It's officially back to school time for my little guy—which means it's back to the lunch box grind for me.
My son would live on chicken nuggets, goldfish and grapes if I let him, so I knew I had to get creative this year and broaden his lunch box requests. In theory, packing lunch is simple. In reality, it can lead to frantic mornings. Since this is also the first year I've had to pack him a lunch daily, I was a little worried about getting it all together on my end. I didn't want to end up with a hungry 4-year-old at school!
With my busy schedule, work, having another baby at home and just about everything else going on, I knew I had to get organized and make a game plan. We are now almost two weeks in and I can confidently say that this lunch packing strategy of mine is going quite well.
Here are a few parent-to-parent tips on how to set an organized lunch schedule in your household:
1. Plan and shop all at once
Since I buy a lot of perishables for the lunch box, shopping weekly is a must. I usually plan the following week's lunches the week before and hit the grocery store on Sunday to stock up. This keeps everything going into the lunch box fresh, plus I actually find myself enjoying the solo shopping trips.
2. Use the '4 Rule'
I usually pick four different meats, four different veggies, four different fruits and four different grains and rotate them during the week so the pairings always feel fresh. This makes planning easy and assures me that he is getting a well-balanced lunch daily.
3. Make a visual shopping guide
I'm forever leaving myself notes, writing out to-do lists and using my calendar—so creating a meal-planning lunch calendar was a natural step. It also helps to have the calendar visual, so I can remember if anything is coming up on certain days that lets me off the hook from packing lunches. Then, when I go to the store, it's just a matter of crossing off the days!
As much as I love creating these little lunches they can be quite time consuming, so to speed things up I freeze what I can. Meatballs, chicken, rice and even some steamed veggies are often frozen the previous week, then thawed out the night before. Bonus: This also allows me to make larger batches. I will even freeze leftover dinner portions to store for upcoming lunches. (So handy on the weeks I'm not as prepared.)
5. Include kiddos in the process
As I do my shopping, planning and pondering, I always include Asher in it. It gives him a sense of independence and decision-making—and helps me out. (I would have never thought that a boiled egg would make his lunch requests list, but it did!)
6. Invest in a PlanetBox
There is nothing that compares to a PlanetBox lunch box. They come in a variety of sizes (we own the PlanetBox ROVER, shown at top) and make packing and cleanup so easy. Plus, you are reducing waste and setting eco-friendly examples for your little one. No more plastic bags!
7. Buy in bulk
If you've got a Sam's Club or Costco membership, use it baby! My tip: Don't waste your money on individually pre-packaged snacks. Yes, they are convenient and handy, but so costly. You will save so much more by buying those items in bulk and dividing them up yourself. Juice boxes are great to buy in bulk as well.
8. Get creative
A few unexpected hacks I've been loving lately include using muffin liners to separate items in the box and wrapping a sliced up apple in a rubber band. (By keeping it all together, you reduce browning.) My son also loves it when I write a message on a banana with a toothpick—the secret message appears by lunchtime!