- Buy in Bulk
Purchase whole fruits (melons, apples, oranges, pineapples) and cut up yourself. Purchase large bags of snacks as well and then divvy into smaller containers. You will allow your money to go further and will also cut down on the impact to the environment.
- Make in Bulk
Prepare foods at the start of the week and/or the start of the month. There are so many recipes that make great leftovers and also freeze well. Everything from meatballs or brisket to hard-boiled eggs and even some sandwiches! The more you plan, the more you can determine what can be made in larger quantities, as well as how far in advance.
Do you have leftovers but don’t want them to go to waste? Serve pasta and sauce separately for dinner one night and then turn the plain pasta into a pasta salad the next day for lunch. If you’re using u*do*lunch, create your own “leftovers” card to help create reminders for you and your child! And remember, breakfast can also make for good lunch leftovers.
- The Freezer is your Friend
Use frozen fruits and vegetables to optimize freshness and limit waste. Berries not in season? No problem. Buy them frozen and use the opportunity to talk about the seasonality of fruits and vegetables with your children. Buy frozen vegetables (think corn, peas, etc.) to be able to pack limited quantities without worrying whether the rest will go bad. No need to thaw or heat in the morning – they will be closer to room temperature by lunch while also serving a dual purpose of keeping other items around it cooler.
Make items in advance and pull out of freezer in the morning. Muffins, PB&J Sandwiches, Rices, Juice Boxes and so much more will freeze well and can be removed from the freezer by your child in the morning. NOTE: there are a number of foods that will not survive the freezing/thawing process (cooked potatoes, most dairy, etc.).
- Identify “Night Before” Items
Put non-perishables into lunch boxes the night before. This helps reduce the morning scramble. Also, if you haven’t made in bulk earlier in the week, try to make as many lunch items the night before school so they can easily be removed from the refrigerator. This also helps get your child involved in the making process, as it is usually less of a time-crunch in the evening.
- Use Earth-Friendly Products
Reusable ice pop molds can be used for yogurt (buy in bulk), smoothies (freeze ahead), and even trail mix or other snacks. Purchase reusable lunch boxes, thermos containers, snack bags, and other small containers. While these will cost you more up-front, they will save money in the long-run.
- Optimize Your Thermos
Sure, a thermos can be used for soups and warm beverages, but keep in mind that it is also great for meatballs and chicken nuggets. In fact, you can even use it for hot dogs. In my family, we pour boiling water into the thermos in the morning, let the hot dog sit in it to heat up (about 10 min), pour out the water and either pour in more water or close the thermos (yes, I have one kid who does not like to pull the hot dog out of the water at school).
Planning school lunches does not have to be difficult. Use the hacks above, as well as the resources listed below to help you and your child plan lunches for the week!