Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Ninja's Guide to Packing your Lunch

Its back to school season and everyone's looking for ideas of what to put in the kids lunches. Although I don't have children to feed, I do bring my lunch to work everday and often pack a lunch for Ninja Hubz. Here's a few things I've come up with over the years regarding the art of packing your lunch:

  1. Invest in a good bag or box: I remember when I brought my lunch to school as a kid, everything went into a brown paper sack. My sandwiches were soggy with warm mayonnaise, and usually squished by a warm juice box or bruised apple. I did not enjoy my childhood lunches. Now that I'm a full-grown Ninja, I can invest in proper equipment. I recommend an insulated bag or box (my bag is ninja black of course... your kids might appreciate some sort of animated character on their bag). Find one with firm sides to help prevent squishing. This will keep your food tasty, and since it is reusable you will save money and avoid unnecessary trash.

  2. Prepare lunches the night before: Maybe your life's more under control, but my mornings are hectic. I'm tired, I'm rushed, I'm grumpy... I don't need to be wielding a sharp knife attempting to cut vegetables or discovering that we're out of mustard. I like to make my lunch right after dinner and put it in the fridge. Not only does this simplify the morning chaos, but it gives everything a chance to "chill" overnight in my insulated lunch bag, helping it to stay cool throughout the day. Any dishes or silverware I get dirty just get washed with the dinner dishes.

  3. Plan for a beverage: Don't forget you need to drink something too! I usually just have coffee from the office kitchen, but that's probably not an option for your kids. Determine if you need to get juice boxes, water bottles, a thermos, or milk money.

  4. Remember silverware: Nothing's worse than opening your lunch bag, finding a yummy pudding cup or yogurt, and realizing you don't have a spoon. Yes, you can usually scrounge one up. Kids in a cafeteria should be able to get one with little effort, and spelunking through the office kitchen drawers will usually yield some usable utensils. But sometimes, if kids are on a field trip or you're at an offsite work location, it won't be so easy. Besides, why make things complicated? If you get in the habit of packing utensils, they'll be there when you need them. I use our normal kitchen silverware, because I am a highly disciplined Ninja and know I'll bring it back. For children and Ninja Husbands, you might want to consider using disposable plastic utensils - if they do come back, you can always wash and reuse them, if they don't come back its not a huge deal.

  5. Packing materials: You can use disposable sandwich baggies for most everything, but that generates a lot of trash and costs money. I prefer using reusable plastic containers as much as I can, and sturdy ZipLoc type bags (which I will wash and reuse) for everything else. You can go out and spend money on some decent tupperware type containers, or you can save your old margarine tubs and other plastic containers and use those. Many brands of lunch meat come in plastic Gladware type containers. By reusing these containers, you are saving the cost of buying new containers, keeping extra stuff out of landfills, and again... if they disappear, you really won't care.
So now you know how to pack a lunch, but what to put in it? Here are some of my favorites:

  • Sandwiches - the old standby, I eat them all the time. Boring, yet dependable :)
  • Wraps - when you want something a little different, or when you're out of bread. Take whatever you would normally put on a sandwich (veggies, ham, turkey, tuna, chicken salad), and wrap it in a flour tortilla instead. You can drizzle on a little ranch salad dressing instead of using mayonnaise, or maybe some honey mustard dressing.
  • Salads - Put your favorite salad greens and veggies in one of the aforementioned glad ware containers, add some kind of meat (chopped/diced lunch meat, grilled chicken or turkey breast, tuna), maybe some hard boiled egg. If you do this, I highly recommend keeping the dressing in a separate container and mix it right before eating. Also, if you are going to include anything crunchy (like croutons or other toppings), keep those separate or they'll get soggy.
  • Crackers with meat and cheese - Think homemade Lunchables. Also, tuna salad on Ritz crackers is DELICIOUS!

For sides:

  • Fresh fruit: apples, oranges, bananas, pears, grapes etc are all super easy lunch additions and don't require any prep work other than a quick wash. I also like a cup of diced melons or fresh fruit salad. Fresh berries are always a great treat.
  • Veggies: Baby carrots or carrot sticks are my #1 vegetable choice. You could also do celery sticks, pea pods, broccoli or cauliflower florets... Consider adding a small container of ranch dressing for dipping.
  • Yogurt: Either individual size cups or buy the big containers and portion it out into your recycled margarine tubs (don't forget a spoon!)
  • Other stuff: pretzels, nuts, muffins, granola, granola bars, trail mix, peanut butter crackers, string cheese

Happy lunching!

For more lunch box tips and ideas, check out:
The Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap
Finding Freedom Friday


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