By Pam Denholm
Summer has a life of its’ own, I feel. There is no rhyme, reason, or schedule, each day is different, each week is different, and I don’t know about in your house, but in mine meal planning becomes very reactive instead of proactive. Come 4pm we do a quick head count and look in the fridge, sometimes the result is dinner, sometimes, I shamefully admit, the result is just a bowl of ice-cream. Now that school is starting, summer vacations are winding down, and we are thinking about routines again, I am left scratching my head about lunches. I can’t remember much of what I did last year. We did try to pack lunches for everybody, not just the kids, it cuts spending and keeps us eating better, but seriously, I have to relearn all the tricks and tips all over again. So, for my benefit and I’m hoping yours too, I figured I’d write a newsletter that I can refer back to year after year.
- Equipment – compartmentalized lunchboxes with one lid is easiest and less fussy. Thermos’s don’t form condensation. Icepacks keep things fresh. Ball jars are super handy. Fun toothpicks make happy lunches, just sayin.
- Staples – if you have these things in your fridge, you can drum up just about anything, so shop for them every week: Grains – whole grain pretzels, crackers, flatbread, pita bread, rice cakes, popcorn, bread Fresh fruit/veg – broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, berries, peppers, mango, pineapple, peas, apples, pears, kiwi, melon, celery, grapes, oranges, peaches, corn, tomatoes . . . you get the picture
- Protein – eggs, organic deli meats, cheese, tuna
- Condiments – hummus, yoghurt, apple sauce, jams, sunbutter, a good quality tomato sauce (instead of ketchup) and by the way, a nice organic pasta or pizza sauce with clean ingredients works well.
- Planning – how you tackle this is up to you. I find what works best for me, is to have the staples above on hand, and then plan the dinner meal. I’ve tried to plan more than one meal a day, but I find it derails too easily, too much is wasted, and I get too demotivated. I know some of my friends who plan dinner and lunch, and are super-efficient (and I am super jealous) but whether it is me, our schedules, laziness or busyness, I can’t make it work. A two week plan (rotating) works best, revisited every three months. That way you can account for the seasons and change it up once in a while. So, in my home I plan dinner, cook extra protein when possible for lunch boxes the next day, and then supplement with the staples.
- Formula – if you stick to a formula, it makes things even easier. I go for: one grain, at least one fresh food, two if I can, one protein, and a condiment. For example: cheese sandwich, tomato sauce to dip, apple, some green beans. Or whole grain muffin, some cheese, some cantaloupe, yogurt with berry jam. Or left over <insert last night’s dinner here>, popcorn, cantaloupe. Or boiled egg, hummus, sliced peppers or cukes, muffins or pretzels. Or pita with hummus and shredded veggies, grapes, cheese slices. You get the idea
- Have a backup plan – and let it be just that, a backup plan. For emergencies. Like when you have overslept, or were out late the night before at a school event. Don’t let back up become every day, all it takes is one bad week – I’ve been there. Use the weekend to reset and start fresh.
- Beverages – I have glass bottles (I once bought some special glass bottles, but have since learned and have friends and family saving glass bottles with screw lids from any beverages they buy – that way I’m not heart broken when they go missing. And they will. And I send mostly water, it’s easier, healthier, and less sticky. Once or twice a week to break the monotony, I will also send a juice, but I make sure it is a good quality juice, and I can afford to since we don’t drink them every day.
- Nut free? OMG! – this used to send me in a panic, but really, it’s not an allergy to be taken lightly, and if it were my child with a life-threatening allergy I would love every parent to be as cautious as I had to be. None of the above included nuts on purpose, and sunbutter (made from sunflower seeds) is a terrific alternative to peanut butter.