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Simple Lunch Boxes

The new school year is about to start here and the supermarkets are hawking the lunch boxes and lunch and snack foods so I thought it would be a good time to think about simplifying the lunch box.

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Packing a lunch box is a great way for anyone to save money and eat healthier food. Being organised and simplifying how you pack the lunch box will make sure you actually DO use it because it is READY when you are about to run out the door. Put a post it on the door to remind you to run back to the fridge and grab it though!  If you are mindful about what you include, packing a lunch box and s cheaper and healthier than bought lunches and snacks too.

 
Look at the tips below for organising and simplifying the task of packing lunch boxes.

 
If you don’t do this already, plan on dedicating an area in the fridge and the pantry or place where you store non-perishables, for lunch and snack items so the person packing the lunch box has easy, grab and go access to items. If you freeze lunch items designate an area in the freezer too. Keep in mind that you don’t have to designate a whole shelf or drawer, a basket or plastic container will do. Apart from making it easy to grab and go by having a designated spot for lunch items, the grocery shopper/s in the family can also see at a glance which items need replenishing.

Try to pick a regular time of day to pack lunches. Pick the afternoon or before dinner if mornings are a mad rush. If afternoons are a problem think of another time when you might be in the kitchen anyway, like lunch time, while you’re cooking dinner, or after you have unloaded the dishwasher- you will probably only need 5 or 10 minutes max. Consider delegating the task and get the kids involved. If they don’t want to help, tell the, that’s ok you were planning on packing sardine and liverwurst sandwiches, they will be happy to fetch the Vegemite then. Wink!
If you succeed in getting the children involved make it easy for them to help you by storing the items you will commonly use where they can reach it. You can even have your child make their sandwich when they have their afternoon snack or while you are making dinner or cleaning up after breakfast. It is possible that the more involved they are the more likely they are to eat their lunch! Consider posting a chart somewhere in the kitchen (like the inside of a cupboard door) with pictures of what you want packed, eg a sandwich, one or two pieces of fruit, veggie sticks, a treat, and a drink- whatever you wish they would eat!
Speaking of getting the kids involved, I started and continue to try and enforce the habit of bringing the empty lunch box and drink bottles to the kitchen as soon as we get home. This is usually the time when when I will be fixing an afternoon snack anyway so it makes sense to me. It’s a good time to discuss what and why something hasn’t been eaten and enjoyed so you can plan alternatives and it’s a good time to wash everything. A caveat-don’t rely on your child (or teenager!) to completely empty all the food and containers out of their bag, it is highly unlikely that they will ! Unless you personally check their bags frequently, you WILL one day be lead to an odour that turns out to be a shocking, soggy, mouldy mess that will permanently stain and ‘odourise’ their bag and turn you off your own lunch for quite some time-trust me on this one, I have l much experience in this matter.
Cut veggie sticks the night before when preparing the veggies for that nights dinner-(This is also a good time to prep veggie for the next nights dinner!) Store in airtight containers or ziplock bags lined with a paper towel liner and the veggies will stay fresh. Save little sauce containers if you get some with a take away to use to sometimes add a dipping sauce for some variety.
When washing grapes, take the time to wash the whole bunch. Use kitchen scissors to cut smaller bunches and pop them into containers or ziplock bags. Place these into a storage basket in the fridge for a grab and go snack or a quick addition to lunch boxes. Try popping a few of the pre-packed bunches of grapes into the freezer for a refreshing snack the is a healthy alternative to ice-blocks etc.
Most fruit can be washed ahead of time, but strawberries should only be washed close to the time when they will be eaten for the best texture and flavour. Oranges can be pre-cut but keep apples whole or cut them at the last minute and then reassemble it into it’s “apple” shape and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap to keep out as much air as possible so it won’t go brown.
Most schools have a ‘munch and crunch’ programme for students to have a snack and reenergise during class time. You will probably be given a list of suitable foods, which are not only healthy choices, but are also ‘less messy’ foods. Use this list to remind you to pack the munch and crunch and as a jumping off point for what you can pack that is healthy and not as likely to stain that freshly ironed school uniform-you may say I’m a dreamer… You may note-cherries are NOT ON THAT LIST!
Half or quarter fill drink bottles with the chosen beverage and freeze them. Each morning top them up with the rest of the beverage to make a handy ice pack to keep lunches fresh as well as providing a cool drink.Remeber what beverage you froze though, some combinations that may occur as a result of forgetfulness may not be so palatable- chocolate milk and lime cordial comes to mind. Better to stick with water, I think.
Check containers are easy to open and close for your children to prevent them dropping or spilling their lunch and prevent leaks-refer to stained school bag dilemna above. Schools encourage labelled, reusable containers, and while try are better for the environment, they can be quite costly, so check that they are user friendly too. Don’t spend too much though, they will get lost! You may don industrial grade rubber gloves and check ‘lost property’ but don’t expect too much of this black hole of  scholarly belonging so-in fact, I limit my search to two minutes or less, lest I also be sucked into this portal where Tupperware lids, jumpers and yellow raincoats go to die.
Be on the look out for different sizes and shapes of containers. Reuse takeaway containers and  tiny sauce tubs too.Label the top and bottom with the families last name. Also have on hand ziplock bags, foil, wrap, paper towels and even some plastic cutlery. Try to find a common drawer or shelf to store all of this. Keep it as neat and organised as you can and try not to have too much, toppling Tupperware towers will NOT inspire you to pack a lunch and being hit on the head by an avalanche of alfoil and glad wrap boxes just plain HURTS, When you wash and dry a drink bottle or container put it’s lid on before storing it and discard the odd bods.
Consider having two lunch boxes per person. While one is being used or washed and dried, the other can be filled ahead of time and kept in the fridge, ready to go.
When you have time be creative with your child’s lunch just to make it more appetising and special, present it bento box style, cut food into shapes or make wraps or rolled up sandwiches, include stickers or a note, add a few treats to share such as home popped popcorn or some smiley faced biscuits.
That’s quite a few tips for now, I might leave it there and revisit this topic again later. I also think most of these tips apply to adults as well, working or not, consider taking more homemade lunches and/or snacks when you are not at home and I think you’ll feel better for it.
Add your own tips in the comments too, I’d love to hear them!
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