Are you spending too much time every morning packing lunches for your toddler or little kid to take to daycare or school?
Here’s the secret to spending just 5 minutes every morning throwing a great lunch together: you have to invest an hour or so into food prep on Sunday! But it is so worth it in terms of your sanity and your child's nourishment during the workweek!
Here are four steps to follow on Sunday for a very speedy lunch-making week.
Step 1: Chop all the fruits and vegetables that you’ll pack in lunches for the week ahead.
Here are some ingredient ideas: Many kids love carrots, bell peppers and blueberries (which are my absolute favorites, because they don’t even need to be chopped up!). Grapes are great if you are willing to cut them into small blocks or strips so they aren’t choking hazards. Avoid fruits that won’t hold up well for multiple days after being chopped, such as apples (which turn brown unless you coat them with lemon juice) and bananas (which could get mushy over time).
Step 2: Make a batch of hardboiled eggs for the week ahead.
Your hardboiled eggs can serve as snacks or sandwich fillings. My daughter won’t eat the yolks, but she loves the whites, which have a lot of protein.
The easiest way to make hardboiled eggs is with an Instant Pot.
I will tell you, even if you use an Instant Pot for nothing else, it may be worth owning one just for the hardboiled egg capability!
Instant Pot hardboiled eggs are incredibly easy to peel. Here is a foolproof recipe for Instant Pot hardboiled eggs.
Step 3: Pack snacks for every day’s lunch, using small containers or snack-sized baggies.
My favorite containers for snacks are made by Sistema -- they are phthalate and BPA free and made in New Zealand.
These small round containers are technically for salad dressings, but I’ve found they work great for all sorts of snacks including raisins and yogurt (they don’t leak!). You can buy them in packs of 8.
Other good Sistema containers for snacks are the square “Knick Knack Pack” and these rectangular snack containers.
Group all your pre-packed lunch snacks together in a box or drawer in your fridge so you can grab them quickly as you’re assembling lunches.
Snack ideas: Try fruits and veggies (sliced strawberries are great, as are grapes and little mandarin oranges), cheese sticks, applesauce, pretzels, animal crackers, yogurt, string cheese or cheese cubes, crackers, Cheerios, and nuts such as cashews (Trader Joe’s sells bags of broken cashews which are safer for kids).
Easy-peasy snack: One mom I know puts frozen peas in baggies and lets them defrost in the fridge; her kids love them.
Apple snack hack: Remove the core from an apple, then cut it in half and top it with peanut or almond butter, then roll it in granola.
Advanced snack hack – Make muffins: Homemade muffins can be very nutritious and perfect as a lunch side.
Healthy options are carrot muffins, banana muffins, and zucchini muffins. Weelicious has a lot of good muffin recipes!
If you make a batch of muffins on Sunday, you can freeze them for the week. Even if put in your kid’s lunchbag frozen in the morning, they should be thawed by lunchtime.
Very advanced snack hacks if you love Trader Joe's: If you love Trader Joe’s AND you need lunch recipe inspirations, I highly recommend the book Cooking With Trader Joe's: Pack a Lunch!
This gem of a book is by Celine Cossou-Bordes, who is French but lives in California and is a big fan of Trader Joe’s. French culinary sensibilities meet American kids’ food preferences and Trader Joe’s ingredients – ooh la la!
Step 4: Make a stack of sandwiches and cut and freeze them for the week ahead.
Peanut butter and jelly is the classic choice. Many believe almond butter to be healthier than peanut butter, so consider trying an almond butter-honey combination.
I’m not a fan of lunchmeat, but lots of parents do lunchmeat and cheese sandwiches. Good alternatives to lunchmeat include sliced hardboiled eggs, roasted or fresh vegetables, cooked fish, and veggie, bean or lentil burgers. I’m going to try cheese and avocado sandwiches next week!
Once you have the sandwiches made, you can put them in small sandwich baggies or sandwich containers like these, then stick them in the freezer.
One mom I know wraps each sandwich in plastic wrap then puts each sandwich “package” back into the original bread bag, which she then puts in the freezer. If you don’t like putting plastic wrap on your kids’ food, try wrapping the sandwiches in unbleached parchment paper, then taping the sandwich packages shut with masking tape.
I’ve heard of parents who make a whole month’s supply for sandwiches for the freezer, but if I were you I’d start with a smaller batch to make sure the system works for you.
As the frozen sandwich defrosts in your child’s lunchbag, it can serve in place of a freezer pack!
Advanced peanut butter and jelly tip: Another mom friend tells me that if you start START with frozen bread (as in freeze the loaf, then make sandwiches, then put sandwiches back in the freezer), the jelly is less likely to soak into the bread as it thaws the next day.
Advanced fun tip: Whoever said cookie cutters only had to be for cookies? Use cookie cutters to cut your sandwiches into cute shapes before freezing them. If you are worried about wasting the bread ends after you cut out a shape, simply throw them in the freezer for future recipes such as croutons or breadcrumbs. You can also cookie cutters on other lunchbox items such as fruit and cheese.
You can buy cookie cutters made specifically for sandwiches, including in the shape of Minnie Mouse.