The Lazy Mom's guide to packing lunches
Something weird happened this spring. As the days got warmer and summer plans beckoned, I was OK. I kept seeing posts about how moms were “so done” with school and I just didn’t relate. This was a true change from years past, when sock shortages and suddenly too-short shorts were routine. And the biggie: packing lunches. So many parents were limping to the finish line on that one, but (for once) not me.
Maybe it had something to do with my bete-noire: summer camp plans for four kids. They all want to do at least two things that are in a direct time and place conflict with one another as well as what any given sibling wants to do. Or maybe, just maybe, I had finally slayed the lunch-bag beast.
Assuming it was the latter, I’d like to share my tips as we get ready for back to school. I will warn you, these are not pinterest-ready and you won’t find any sappy notes from mom in these lunches. They are (for the most part) nutritious, filling, and I have never had a kid get sick from eating my lunches (knock wood). The best part is that it’s so easy to do I barely think about it.
Here are my tips:
Leave reusable containers in the lunchbox. The whole thing can even stay in the book bag. This way, the kids (or you) only have to remember to put one thing where it belongs. In the morning, I dump whatever looks gross, hand wash the containers and voila: I don’t have to chase around for the right thing with the right lid. It’s all there.
Leftover lunch can also be raided by the kids for an after school snack (and the lunchbox put back in the bookbag, don’t forget). We have a policy that no new snacks can be started until the lunch is totally eaten. I don’t pack stuff that they don’t like but they might try to avoid it, but not on my watch!
So my kids mostly have the same lunch each day. I know that variety is the spice of life, but it is also the enemy of the lazy mom. At least when it comes to lunches. So when we hit upon something that meets my nutritional standards and is appropriate for lunch AND a kid likes, I stock up. Most grocery stores will give you a 10 - 20 percent discount for buying by the case, and as long as it won’t spoil, that’s the way to go. I buy the mainstay for two of the kids, chicken nuggets, by the case, and then I don’t have to think about them for 12 days.
The other thing that is great about opening up yesterday’s lunch as you prepare today’s is that you realize what portions your kids are really eating. One of my kids goes through long phases where she only eats half of her sandwich. So I’ll just pack half a sandwich. If I remember, I’ll put the other half in the fridge (and sometimes the thought of that as I hit the snooze button on my alarm clock really makes for a great morning) or if I forget, it’s already in there packed and ready to go. Wipe out any peanut butter smears or crumbs and who will be the wiser? Of course, don’t do this with anything perishable. Duh!
You know how you sometimes make oatmeal cookies or brownies in a weak moment and then they just sit their in your kitchen calling to you the next day? For me, it’s rarely more than the next day because I just graze on that stuff all day. That’s not good! I save myself by packing that stuff in the kids’ lunch. I don’t normally pack them a dessert in their lunch, so they are usually overjoyed. And they’re the ones that are mad when the brownies are gone after school anyway. Am I passing on my sugar addiction to my kids? Probably. But I am also giving them the opportunity to pass it on to their future kids/pets.
Having said the bit about variety being overrated, there’s always the case of the staple you ran out of and forgot to replace. Here’s where priming the kids with a daily routine pays off. Out of carrots? Pack a sliced cucumber and the family salt shaker! Exotic! Or if you run out of chicken nuggets, you can use your thermos as a cooler and put a mystery frozen fruit on the bottom and yogurt on top. Surprise lunch! Everyone hated that chili you made for dinner, you won't be able to hear their complaints if you pack it for lunch!