I can’t lie. On year 10 of making school lunches I sometimes run out of steam. I am just getting through a summer of lunch making for camps that followed a whole year of lunch making, and I am over it. So. Over. It. There are mornings that getting through lunch prep actually feels like climbing a mountain. Those mornings followed by a half full lunch bag at the end of the day can feel defeating and overwhelming, especially when you feel such a dread of starting again the next day.
If you scroll Pinterest or watch Tik Tok for inspiration, you may end up seeing some pretty fancy lunches. While I love looking at them, I tend to go for a more simple and realistic approach!
There are several things that will make it easier. When we implement our plan, the week is SO much easier. When we have a plan it is like the week just becomes so much more bearable!! As we hobble to the end of summer camps, I have been off planning and it makes the weeks so much harder. At this point in the summer, I am just going to make it through and do better in September!
I have discovered a few tricks and a few lunch staples that really seem to help, and I thought I would share them with anyone looking for a little inspiration.
A plan is key. Think of the week ahead. Talk to your kids and see what they would like in their lunches. Think about what is feasible for your week and write it down.
Grocery shop with your plan in mind. Going grocery shopping without a plan is a mission doomed to fail. Have your plan in mind and make exceptions where needed (eg. if cauliflower is on your plan but it is crazy expensive or puny and sad when you get to the store, replace it with another veggie).
Sunday lunch prep: Get your kids involved. This is a major time saver, and gives your kids a little more control over what is in their lunch, because they can grab from the available choices morning of. Your kids need to feel like they are a part of it. Getting their help is important for so many reasons, including giving them life skills they need!!!
Have enough containers so that you aren’t searching. I really like the Sistema brand containers.
Veggies: Depending on the veggies for the week - we usually go with three varieties: Wash and add to containers: broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers (and put extras into ziplocs so you can use them for other meals); Wash and cut in advance and keep in cold water, ready to throw into a container morning of or evening before: carrots, celery and radishes; Extras can be used for meals.
Portion out smaller containers of hummus or tzatziki or any other dip that they will be happy to eat with the veggies (some kids just like dipping... go with it) so that they are ready to grab;
Have a bin of dry goods that can be added to lunches. Ideas: plantain chips, coconut smiles; dried apricots; banana chips; crackers; seaweed snacks; treats like cookies; Switch up the bin contents every week so they don't get too bored.
Have fruits on hand that they are interested in this week: banana, apple, pear, whatever they are hoping to see (and therefore willing to eat!!).
Think about what else you will add as a “main”
Some of our favorite “mains” to add to a lunch box:
Left overs… this is THE BEST! Easy!
Chili or soup (if you make a batch and freeze in portions, this becomes an easy to heat up and throw in a thermos kind of lunch!)
“Charcuterie board” - ok, not so fancy, but we use silicon cupcake holders to divide up a container and add stuff like: good quality turkey deli meat; dried apricots; olives; nice GF crackers; goat cheese; a (shelled) boiled egg; baby carrots; etc.
Chick pea salad - with peppers, cucumber, carrots, dill or basil and a big squeeze of lemon juice and a glug of olive oil (this can be made during your prep time on Sunday!)
Rotisserie chicken with hummus (a Rotisserie chicken makes lunches a lot easier!)
GF pasta salad - great when you have left over chicken - similar to the chick pea salad.
Tuna and crackers - sounds weird, but my kids alway love this. Some tuna and mayo with celery and onion mixed in, to be eaten with crackers. Always a hit.
A plan goes a long way. Adjust your plan as you go. Depending on your kids' appetite and eating patterns, adjust. If you put more food in than they are willing to eat, you will be frustrated. Including them in the planning and prep will go a long way to seeing empty lunch boxes at the end of the day.
Good Luck! Enjoy the rest of summer and get planning for September! We got this! If you are looking for more ideas or inspiration, make sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram @rootofhealthoakville. I am also available for Nutritional Consulting and would love to hear from you. You can book a free meet and greet call here!