How to Become a Lunch-Making Master
By Christine Hill
How often do you have a mad scramble in the morning, while you and the kids haphazardly piece together a lunch to take to school? I can promise you… you’re not the only one dealing with the stress of last-minute lunches.
You always have the option of sending your child to school with lunch money instead of a paper-bag lunch, but if you’re living on a budget, all you have to do is track your spending for a week or two to learn that buying a school lunch isn’t near as cost-efficient as bringing one.
Furthermore, school-provided lunches usually just aren’t as nutritious as a homemade meal. Preparing a proper school lunch is one of the biggest things that you can do to keep your child alert and focused at school, and to keep them healthy in the long-term. So, here are some tips that can help you send your child off to school each day with a lunch that will fuel healthy grades and positive energy.
Plan in Bulk
Buying things a little bit at a time adds up. Stores will almost always help you save when you buy in bulk. This might mean making room in your freezer and pantry for backup staples, but it will be worth it in savings.
Buying in bulk is an obvious solution, but many people forget the next step: preparing in bulk! Most successful lunch packers prepare on Sunday so that the rest of the week will go smoothly. Sometimes, that’s simply a matter of cutting up a bunch of vegetables, cooking some meat, and preparing a large salad that your family can eat in pieces throughout the week. Freeze extra perishable items so that you can use them later.
Salads are a Lunch Box’s Best Friend
Salads aren’t usually a child’s go-to lunch preference. But that’s often because we tend to take a narrow view of salad. There are a lot of ways to make fun and exciting salads for your child, and it’s a lunch form that keeps well throughout the day, and even for several days at a time. Here are some tips:
- Capitalize on ingredients that have punchy flavor, like feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, eggs, and berries.
- Make a huge salad ahead of time and store it in a bag in your fridge. Chopping and mixing takes the most time when you’re preparing salad, and it’s much faster if you do it all at once.
- Think about alternate salads that your kids will enjoy: egg salad, potato salad, and fruit salad are some of the basics. Then there’s pasta salad, tabbouleh, quinoa salad… the possibilities are endless!
Think Beyond the Sandwich
Sandwiches are a lunchtime classic for a reason. They’re delicious cold, and it’s easy to have cold cuts and veggies on hand. However, you don’t have to be limited to the classic format. Consider fun shish-kebabs, pita sandwiches, wraps, and crackers with a hearty dip.
Enlist Your Child’s Help
This is hands-down the best way to ensure that all of the healthy elements in your child’s lunch aren’t just dumped in the trash at the end of the lunch break. Kids are always more excited about something that they helped create themselves. Get your child involved and excited in making their school lunches and turn it into a fun activity that you can do together. This starts at the grocery store. Set a limit, but allow your child to pick out a treat that will be in their lunch that week. Then, teach your child to make a few basic things, like tuna salad, or their own PB & J sandwich. As your child grows up, the concoctions that you make together can get more and more exciting.
Use Your Leftovers
I’ve learned that the key to maximizing leftovers is all about effective tupperware. In Japan, they have it down with bento boxes, cleverly compartmentalized in order to segregate your food. Treat your child to a quality lunchbox of their choice that will also be functional for leftovers.
If your child is unable to heat a brown-bag lunch, your choices for leftovers will be more limited, but there are still lots of dinners that make great cold leftovers. Turn pasta into a pasta salad instead, put leftover meat into a hearty sandwich, and consider lunch leftovers when you cook the day before. Here are more tips to get the most out of leftovers:
- Add a side. Leftover eggplant parmigiana simply won’t be as exciting as a main dish, along with a roll and some carrot sticks and almond butter.
- Cook extra for dinner so that you have enough to set aside for lunch.
- Main dishes that can’t fit into a sandwich might fit better in a wrap or a pita. You can shred meat, crumble meatloaf, and toss stir-fry in to easily transition dinner to lunch.
Christine is a professional writer and an avid reader who’s passionate about storytelling in all its forms. At any given moment, she’s in the middle of at least three books on anything from human psychology to ninjas. Although she’s a marathon swimmer and enjoys camping in the mountains, she believes there’s nothing better than a carton of ice cream and a Dawson’s Creek marathon.
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