My friend, fellow blogger, and mom of two Brianne DeRosa of Red, Round, or Green packs a good lunch. So good that her lunches inspired me to write the tongue-in-cheekly-titled Your Child’s Lunch Makes Me Feel Inferior and beg her to pack my lunch every day too (we haven’t figured out those logistics yet). Bri insists that these lunch boxes aren’t hard or stressful to put together. And I believe her. Bri is a pro at working out systems that make food prep faster, easier, and more enjoyable. In this guest post, Bri shares tips for packing a great lunch for your kids without losing your mind (or feeling inferior!)–which starts by making a few resolutions.
by Brianne DeRosa
Now that the frenzy of the holiday season has passed and the kids have been back to school for a couple of weeks, most of us are probably feeling that the bloom is off the lunch-packing rose. If you’re anything like me, you get a little jolt of energy – a revitalization, if you will – after any lengthy school break, and come back to lunchbox duty with fresh determination. And then a week passes. Or two. And then you realize it’s only JANUARY, for the love of all that’s good and holy, and you still have HALF OF A SCHOOL YEAR TO GO.
At this point, you may do one of two things: Either curl up in a corner and rock slowly for a while, or make a foolish – but inspiring – set of New Year’s Lunch Resolutions. You may go slightly mad and construct a list that looks something like this:
Buy and use any and all available wildly fabulous bento kits, multi-themed picks, pre-filled love notes, cloth napkins, squeezy tubes, biodegradable baggies, non-biodegradable reusable baggies, and eco-friendly monkey wood utensils made by actual non-enslaved monkeys. Hug a tree each morning on the way to the bus stop, for good measure.
- Make all lunchbox items from scratch, using only organic and locally sourced items. Because love.
- Take a glossy photo each day, put it through a retro-inspired filter, and crop artistically. Add seasonal border and cute overlay text. Use photos to become Supreme High Ruler of Pinterest.
- Go gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, meat-free, and sugar-free. All at the same time. I’m pretty sure Gwyneth Paltrow does it for her kids, so it can’t be that hard to do it for mine, right?
When things get to this point, I can only say, with love: Go home, parents. You’re drunk with Pinterest power, and you need to sleep it off.
Seriously, that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself, when the only real requirement for packing a child’s lunch is that you do the best you can with the information and resources you have at the moment. If you want to set some goals for better lunch-packing, I’m all for it – after all, goal-setting can be a positive habit. I would just encourage you, ever so gently and lovingly, to slowly back away from the internet and make a list of New Year’s Lunchbox Resolutions that are realistic, specific, and achievable.
My suggested list:
1. Define “good enough” and stick to it.
In our house, I’ve always stuck to what I call the “Rule of Three”: If there are three items in the lunch that I consider to be viably nutritious choices, my job is done. Anything else is gravy. Not actual gravy. Imagine gravy in a lunchbox? Oy, the mess…
2. Identify one “packing point of madness” and work on that.
The “packing point of madness” is the thing that either a) drives you insane on at least a weekly basis; or b) routinely stresses you out. For me, the “packing point of madness” is the school snack, which somehow manages to catch me off-guard every single darned morning (“I just PACKED two bento containers that actually contained most of the food groups and remembered the stupid water bottles! This again?”). I’ve (mostly) solved the problem by creating an informal snack rotation for myself, which lists 10-12 items I consider acceptable and reminds me to stock up on those each week; and making sure to ask the kids to each choose one preferred item and remind me to put it on the grocery list. Your “packing point of madness” might be different from mine – for example, you might have trouble with timing or variety or OMGEVERYTHIIIIING. But pick one, and work on only that one thing, over time. Your sanity will thank you.
3. Forgive yourself (and your kids) for monotony.
Bloggers like myself can be as much hindrance as help to other parents, because we can give the impression that only a widely varied selection of lunches will do. Not so. If you examine my lunches carefully, you’ll notice (as some astute readers have) a daily parade of sliced bell peppers. Why? Because my kids like peppers. A lot. They ask for them. Daily. And I’m just frankly too tired in the morning to care. If your lunch-packing routine works for you and the kids, then call it done. Nobody has ever died from too many days of egg salad and apple slices.
4. Work smarter, not harder.
Try to do one little thing each day that will improve your lunch-packing life later on. Grill two extra chicken breasts at dinnertime and slice them up for wraps. Make a bigger salad than you need and immediately box up the extras (without dressing) for lunches. During a commercial break, throw together the bread, meat, and cheese for a few favorite sandwiches and toss them in the freezer. Thinking about packing lunch only when you actually have to pack the lunch is your worst enemy.
I hope these resolutions will help keep you sane through the next several months of packing school lunches. My own personal sanity-saving resolution, at the moment, is to discover the secret to making my children use the napkins I pack for them. Either that, or to invent school uniform polos made of Bounty Paper Towel. It could go either way at this point.
Need more lunch-packing inspiration? Check out my 14 Best Lunches of 2014, or get my downloadable e-guide, “Back to School the Organized Way,” offering 12 weeks of lunch menus, recipes, and a game plan for making and freezing 60 school lunches and 14 family dinners – all fully customizable for both vegetarian and gluten-free diets.
Brianne DeRosa is a freelance writer and communications consultant who blogs at Red, Round, or Green. She’s also a regular contributor to HandPicked Nation and a team member for The Family Dinner Project, and was a featured contributor to the “Cooking with Trader Joe’s: Easy Lunchboxes” cookbook. Bri has packed approximately one skillion lunches, by her modest estimation.