By Carol Santee, author of Freezer Lunches to Go
What’s the first thing that you think of when someone talks about having a sack lunch? The old stand by peanut butter and jelly comes to mind. What if lunch could be an exciting, fun and interesting part of your day? It can be with a little planning, preparation and a good system of foods that work for you and your family.
Get everyone involved in the process! Ask what they like to eat and what they don’t. Try to develop a basic list of things that can be sent for lunch. Don’t forget to look at what you eat for dinner. Sometimes these dishes can be repackaged for lunch. For example, the meatballs from last night’s spaghetti and meatball dinner make a great return as meatball sandwiches.
Kids love to help in the kitchen and this is the perfect activity to get them started. Even the youngest child can package food that is already prepared such as pre-peeled baby carrots, homemade cookies or granola bars. With your guidance, they can learn about good food choices.
Give them choices for side dishes. Keep a variety of fruits and vegetables on hand and let them choose their own sides. Make fruits and vegetables fun with simple homemade dips, purchased salad dressings or simple peanut butter spreads. Surprise them with a simple fruit smoothie packed in a thermos. The key is to make lunch fun.
Here are some simple do’s and don’ts to remember:
- Do have a planning session with the members of you family concerning what you will be packing for their lunch. Make a list of foods they like to eat and incorporate them in to a menu system for the week. Planning ahead saves time and prevents confusion.
- Do plan creative ways to repackage the foods that your family likes for lunch. For example, use tortilla wraps, pita pockets or hot dog buns in the place of regular bread or buns. Combine fruit in yogurt in a thermos to create a dessert “parfait”.
- Don’t send foods that your family won’t eat! If trying a new recipe, test it out at home first before sending it for lunch.
- Don’t let your sandwiches get soggy. Spread the peanut butter on both pieces of bread put the jelly as the middle layer. Use lettuce on sandwiches to keep the meat from getting the bread wet. If package a mayonnaise based sandwich such as egg or tuna salad, pack the salad in a small container away from the bread. Older kids like to make their own sandwiches.
- Do let you family help make or package the foods for lunch. The more they are involved the more they will enjoy their lunch.
- Do plan ahead for packing lunches. Have all the staples on hand that you need. Pack as much as you can the night before. This alleviates a lot of stress during the morning rush to get everyone out the door.
- Do have the right equipment on hand to package lunch. Thermoses work well for hot foods. Insulated lunch boxes help control the temperature of their contents. Drink boxes can be frozen and used to keep sandwiches cold.
- Do remember the basics of food safety – keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Keep your work surface, lunch box, and containers clean to prevent bacteria from developing.