Tips For Packing Better Lunches

After two entire weeks off from work and school, I need to get back into my usual routine of packing lunches. I have used many packing mediums such as brown bags, insulated lunch boxes, thermos type canisters, tiffin carriers, and plastic sectionals. I mostly stick with the insulated lunch boxes as they are the most functional and easiest to maintain. I have stocked and organized my pantry. When I am completely organized I do not mind the routine of packing lunches but if I am low on supplies or food I am in such an awful mood.

WHAT TYPE OF LUNCH BOX DO YOU CARRY?

HE WENT TO TIFFANY’S- OR TIFFINS THAT IS

Here is a Tiffin Carrier that Himself got for me while deployed to Haiti back in the mid 1990’s. He had the fun job of purchasing supplies from all over Haiti for the military’s use in rebuilding the country. He enjoyed it immensely as I fretted away at home at the thought of him atop the back of a HMMWV armed to the nines carrying thousands of dollars in his side pocket. As he travelled through town, he noticed the civilians carrying these nifty lunch containers and knew that I would like one. He scoured the city for this fancy schmancy one as a simple one would not do. I enjoy taking it to potlucks with each layer filled to the brim with many kinds of goodies. I get so many comments on it.

CLEAN YOUR DRAWERS

I hope to have my snack drawers looking like this again by the end of the week.

And the refrigerator drawers need a good purging as well. This is what they will be like at the end of the week. Let’s keep our fingers crossed, shall we?

IT’S ALL ABOUT PORTIONS

I keep a stash of portion cups in my pantry for the children’s lunches. I can make homemade pudding, portion out apple sauce, and cut up some fresh fruit to be placed in these too. Also small amounts of condiments fit perfectly in the 1 ounce containers. When serving puddings, I place a tiny spoon in with it. The spoons are purchased from a restaurant supply store and are called sample spoons like the ones you get when sampling ice cream at Baskin Robbins. I also will place a toothpick in their lunch if it is a cup of cut up fruit. Kids love a gimmick so if it takes tiny spoons and toothpicks for them to eat- I’m there.


This is a 9 x 13 inch Banana Cake with Browned Butter Cream Cheese Frosting portioned out for the children’s (and Himself’s) lunches. I place these in the freezer and they are perfectly defrosted by lunch.

9 TIPS FOR PACKING BETTER LUNCHES

1. Packing Heat- If you are packing a hot lunch in a thermos type container, then fill with boiling water while you are preparing the lunch. Once you are ready to pack the lunch, pour out the water and place the hot item in the pre-heated container.

2. Use tiny spoons, toothpicks, skewered little bites, sprinkles, dip, cookie cutters to cut cute shapes, bento boxes, and any other gimmick to get your child to eat their lunch. Manipulation is legal.

3. Many small portions may be better than fewer large items. This will keep your child interested in their lunch.

4. I do not need to preach healthy here. I know we are all trying. I do send the children to school with a rule. They must eat their sandwich or main item, fruit, and veggies before the cookie. If they cannot finish the cookie they may save it for the ride home.

5. Throw them a hot lunch once in a while. I need to do this more often to keep them happy. One of their favorites is hot oatmeal, fruit, French Toast Sticks (homemade) or pancakes with a portion cup of syrup for dipping. They do have access to a microwave in their classrooms which makes things a bit easier for me. I either place their food already hot in a thermos type container or place it in a microwave safe container for them to reheat.

6. Freeze your sandwiches. They will be perfectly defrosted by lunch. Do not place an ice pack in their lunches if the sandwich is frozen. It will not defrost. Trust me.

7. Prepackage as much as possible. If you are concerned with creating too much rubbish then may I suggest the plastic sectional containers as seen in the very first photo, placed in an insulated container with an ice pack. These can be found at The Container Store. Wash them as soon as you get home from work or school so they are ready for packing that night or the next morning. If you are concerned with plastic touching your food then may I suggest the insulated container and wrapping your food in paper. If you are afraid to use up too much paper as it kills trees then I can’t help you there. See, we are all thinking about convenience versus responsibility. Seek a balance. That is what I do.

8. Purchase the huge Costco sized cans of fruit and portion it out yourself. It is cheaper, you can control the portions, and you can pick the type of packing container you prefer. Of course fresh fruit is preferred but not always the freshest in the winter months.

