Call me crazy, but I absolutely love packing school lunches for my toddler. This isn’t totally surprising, I guess — I’ve always loved to cook and create menus for parties I don’t even necessarily throw. But I’m a busy working mom, so I don’t have hours and hours to spend planning, thinking, preparing, cooking, etc. And, like all moms, I care about what my kid eats — I want to make sure he’s getting the right nutrition for his growth and development… and it has to be yummy enough for him to actually eat it! When my kiddo started preschool, I knew I needed a system that would make lunch assembly quick and easy with basically no guesswork whatsoever while still ensuring lunch is filled with delicious and wholesome components.
As with so many things in life, the secret here is just a little bit of preparation and planning. I figured out that all I need is a variety of yummy and wholesome (and nut-free!) lunch components on-hand, a few containers to assemble them in (so I always have at least one that’s clean), and fewer than 10 minutes every evening to put it together.
To make lunch prep fool-proof, I always have a variety of the following in my refrigerator and pantry:
- Fresh fruit like apples, berries, bananas, clementines, plums, grapes, melon
- Fresh veggies like baby seedless cucumbers, snap peas, grape or cherry tomatoes
- Crunchy snacks like dehydrated fruit and veggies (apples, coconut chips, and peas are favorites), parmesan crackers, cheddar bunnies, dry cereal like Cheerios, unsalted pretzels (some of my go-to brands include Bare Snacks, Made in Nature, Karen’s Naturals, Crispy Green, Annie’s Organic)
- Cheese in various forms like sliced, string, shredded
- Bread, like Dave’s Killer Bread thin slices, Sprouted Ezekiel, whole wheat tortillas, whole grain bagels
- Spreads like cream cheese, avocado, Sunbutter, honey, whole fruit jam
- Sliced deli meat, like turkey (Note that deli meat can be filled with all kinds of not great stuff, like preservatives and fillers. I try to buy it fresh; for example Whole Foods’ deli counter has fresh roasted turkey. If you can’t get it fresh, look for nitrate and nitrite free. Applegate Organic is a good option.)
- Healthy treats like dried fruit and raisins, and non-cookie cookie-like things (we love Made in Nature Mangoberry Figgy Pops and Aussie Bites, both available at Costco)
I also like to make huge batches of things like banana muffins, zucchini bread, french toast and pancakes to keep in the freezer. In addition to making weekday breakfasts a breeze, these are all great additions to school lunches. You can just pull one muffin/slice out of the freezer in the morning, and it’s perfectly defrosted by lunch time.
When it comes to packing lunch, I rely on these three-compartment bento box-style lunchboxes. They make packing lunch so fast and easy — the big compartment is perfect for a sandwich, quesadilla or muffins plus a cheese stick or some fruit, and the little compartments are great for additional fruit and/or crunchy snacks. If your kid loves yogurt and cottage cheese, you can also buy these little containers that fit neatly in your lunchbox along with a disposable or “take and toss” spoon.
On average, I spend anywhere from 5-7 minutes every evening assembling lunch for the next day. That’s it! I swear. Here is a week’s worth of combinations that my kiddo loves.
- Sunbutter and honey on Dave’s Killer Bread, with strawberries and cucumbers in one compartment, cheddar bunnies in the other
- Turkey and avocado on Dave’s Killer Bread, with mixed berries in one compartment, unsalted whole grain pretzels in the other
- Cinnamon raisin sprouted Ezekiel english muffin and cream cheese, with plum (sliced in half and pit removed) in one compartment, strawberries in the other
- Cheese quesadilla, with apple slices in one compartment, grape tomatoes (quartered) in the other
- Banana muffins and string cheese, with blueberries in one compartment, figgy pops (quartered) in the other
There you have it. The quick and easy combinations are endless. Set yourself up for success by having the right stuff on-hand, and hopefully you’ll start having as much fun packing lunch as I do.