[Continuing with our annual September series, "It Takes a Village to Pack a Lunch," I'm thrilled to share a guest post from Brenda Thompson, creator of Meal Planning Magic. If you've never checked out Meal Planning Magic, I highly recommend it for reliable family dinner recipes (remember the pad thai my family loved?), along with countless tips and resources to make you a more organized and economical cook. Today Brenda turns her knack for meal planning to the task of packing daily school lunches, sharing eight essential tips with TLT readers.]
Lunch Box Packing Success Begins With Meal Planning: 8 Tips To Get You Started
by Brenda Thompson
Back to school time means back to busy schedules and more routines. And it also means packing lunches for school! I’ll admit, I sure did enjoy that break over the summer of not having to pack a lunch every day for my kids. But it’s really not that difficult if you’re organized and have a plan in place. Not only will you be sending a healthy lunch to school with your children, you’ll also save time and money when you’ve got a plan. Here are some tips to get you started:
Schedule a day and time each week for meal planning. When it comes to meal planning, most people think about that for dinnertime. But lunch planning (and breakfast for that matter) is just as important. Time won’t find you, you have to make the time. It takes about 15 minutes or less to make a meal plan for the week and the time you save when grocery shopping and stress is invaluable!
Stock up on reusable lunch containers. The stores are well-stocked this time of year with a wide selection of reusable lunch containers and totes. They’re often on sale too—an extra bonus! Throughout the year, though I find containers in the camping section of discount stores like Target or Walmart. I’ve also found some of our favorites at Marshall’s or Home Goods. One of our favorites is the Easylunchboxes system.
Pack lunches the night before. We have to get up so early for school that I like to keep things as streamlined as possible. So when I’m in the kitchen cleaning up for dinner, I prepare lunch for the next day. That may mean filling Thermos bottles or washing and cutting up fruit. If it’s a hot lunch that will be going the next day, I will get out the container I need and put it on the counter next to the lunch tote. Then all I have to do is heat it up. Leftover soup is a great addition for school lunch boxes. All those little tasks add up and the more time I can save in the morning, the smoother things go for us.
Involve your children. Not only is it helpful to have an extra pair of hands in the kitchen, letting your kids help make their lunches will help them gain valuable life skills as they grow older. Plus they’re more likely to try out new foods when it’s something they helped prepare!
Set up a lunch preparation launch pad. In my own kitchen, I have designated one part of a cabinet to hold our reusable snack bags and containers, Thermos-style bottles, lunch totes, napkins, etc. That way everything is right at hand to make lunch packing a cinch! In my refrigerator, I’ve designated a shelf to keep lunch items ready to go. I often prep produce ahead of time by chopping or slicing them and storing them in the refrigerator until we’re ready to assemble lunch. A mixture of one tablespoon of lemon juice to one cup water will let you prepare fruits like apples (and even bananas) that turn brown when cut by dipping the slices in the mixture. It really works for a long time!
Keep a list of your family’s favorite, easy-to-make lunches. We like to try new thing but sometimes we find a favorite and stick with it so long that we forget the other options. I keep a simple list of new ideas in my meal planning notebook (or you can use your planner/calendar). I also have my kids check out my Pinterest’s Lunchbox board periodically for some mom-approved ideas that I’ve found online. They make a list of what they like and we both have new ideas. Don’t forget to make a list for healthy after school snacks too!
Always use a list when you shop. Taking a list to the store helps you stay on track and avoid impulse buys—especially when the kids are shopping with you. Plus, if you know what your meals will be ahead of time, you’ll just be buying what you need and help avoid food waste. Many stores have a store layout guide available that will help you plan your trip so that you’re not going back and forth all over the store. There are also new apps being developed regularly that let you create custom grocery lists to let you shop with your smart phone!
Avoid the rut: develop a rotation. To piggy back on the list of favorites I already mentioned, I like to have a regular rotation of options. For example, Mondays may be sandwich day, Tuesdays are pasta day and Wednesdays are leftovers day. Add a fruit and veggie or other side and your box is good to go. Adding variety will be simple and delicious!
With a little practice, planning for lunch box success can become a habit that will last a lifetime!
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Brenda Thompson is a mom, foodie and self-taught meal planner who loves to share ideas with others to get organized, save money, eat healthier, consciously and family friendly — plus have fun along the way! You can find more of Brenda’s tips, advice and recipes at Meal Planning Magic.
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