When my eldest daughter was in kindergarten, I was a class helper. She sat next to a sweet boy from Japan, whose lunches were a daily source of amazement and envy—from the kids, as well as me and the teacher! He had a three-piece stainless bento box, and each layer contained beautifully-prepared food that looked like it should be on display somewhere: sushi rice shaped into animals or cars; carrots or apples carved into rosettes or spirals; bits of dried seaweed carefully cut into whiskers, or grass, or decorative stripes; tiny bite-sized cookies in ethereal shapes and colors. I’d glance over to my kid’s turkey and provolone sandwich, banana, and goldfish crackers, and wondered if I should be making more of an effort.
Fast forward many years, and I can’t even do the math on how many school lunches I’ve packed for my three children. I never did make anything remotely close to that boy’s lunches; my need to sleep in a little later (we all know even that extra 15 minutes helps!) overruled my desire for Instagram-worthy lunches. I have, however, been able to streamline my routine so the lunch-making portion of my morning takes just minutes. The key thing is to do as much as you can the night before…crazy simple!
1. Create a lunch-packing station in your kitchen.
The cabinets and drawers that hold much of what you need should be in close proximity to one another—and to the fridge, if that’s possible—so that you are not going back and forth from one end of the kitchen to the other. The drawers with foil, wax paper, Ziploc bags, and such, should be near your prep counter, as well as the cabinets holding the lunch bags and food bins, and the pantry.
2. Set out as much as you can the night before.
I line up the lunch bags and food bins on the counter. If I’m packing them a hot lunch (say, soup), I set out the pot I’ll use to heat that up, as well as the can or box of soup, and the insulated containers they’ll go in to. In the morning the food can be heating up while I’m getting breakfast ready.
As much as I’d like to give them just a banana or an orange daily (e.g., fruit with its own “wrapper”), I know they like and need variety. Wash, dry, and if need be, cut up the fruit or veggies, put it in containers, and put them in the fridge. In the morning, just pop the container in their lunch bag.
4. Pre-fill their water bottle.
It sounds so simple, but like the previous two things on this list, having it done the night before saves you minutes in the morning.
If you are adding in a granola bar, crackers, chips, raisins—anything that needs no refrigeration—go ahead and set it out the night before. They can join the line-up of lunch bags and food bins on the counter! My kids actually liked seeing what “extras” were going in that day.
See, that wasn’t rocket science!
Five to ten minutes of prep the night before will help make your morning routine just a wee bit easier in the morning…and what parent doesn’t want that?
Guest contributor: Myriam Gabriel-Pollock