Tell me I'm not the only one who's had this experience: It's five minutes past the time everyone needs to be out the door, one parent is taking out the dog or organizing their work bag, and the other is frantically throwing lunches together while commanding the kids to get their coats and shoes on right this second or else. Everybody's stress level is super high, which doesn't make for a great start to the day.
Luckily the solution to at least one of those is simple: Pack lunches the night before. Not only that, but have things that can be prepped and ready for the weekday rush well ahead of Panic Time. Here's how:
Invest in snack-size plastic bags or small reusable containers. Having sides, dips, etc. already portioned and packaged makes the rest of the lunch packing pretty easy ... all you have to do is grab them and fling them into the bag.
Fruits and veggies: Most fruits turn brown and mushy if you cut them too soon before serving, and the lemon juice trick to keep apples from browning alters the taste too much for some kids. Instead, if your child is old enough to have a whole apple, wash the entire bag of them when you bring it home so they are ready to grab. Slice up a few oranges and put them in individual plastic bags or reusable containers. Same thing with veggies: Avoid those pre-packed single servings at the store; they tend to go south very fast and in a really gross way. Instead, wash and cut up celery and carrots and put them in a container of water in the fridge; this keeps them fresh and they are ready to snag and package when you need them. Peppers hold well if sliced in advance and stored in single-serving bags, and even cucumbers should be good for a day or so.
Think "big batch" cooking on the weekends. Make a big pot of soup, which can be dinner one weekend night and then quickly reheated and ladled into a thermos on school mornings. Grill extra chicken or beef that can be rolled into tortillas with veggies and cheese for a wrap -- make a few while you're cleaning up, wrap them tightly, and boom, done. Mac-and-cheese is another popular choice that can even be frozen. Similarly, make hummus or low-fat veggie dip and put it in the fridge in single-serve portions versus one big bowl; pre-pack crackers or whole grain chips, and along with your veggies and fruit, you have the basis for a healthy lunch.
Make-your-own lunch kit: You know those not-very-healthy prepacked little trays with cheese, lunch meat, crackers, and maybe a cookie? They're tempting in their ease, but resist. You can make your own more wholesome version. Find a bento box lunch kit (they're available online). You can get mega-creative if you want, but all you really need to do is slice some lower-sodium lunch meat and some cheese, put them in separate compartments, then add some whole-grain crackers and maybe some mustard, fruit, and okay, a cookie if you want. Not hard to do these at the beginning of the week and have them ready to pull out of the fridge -- and kids are fascinated with the whole bento concept.
Master the leftover lunch: Most kids won't be able to warm things up at school, but if you made something that will be fine cold (and a kid's definition of what makes a good cold lunch tends to differ wildly from ours), pack it into lunch-size containers the night before so they're ready to go.
Take the "Chinese restaurant menu" approach: One from column A, one from column B, etc. If you know you're going to be pressed for time during the week, think about covering all your bases with things that will hold up after being prepped in advance on the weekend, like hard-boiled eggs, hummus, or lunch meat for protein; fruits and vegetables washed and cut in advance; whole grain crackers, chips, or pitas; and string cheese, yogurt, or cheese cubes. Have them grouped together in your fridge or cupboard and just grab one from each food group in the morning. Kids actually like "little bits of things" meals a lot, and it saves your sanity too.
Do you have any tricks for great lunches that can be made ahead?
Image via Qfamily/Flickr