9. Pack lunches the night before. Man I need to practice what I preach!

I pack therefore I am. The reason I pack is simple. Our school does not have a cafeteria. We do have a lunch program that delivers lunch but I can do it more cost effectively and healthier. I did pay my 8 year old once to pack lunches and he packed a PBJ, chips, and a cookie everyday for weeks. I fired him.

I have many other tips and experiences but I will open the floor to you all. What are some tried and true packing tips? Resources? Family Favorite Brown Bag Recipes? Other ideas to get us to think outside the bag.

UPDATE: View Kate’s comment in the Comments Box for some great links in packing inspirational Bentos and lunches. Thanks Kate!
There is some great feedback on this post, see all comments for more ideas.

25 Comments

  1. EAT!
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 7:37 AM | Permalink

    I am packing lunches as I type. I can say I haven’t missed this for the past 2 weeks. Can you come and organize my kitchen so I don’t dread making lunches so much?!!

  2. Rachael
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 8:19 AM | Permalink

    I am packing right now too! hahaha

    I start for my hubby as he leaves at 6:45, then on to my oldest who leaves, at 7:00, then the middle child who leaves at 7:30! Luckily, my youngest likes to buy lunch! Our school district has a very healthy lunch menu with choices like baked chicken, and hummus with veggies.

    Your tips are great…I definitely could use some better organization tips! My kitchen is a mess by the time they all get to school 🙂

  3. Rindy R
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 9:13 AM | Permalink

    Robin – another tip I stole from you -is to use those cute little “jewelry” zippy bags you get at Michael’s to put jellybeans, olives, or other small things in. They are the perfect size for small hands and appetites! Thanks for the healthy dose of inspiration – I needed it today!

  4. Sabrina
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 10:04 AM | Permalink

    Great stuff. I too do small portions of crackers and cheese. Thanks for the tip of freezing sandwiches. I really need to give that a try.

  5. Michele
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 11:53 AM | Permalink

    What fantastic ideas! I am so unorganized when it comes to packing lunches for Phil and myself. I use bento boxes for myself and an insulated lunch bag for Phil. I’ve been tossing around the idea of getting a thermal container of some sort to be able to send Phil off with a hot lunch. I think I will start by getting portion containers and organizing his snacks. Thanks for the great advice!

  6. Ruthie
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 12:51 PM | Permalink

    What wonderful ideas. I LOVE the snack drawer.

  7. Anonymous
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 12:51 PM | Permalink

    We started using the Laptop Lunch box, and my daughter loves it! I love it because there is no waste(well, the napkin is thrown out because she would have a hard time with a cloth napkin). Expensive at first, but good for the Earth, and better long term for the budget. It is very easy to make the lunch look cute and appealing. http://www.laptoplunches.com/products.html

  8. Peter M
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 12:58 PM | Permalink

    The tiffin is gorgeous…take care of it, it’s precious.

    I don’t have children but your packing tips are valued by many.

  9. Joie de vivre
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 1:09 PM | Permalink

    I love your idea of pre-portioning everything. The cake idea in the freezer is a good one. Just grab a little portion and put it in the lunch! Brilliant.

  10. RecipeGirl
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 1:17 PM | Permalink

    LOVE these ideas. Perfect to freeze the cake. I might eat frozen cake myself though if it were tucked into the freezer!

    You totally got me thinking…

  11. Sheila
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 1:18 PM | Permalink

    I am always envious of how well you do with packing lunches for your children. I can use these ideas for my younger ones.

    But what do you pack for himself? My teens devour so much food, I can hardly keep up. And packing two sandwiches seems like so much bread! But my oldest son always asks for more food in his lunch. Ideas?

  12. Robin Sue
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 1:56 PM | Permalink

    Eat!-Sometimes I’m organized and sometimes I’m not!!

    Rachael- So you are right there with me! It is a lot of work isn’t it?!

    Rindy- I was just using those little teeny tiny bags this morning!

    Ruthie- Thanks for stopping by!

    Anon- I have looked into the laptops and they are pricy but your are right over the long run the cost is a swap! When I did wee those that is when I food the cheaper substitute of the plastic sectionals at The Container Store. I love their emailed newsletters too.

    Peter- Thanks! I try not use use the tiffin too too much- almost rarely as I would hate to ruin it. But when it does come out it makes quite a show!

    Joie- Try it out for yourself. The portions are way smaller too!

