Lunch Box

By Pam Denholm

Lunch BoxSummer 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. Protein – eggs, organic deli meats, cheese, tuna
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
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