Those pre-portioned packs of crackers, cheese and lunch meat sure have major kid appeal, but they're a serious drain on your wallet and none too healthy, either. The speed with which you can toss them in your child's lunch bag sure is appealing, though. Feeling tempted to rely on them for quick and easy lunchbox packing? Think again! The following ideas can help you pack a healthy school lunch in a flash.
When you've already done a majority of the prep work, packing lunches in the evening is a snap.
Over the weekend, wash and chop fruits and veggies, so they're ready to go. Carrot sticks, broccoli florets, pepper rings, cucumber slices and grape tomatoes are good vegetables to prepare in advance. For fruits, cube melons, de-stem grapes and rinse berries.
Snacky side items items like flavored rice cakes, pretzels and popcorn can also be divided into single-serving containers ahead of time.
And did you know that you can make a huge batch of sandwiches and freeze them?
Peanut butter and jelly: Use whole-grain bread, natural peanut-butter and low-sugar jelly. To keep the jelly from soaking into the bread, spread it between two layers of peanut butter.
Lunch meat: Condiments need to be away from the bread, so put them between the layers of nitrate-free lunch meat and natural cheese. A thin layer of butter on each slice of bread offers extra protection. Lettuce, tomato and pickles should not be added until just before eating
Chicken or tuna salad: Once again, a thin layer of butter will keep the bread from becoming soggy. Use a tablespoon or less of mayonnaise for each sandwich, and steer clear of add-ins, like celery, grapes or hard-boiled eggs.
Wrap each sandwich individually and freeze. Thaw in the refrigerator before eating.
Cook Once, Eat Twice
Plan ahead while you're cooking dinner, too, because some dinner meals can pull double-duty as lunchbox fare.
The hot meat that you served for supper might also make a good cold sandwich. Pack slices of roast beef, chicken or meatloaf in your child's lunchbox. Include a roll or slices of bread that your kid can fill with the meat right before eating. Just remember to pack perishable food with an ice pack
An insulated container, like the Thermos FUNtainer Food Jar, is a handy for taking hot food to school. Make extra spaghetti or soup the night before, then in the morning, fill the container with the heated leftovers. The container will keep the contents warm for hours.
School lunches can be a major source of waste, but you can cut back on that by investing in reusable containers. However, washing multiple plastic bowls every night quickly gets old. Instead, look for divided containers, so you have only one dish to wash per kid.
There are plenty of options on the market, but Easy Lunchboxes are especially nice. They snap firmly closed, stack neatly in the cabinet and are BPA-free. Plus, they're low-cost, which is nice, since it's almost guaranteed that your child will eventually misplace one.
Want the speed of juice boxes without the waste? Purchase several reusable drink bottles per kid. On the weekend, fill each with water or 100% juice. Store them in the refrigerator, so all you have to do when filling lunchboxes is pull one out and toss it in the box.
Packing a healthy lunch doesn't have to take all night. With creative planning and the right containers, it can be as easy as ABC and 123!
Meghan Ross is a freelance writer covering all things home and living. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.
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