Wellness Scout

What's Your Excuse to Packing Lunch!? 10 Tips to Tackle Lunch Packing Challenges

School has started. The 4th Quarter is underway. Both equates to more projects and longer hours, thus less time at home. Preparedness is key especially with meals such as lunch! It is the second most important meal of the day and can be problematic for busy employees and children. Am I really equating children’s lunches with executives, managers and worker bees? Yes I am, because they have two problems in common – time and what to pack. Parents packing kids lunches have numerous conveyor belt of projects dominating their minds with lunches often falling to the wayside. Plus, picky eaters don’t help. Employees, tired after long days and unmotivated to creatively fwhip up something interesting, often leave packing lunch to the morning, which 90% of the time leads to no lunch.

Employees at least aren’t picky eaters, sometimes :-).

Below are 10 tactics for packing lunches whether for your child, your spouse or yourself. The biggest difference between these groups is the types of food. Although these tips focus on adult lunches, they can be applied to packing kids’ lunch especially if your kid is eating variations of your own food. Just remember that making food entertaining is for your kids…not you.
  1. The Lunchbox: Scrambling for a container to pack your lunch in doesn’t ease the already time sensitive situation. Buy one or two lunchboxes that keep the food cooler, are easy to insert in your work/school bag and are leak proof. There are so many options out there. I love U Konserve for their eco-friendly and durable packs. We use the REI Lunch bag (currently unavailable but they have other options). 
  2. Tupperware/Containers: Form fits the function, but don’t let finding the perfect lunch container delay your efforts. I use the plastic Tupperware we store our food in at home (the glass ones are too heavy) and designate three sizes that fit into our lunch boxes. My husband doesn’t mind if his food mushes all together – he likes, as it adds flavor. However, if you like to keep your food separate, pack separate smaller containers or invest in portioned Tupperware.
Okay NOW you are ready to make lunch!

3.  RE-Purpose food: I have several clients who just aren’t into leftovers. I sigh. It’s challenging to eat and cook economically if you refuse to eat left overs. However, second best is “re-purposing” cooked food. Before cooking chicken for dinner according to your recipe, portion out some for your lunch the next day.  Add a simple pesto sauce, cheese, or cooked vegetables or even wrap it up in a tortilla. Cook a casseroleor shepherd’s pie type dish for dinner. For lunch, break it up and top a salad, wrap up in a tortilla, or even as a quesadilla. Or top a piece of the casserole with a fried egg. Whenever you are making dinner, take some of the main ingredients to make your lunch with the next day. How?

4.   Simplify: Don’t make it fancy, or complex. Simplify. Lunch typically is never more than an hour and sometimes at your desk or in a rush, so don’t make it a gourmet meal. The goal is energy, sustenance and fulfillment. Also simplifying makes it easier to repurpose from last night’s dinner. Fill these requirements: protein, veggies, and carbohydrates in grain form or whole wheat tortillas. So if you cooked fish last night, save some of it and mix with some mayo/yogurt, capers and relish for a fish salad. Save some of the cooked chicken (seasoned or unseasoned) from dinner and top a salad, fold up in a wrap, toss with some broccoli, beans and feta, drizzle pesto or stir into cooked quinoa. Add a piece of fruit for sweet otherwise dark chocolate. Need help with cooking efficiently in the kitchen? Contact me for my simple 3 session program!

5.  Finger foods: As mentioned in #4, keep it simple by also making foods that do well as grab and go with little mess. Cook once, eat up to three times. Meatballs, beanand veggie patties, hearty dips – these are finger foods that everyone even the kids can eat. Make a batch plainer for the kids and for the adults add a sauce or condiment to spice up the flavor. Often I add a fried egg over bean/vegetable patties with the runny yolk as the sauce. One of my favorites is Quick Quinoa Pork Meatballs. For vegetarians, omit the pork and add mashed beans or tofu.

6. Dietary restrictions: For vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, gluten free or any other dietary restrictions, follow the steps above and focus on the finger foods. Homemade fish salad (tuna or cod with ½ and ½ yogurt and mayo for the base). Salmon patties or burgers; omitting the bun and topping mixed greens or couscous for variety. Smoked salmon, bean patties, hummus are just a few options. Don’t forget nuts, seeds and dried fruit – they are the superfood snack with lots of energy and can even be used in lunches. Envision your lunch as a meze or tapas meal! Use grains such as farro, amaranth, quinoa, couscous, as your base and add your salad bar of toppings from frozen peas, corn, and edamame to almonds, walnuts, cheese and arugula. A chickpea salad is versatile, tasty and easy as a main or side dish.

7. When to pack? From the first few steps, you can infer that I will suggest packing your lunch in the evening. Although tired from the day and not even thinking about the next day’s meal, having your lunch ready to go in the morning will lead to a higher success rate. I’ve done it both ways and even as a “morning person”, packing the lunch in the morning leads to a more chaotic and an “oh crap, I need to make lunch” morning. Even if you pack half of the lunch – an apple, a yogurt, a pack of hummus, some nuts or cheese - you have SOMETHING for the next day. Also, if you follow steps 3 and 4, creating lunch from dinner reduces helps the clean-up process.

8. No Refrigerator at work! Don’t let the lack of a fridge stop you from bringing a lunch. Many foods don’t need to be cooled until lunch time with the exception of fish as the smell may not go over well with coworkers.  This also ensures foods aren’t too cold and instead at a savory room temperature. If you are really concerned, don’t pack foods that require fridge storage such as yogurts, fish, and yogurt/mayo based items OR add a cooler ice pack. Note, if you end up not eating your lunch make sure you finish it that evening or promptly put in the fridge at home.

9.  Plan ahead: It’s challenging to plan ahead. I know. I find myself at the grocery store more than I would like. I keep a running list in a draft email. A notes app on your phone or even a piece of paper works. When you find some idea or recipe you like, write it down and refer to it when making your grocery list. Set aside a consistent time weekly to make that grocery list. Doing so will save you time later and make your stomach happier. Start small.  Plan to bring your lunch two times this week no more.

10.  Offensive on mindless snacking: Don’t add chips if your downfall is 3pm mindless snacking. Add bean or lentil based chips, carrot sticks, popcorn, roasted chickpeas, for that craving time.  Don’t hesitate adding a snack if it will prevent you from eating that 3pm cookie or oversized Frappuccino. Always have a “staples” list as part of the grocery list so that you can supplement your lunch with health snacks. For kids, the snack time can be the treat time. Maybe a packaged health bar such as KIND, 88 Acres or Larabarfor kids especially. These packaged treats can satisfy the desire for their friends’ foods.

Lastly, there are numerous sites with information on Bento lunches. What’s a bento lunch? Check out my recent newsletterhighlighting Bento lunches. Remember you don’t have to follow these exactly; instead, use to spurn food ideas and simplify with the steps above.

Overall, lunch should be the most nutrient efficient meal of the day. It replenishes you from the morning rush and re-energizes you for the rest of the day. Contact me for more habit changing methods. And stay tuned for an online meal planning “Pack Your Lunch!” program to learn grocery tips, cooking efficiency and more in four easy weeks!

Here's lunch with last night's grilled balsamic vinaigrette chicken with polenta squares. Complemented by grass fed ground beef sauteed with peppers and onions and a raw veggie salad.