Pain-free Lunch Prep
August 10th, 2009 by Nancy

I'D EAT THAT: mushrooms, tomatoes, cukes, red pepper, an apricot, crackers & parmesan

For as much as I love them, I have never have liked packing lunch for my kiddos.  I don’t even like packing lunch for myself, and I run a lunchbox biz.  In fact, I think that’s WHY I started the lunchbox biz.  Anyway – born of desperation – I’ve come up with a few lunch-packing strategies to minimize the hassle, conveniently arranged in “DO” and “DON’T”.


We do make a list of what each kid will eat for lunch.  We divide it into two categories – Main dish and Sides – and have each kid sit down and fill in the list with me.

Main dishes would have sandwiches on them, if my kids liked sandwiches.  It helps a lot to be specific, so we’d even list all the different kinds they like…if they liked them.  Our lists have other things: bagels/cream cheese, tortillas/beans/cheese, crackers and cheese, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt/jam/cold cereal, soups, chili, noodles, sushi, and anything else we can think of.  I’ve always been terrible at remembering which kid likes rice with their tortillas and which kid wants salsa, for example, so this list really helps.  We also include dinner dishes, which can show up as leftovers in lunch – the kid who gets the leftover salmon is a lucky kid indeed.

Our side dish lists are mostly fruits and vegetables, again very useful because  I can’t keep track of each child’s likes and dislikes.  We make sure to indicate if condiments must accompany such as ranch dressing for the carrots.

Lastly, we post this list on the fridge, which is conveniently near the running grocery list. It’s easier that way to keep the kitchen stocked with lunch-type foods.  Speaking of groceries….

We do buy in bulk. Big bags of chips, big tubs of yogurt, we love ‘em here, and the food containers in the Lunchsense lunchboxes make divvying it up easy.  It saves money, of course, and saves us all from packaging waste.

We do make a quick scan of the leftovers in the lunchboxes after school. This way I can tell whether I’ve packed too much or too little, and when there ARE leftovers, voila! We have an afterschool snack all ready to go!


We don’t pack lunches the night before.  It’s a great idea that I’m sure many of you have heard before.  If you can manage this I commend you, but it’s just not my style.  I’m simply out of steam by the after-dinner hour, and we have momentum in the mornings, so we get lunches together while breakfast is underway.

We don’t have kids pack their own lunches.   They do help sometimes by (for example) getting the crackers into their side dish containers or choosing the apple to slice up, but there are three kids to feed and our kitchen is smallish, so the final assembly falls to me and I like it that way.  Stay tuned, however – my oldest is off to middle school this fall, and she may get to do her own lunch prep.  Thankfully she really enjoys all things food, so I think it will go well.  (I can hear all you moms-of-middle-schoolers laughing your heads off.  Oh, please grant me this one fantasy.)  Lastly, when I’m the lunch-prep maven, I can keep better track of what’s running low.

We don’t pack a dessert. Yes, this is messing with a time-honored institution – cookies after the carrot sticks – but WE ALL KNOW when those cookies get eaten, don’t we.  House rules state dessert occurs after the meal is completed, so we have a treat after school is out and after they’ve eaten any leftovers in their lunches.  (Okay, this isn’t a house rule.  There is only one house rule, in truth: “Don’t make mama cranky.” But that’s fodder for another post.  And I still don’t pack dessert in their lunches.)

How ’bout you?  Anything you’d like to add to this list?

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