Do you love or hate packing lunches? Maybe you are packing lunches for your kids going back to school. Or you're back in the office, or working from home. Either way, lunchbox season is here! A good lunch packing strategy will help simplify mealtimes, and keep you and your family nourished and energized.
Benefits of packing lunches
Packing lunches isn’t just for kids! Whether you're at school, working from home, or in an office, there are many great reasons you should be packing a lunch for yourself.
Saves time and energy. Yes, packing your lunch may take a bit of extra time up front. But with some planning and intention, it can be well worth it in the end! No more stressing about what to eat when you’re running late, or relying on less-than-tasty takeout foods at the last minute!
Saves money. It’s no secret the cost of food has gone up in the past year – and this includes the cost of takeout and restaurant food. Eating out may seem convenient and inexpensive at first, but purchasing foods at the grocery store and preparing them yourself will be considerably cheaper in the long run.
Reduces your ecological footprint. Think about how many single-use plastic containers, utensils, straws, and paper we throw away every time we eat out! Using reusable containers, utensils, bottles, and lunch bags will help you achieve a waste-free lunch.
Increases your chances of eating healthier and feeling better. By packing a lunch vs. eating out, you can notably reduce your consumption of added sugars, salt, and saturated fats, and make a conscious effort to increase your intake of plants – like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes!
Despite all these great benefits, packing lunches can still seem like a daunting task! My personal go-to is usually leftovers from the night before. But what if this isn’t your style?
Here are 6 tips to make packing lunches easier and an integral part of your lifestyle.
1. Equip yourself with the right tools.
You wouldn’t go to the gym without proper workout clothes and a good pair of sneakers! The same goes for packing lunches. You need the right tools for the job. There’s no need to purchase the fanciest or most expensive gadgets, but here are a few things I recommend keeping in your kitchen:
A reusable lunchbox. This one is a no brainer! Get a sturdy, easy-to-clean lunchbox that will fit different sized containers. Compartments can be nice. If you don’t have access to a fridge, investing in an insulated lunchbox or ice packs may be useful.
Food storage containers. Nothing fancy, just rectangular containers with hermetically sealed lids. Glass containers with snap-top lids are sturdy and easy to clean, but plastic ones aren’t nearly as heavy. If you like packing salads or sandwiches for lunch, bento-style boxes are a great option, too!
Single-serve jars. For dips, spreads, and salad dressings. I love saving those little single-serve jam jars from hotels and restaurants – they’re the perfect size to hold a bit of sauce!
Reusable water bottle. Hydration is a key component of a healthy lifestyle, so don’t forget this important piece of equipment! You may even want to keep one at home and one at work.
2. Make a plan.
If you find yourself aimlessly standing in the kitchen, unsure of what to pack for lunch, agonizing that you’re going to be late, then throwing your hands up in defeat and just opting for questionable takeout… planning ahead of time will help you!
Meal planning strategies can include:
Making a list of healthy lunches that sound good to you and your family. I like using the notes app on my phone!
Taking inventory of what foods you have in your fridge, freezer and cupboards that could be used up for lunches.
Deciding what days of the week you’ll be needing to pack lunches. Are there days you have meetings or outings planned? Skip the lunch bag for those!
Deciding whether you’re going to eat the same lunch all week, or if you’d rather have something new each day.
Planning to use leftovers (more on this below!).
Setting time aside to pack your lunch (once per week, or each day).
3. Follow this basic lunch-packing formula.
Pack a lunch that will both nourish and satisfy every time by following this easy formula:
Veggies and Fruit + Carbohydrates + Protein + Healthy fat
Vegetables and fruit are a crucial part of lunches. Not only do they bring visual appeal (i.e.: color), but they also pack a fiber and micronutrient punch! Fresh, frozen, or canned. Cooked or raw. All are great options!
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary and preferred source of energy. Choose slow-digesting, high-fiber carbs most of the time to stay fuller for longer.
Protein and healthy fats are both important nutrients that slow digestion and will keep you fuller for longer.
Here are a few ideas using the above formula to help inspire you!
Whole wheat pita, filled with egg salad and spinach, combined with baby carrots and hummus
Pasta salad with chickpeas, chopped raw vegetables, cheese and your favorite salad dressing
Soba noodles mixed with store-bought broccoli slaw, leftover shredded rotisserie chicken, and peanut sauce
Nut butter, banana, and walnut pieces wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla with a glass of milk
4. Assemble rather than cook from scratch.
The “meat-potato-veggie” combo isn’t a mandatory part of lunch! It’s OK to take the pressure off, avoid cooking all together, and redefine our idea of lunch.
Personally, I love “snack-type” lunches – where I combine different snack items to make a balanced meal (think appetizer platter!). I use the above formula to ensure I have everything I need, and place foods in a bento-box style container to pack neatly in my lunchbox.
Classic: Whole grain crackers, cheese stick, boiled egg with seasoning, cucumber, and grapes
Mediterranean: Mini naan, vegetarian pate, olives, nuts, and mixed crudités
Mexican Fiesta: Corn chips, guacamole, salsa, cheese cubes, mango cubes, and sliced bell peppers
Meatless Monday: Thawed edamame, pumpkin seeds, pretzels with hummus, snap peas, and berries
5. Re-invent leftovers.
It’s no secret that leftovers can be a big time-saver and help reduce food waste. If you’re not a fan of eating the same meal the next day, try re-inventing your leftovers to make them into a whole new one! All you need is a little creativity.
Leftover chili? Make a pasta bowl by using your chili as a topping on cooked pasta. Add shredded cheese, chopped tomatoes, and cilantro for added texture and flavor.
Leftover stir fry? Turn it into a wrap! In a large whole wheat tortilla, add your stir fry with crunchy salad greens, fresh herbs and a sprinkle of cashews or peanuts.
Leftover cooked protein? Whether we’re talking grilled chicken or roasted chickpeas, make it into a salad! Toss your protein with whatever fresh (or cooked) vegetables you have on hand and your favorite salad dressing. Add a carbohydrate in your salad, or on the side (I like using croutons or having crackers on the side).
6. Take the pressure off!
Social media has made the expectations for packing lunches absurdly difficult to achieve. Repeat after me. You do not need to pack perfect, Instagram-able lunches for yourself or your kids! Unless you love to do it, taking an extra 30 minutes to cut sandwiches into cute shapes or make vegetables look like flowers is probably a waste of time. Now ain't that the truth!
It’s also OK to rely on convenience foods (not everything needs to be prepared from scratch).
Need support in planning your meals in advance but aren't sure how to do so while also eating intuitively? Book a free discovery call and let's chat!