How to Make the Most of Lunch Time
Refuel and Reboot
Lunch time is a gift
Busy, productive children – and adults – benefit from the everyday routine of pausing to eat a healthy meal. It sets the tone for the afternoon.
For those of us home during the day, we have a kitchen full of options.
Packing a lunch-to-go for yourself, your spouse, or your children makes life more challenging.
Either way, lunch is a time for a mental vacation. Stepping away from our work and changing pace can be a simple matter of sitting at a table and eating like a civilized human!
For you, it may be a time to chat with friends or family. Or, if you work with people all day long, you may prefer to find a corner and read a chapter of a novel.
A walk in fresh air is a good idea. Children need physical activity and playtime at lunch.
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Setting Up for Success
A selection of containers, ice packs, dishes and utensils that are not too precious, make packing lunch a smooth process.
I also keep a basket to collect disposables leftover from birthday parties, holidays, and take-out.
One of the best investments is a sturdy lunch box. I can’t begin to calculate how much money we’ve saved in the last 25 years by toting lunch.
My husband occasionally eats out with co-workers on special occasions, but we are fortunate that his office culture supports eating-in; with facilities and other staff members that are frugal and bring a lunch from home.
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Create a list of lunch options
Brainstorm a list of go-to lunch options – sandwich fillings, veggies, side dishes, treats, etc.
Laminate it, if you like, and hang it inside a cupboard door. The list offers inspiration in the wee hours of the morning.
Get away from plastic
Slowly, I’ve been replacing plastic containers with glass.
Canning jars are brilliant for lunch boxes.
I wouldn’t send one with a small child, but they work perfectly for adults and older kids.
Prep at the beginning of the week
Bake a batch of treats (cookies, bars, cupcakes) and package individually. Boil eggs and peel. Mix up fillings for sandwiches. Make a pot of soup.
Combine lunch and breakfast prep for a double whammy of time management.
When cleaning up dinner…
Pack up the leftovers in individual portions for family members.
Money saving tip: Deli lunch meat is $6-10 per pound. A quality cut of meat is $1-5 per pound.
Cooking a roast, turkey or chicken in the slow cooker and shredding it yields inexpensive and high-quality protein for sandwiches, burritos or hearty salads.
Cubes of meat
Cut up chicken breast into bite-size cubes to serve younger children.
The small size is less overwhelming than a sandwich or large hunk of meat. Chicken breast is tasty cold.
A big load of sugar is not the best idea at lunch time. Simple carbs and sweets cause blood sugar to plummet in the afternoon.
Baking homemade muffins, cookies, bars – pick your sweet of choice – in tiny portions adds a bit of flair to the lunch box without a heavy dose of sucrose.
Make a pot of soup and pack it in the pint and half-pint jars. Having soup on hand rounds out a skimpy lunch. The jars can go straight into the microwave (with the lid removed, of course).
Leave 2 or 3 inches of head space and these soup jars freeze well. In a few weeks, you can have a wide variety of options on hand.
Just like freezing breakfast foods, this is money in the bank.
Teach them to cook
Lunch is a good time to teach children cooking skills.
They can help in the evening to prepare the next day’s lunch. Or make special things together over the weekend.
When children have a stake in what goes in the lunch, they are more likely to eat it.
Before you know it, they will be equipped to take over the job.
Calculate the cost
At least once run the numbers and compare the cost of a lunch out with a meal from home. This exercise builds math skills and economy.
Packing a lunch is a good time to talk about basic food safety.
Teach children why it’s important to keep certain foods cold, how long leftovers are safe and the importance of hygiene when cooking.
If you need to brush up on this yourself, take a look at a state food handlers permit study guide. Here’s one from my state. You can pick and choose the lessons that will be most useful to your family.
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Add a little love
Taking a packed lunch from ho-hum to exciting is all about the special touches. When faced with a plain burrito or a dry sandwich (picky children notwithstanding) my family says, “where is the love?”
Sour cream and salsa, a slice of avocado, a pickle and fresh tomato packed on the side…these things go a long way to spice up a meal.
Adding a note of encouragement is not a bad idea either, for children and adults. When they were little my kids loved to slip pictures and homemade cards in their dad’s lunch box.