like the vegetables, we vary what we use week to week to keep it interesting.
Choices my girls like: ranch, French, hummus, vinaigrette, salsa, black bean dip
This lunch includes chickpea salad, peanut butter filled pretzels, cantaloupe, cucumbers and ranch dressing. Snack container includes pea snaps and mandarin oranges. Packed in a Planetbox Rover, with a cute alien snack pick. Snack in a Sistema Klip-It dual compartment snack container.
Like vegetables, I aim to include between a cup and a cup and a half of fruit in each girl’s lunch and snack. Selection varies based on the season. In a pinch, I rely on frozen fruit in the winter. They defrost during the morning, but are still cold at lunch time.
I often will include: apple slices, orange sections, grapes, cubed melon, berries, pear slices, a banana, halved kiwi or diced mango
This lunch includes udon noodle salad, edamame, apple slices, corn nuts and animal cookies. Snack container includes oranges and roasted chickpeas. Packed in a Planetbox Rover. Snack in a Sistema Klip-It dual compartment snack container.
Some Kind of Treat
In an ideal world, only a homemade treat would find its way into every lunch. This definitely doesn’t happen all the time. While I limit overly processed and individually wrapped snacks, there are a few brands I buy from time to time that help put a little smile on the girls’ faces at lunch time (and not too much sugar in their bodies).
If you are committed to lunch packing, but know that your kids see friends getting ice cream from the cafeteria and others who have actual candy in their lunch boxes (my girls love to tell me about this), having a special something in their lunch helps keep them happy to eat the rest of what you pack.
This is very valuable because it doesn’t matter how great a lunch is if it doesn’t get eaten!
If I feel they have been overdoing on the treats elsewhere, like post Halloween/Valentines/Easter, we skip the sweet treat to keep things in balance. At those times, roasted pumpkin seeds, cashews, corn nuts or sesame sticks are sometimes the treat instead.
What I might include: a muffin, cookie, granola bar, piece of dark chocolate or a date-nut truffle or for savory, corn nuts, sesame sticks or pumpkin seeds
This lunch includes black bean dip and salsa, tortilla chips, oranges, cucumbers, bell peppers and raw cashews. No sweet treat today and the vegetables can be dipped in the main dish. Packed in a Planetbox Launch with a silicone baking cup divider.
Post Your Plan
I like to use this visual planner, posted on a kitchen cabinet when I want to let everyone know the week’s options. The numbers in each box designate the number of items to include in the lunch. (One or two different vegetables, One dip or dressing, etc.)
Perhaps the best thing about using a visual lunch planner is that it makes it easy to pass the lunch packing task on to your kids!
When you decide to do this depends on your family, when they become interested or you feel they are old enough. You can ease them into it by having them pack just on certain days to get started.
We are still experimenting with this. The biggest factor holding me back from completely passing lunch packing on is how this currently seems to conflict with my desire for them both to get enough sleep and make it to the bus stop on time. (I’d rather pack their lunches than drive them to school!) I have one daughter who is not a morning person (and next year's bus will be coming two hours earlier. Yikes.)
Want to use my lunch planner to plan your lunches next week? Download it from my Resources page.
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What helps you pack lunches with ease and speed in the morning?