On day two of TLT’s “It Takes a Village to Pack a Lunch” series, I’m so happy to turn the floor over to Brianne DeRosa, a busy mom of two young sons who blogs regularly at Red Round or Green. When it comes to family dinner, Bri is a master of the art of advanced planning and today she brings that same expertise to lunch box packing. Take it away, Bri . . .
Little Known Lunch Secrets
I’ve been packing lunches for 7 years now, which means that my kids’ lunch boxes and I are, I think, officially in a common-law relationship. Some days, it certainly feels that way. I swear there are evenings when I think I’ve seen more of the insides of those bento containers than I have of my husband.
Seven years of pretty much non-stop lunch packing doesn’t come without a few epiphanies, good ideas, and excellent shortcuts. (These moments, of course, are fewer and farther between than the moments of cursing and bemoaning the fact that my boys attend a school where lunches have to be ordered a full week in advance – so there’s no emergency lunch-money fallback available in our house!) Somehow, I still kind of enjoy the packing ritual. How? Not sure. But here are some of my lesser-known lunch packing secrets, which may shed some light on how I’ve managed to stay sane.
- Make it while you sleep. Got a slow cooker? Got a chili recipe (or soup, or baked oatmeal)? You’ve got a lunch-packing weapon. Set it all up the night before, let it cook while you’re snoozing, and when you wake up in the morning you won’t have much to do beyond pre-heating a Thermos and tossing in a couple of side items.
- Make it while you prep. You’re probably spending at least SOME time in the kitchen doing things other than packing lunches, right? When you’re making dinner, slice an extra pepper or cut up a spare carrot or two to stash in the fridge for the next morning. Cube a couple of portions of cheese before you grate the rest of the block. And make just one or two extra servings of rice, pasta, or roasted potatoes that you can re-purpose for lunch boxes.
- Make it while you’re making breakfast. So many people make waffles, pancakes, eggs, and quick breads for their kids’ breakfasts, and many of them think of freezing the leftovers for additional breakfasts – but not for lunch boxes. Many kids love breakfast for lunch. Scrambled eggs can be made into egg and cheese burritos; today’s waffles are tomorrow’s waffle sandwiches. Good food is good food at any time of day.
- Make it when you pack up the leftovers. As long as you’re putting away the rest of that roast chicken from dinner, throw some of it into the lunch containers (or between two slices of bread) and you’ll be that much closer to a finished lunch in the morning. If you’re putting away soup or stew, stash a few single-portion jars in the freezer – that way, on a hectic bare-fridge morning, you’ll have emergency portions of healthy meals ready to heat, throw in a thermos, and go.
- Make it when you need it least. Who wants to think about lunch-packing during the summer? Or on a Sunday? Or anytime when you’re not facing the daily pressure of hungry kids who need to be out the door at a certain time with some form of nourishment packed by you? Well, actually, I have a theory that the daily pressure of packing lunches is what wears us down, not the task itself. So think about lunches on Saturday night before you hit the couch to watch a movie and unwind with your spouse. Think about them on Sunday afternoon, when you’re calm and relaxed and don’t have an immediate chore that needs to be done. And think about them during school vacations, when you can stock up a little here…pop something into the freezer there….and slowly build up a sanity-saving stash that you can turn to when the actual rush of the school year hits. Doing a little (or a lot) of work when you’re not rushed and are in a positive frame of mind can get you set up for a much less stressful experience later on!
Need more intensive lunch-packing help? Get my downloadable e-guide, “Back to School the Organized Way,” offering 12 weeks of lunch menus, recipes, and a game plan for making and freezing 60 school lunches and 14 family dinners – all fully customizable for both vegetarian and gluten-free diets.
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Brianne DeRosa is a freelance writer who blogs at Red, Round, or Green. She’s also a regular contributor to HandPicked Nation and a team member for The Family Dinner Project, and was a featured contributor to the “Cooking with Trader Joe’s: Easy Lunchboxes” cookbook. Bri has packed approximately one skillion lunches, by her modest estimation.
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