    Recipe Girl- I am sure we could come up with all kinds of tips! Love your spice cabinet!

    Sheila- Sometimes the boys go through spurts and they want more. Enter stage left the DOUBLE DECKER SANDWICH! Only three slices of bread and they think it is all fancy schmancy. They like Jelly on one side and PB on the other but I would think clubs are good too! Himself brings leftovers or sandwiches as well. My children love crackers and snack cheeses that I buy in bulk at Sam’s Club- Baby Bells and such. I am getting glimpses of what it is like to feed teens! Yikes! Oh I have started using rolls instead of plain bread, that helps too. Try sending a box of healthy cereal in with them too so when they get hungry it is a quick fix.

  13. Karen
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 2:37 PM | Permalink

    I LOVE the Tiffin Carrier! How fun it would be to take that places packed with delicious food! When we first got married, my DH was in the habit of making his own lunches. I thought I would make them for him (to be a good wife, ya know) but then I came to my senses and thought gee, why would I want to mess up a good thing? So he still makes his own lunches to this day! LOL

  14. Linda
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 2:41 PM | Permalink

    With the economy the way it is today, I have noticed more people “brown-bagging” it! What great ideas you have in this post!
    Since my husband is retired, I am the only one who needs a packed lunch…it is important that it not just tastes good but it looks great! Thanks for the neat post. It is sure to be helpful to the moms out there who need some inspiration to get their kids to eat the lunch that is packed for them. I am going to mention this on my blog.

  15. JEWEL
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 2:55 PM | Permalink

    You are well organized! I LOVE the Tiffin Carrier! I want one and will have to search for one.

    I used to pack sandwiches, etc. for the week and freeze them. Then the night before, everyone was responsible for packing, a main, fruit, dessert and drink.

  16. Tanya
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 4:07 PM | Permalink

    Wow – my mom just threw a sandwich, maybe a piece of fruit, and a pudding cup in my brown paper sack (or cheesy 80s lunchbox). You’re a rock star!

  17. Patsyk
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 5:01 PM | Permalink

    Loved this post! I am instituting the pack the lunch the night before rule TONIGHT! I was crazy this morning packing 2 lunches, 2 snacks AND my lunch.

    Great tips! I’ll be back to visit often.

  18. That Girl
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 5:54 PM | Permalink

    I subscribe to all the lunch blogs which give such great ideas! Over the summer I picked up some great bento-like lunch boxes at target, with divided containers and that’s what we bring for lunch.

  19. Anonymous
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 6:09 PM | Permalink

    Robin Sue-
    FINALLY, I understand the drawer at the end of the kitchen counter packed full of tiny sax o’ snax. Those are great sizes for my longdaywhatsforeatingaroundhere pangs. Good for the kids lunches as well I suspect.
    On another note, I grew tired of soggy bread sammies or packing bread seperate. Now I leave out the bread and pack an oversized portion of meat with a drizzle of olive oil in a zipper bag. Eaten as a finger food this gets me through twelve hour shifts. When “lunch” breaks are often worked through.
    AZ;)

  20. Manda Jo
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 6:18 PM | Permalink

    My fiance and I pack our breakfast & lunches every night. I buy liquid egg whites and instant plain oatmeal to microwave at work. I'll add stevia, raisins and cinnamon to the oatmeal so I know exactly what is going into it. Hard boiled eggs are great as well and I'll cook up a dozen of those to use for the entire week. I will have to try the sandwich in the freezer! I'll make a week's worth on Sunday night!

  21. Sheila
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 7:12 PM | Permalink

    Thank you for the extra lunch ideas. I finally made it to the grocery, so I am preparing snacks and food for a few days while I make dinner. The double-decker sandwich is on the menu!

  22. MelissaG
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 10:21 PM | Permalink

    Hi there! Great blog that I love following….can you tell me where you get the little plastic cups and lids? I’ve seen the cups in random stores but never lids (which renders the cup pretty useless).

    Thanks!
    Melissa

  23. Robin Sue
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 10:33 PM | Permalink

    Karen- You can find tiffins online in various sizes- give it a try! I still make Himself’s lunches but not everyday, somes days the office brings in lunch for meetings or he likes to get a burger. I think if he packed his own lunches they would not be as healthy as mine and I do need him around for many years to come;-)

    Linda- It does save a ton of money doesn’t it? Thanks for the nice comment!

    Jewel- I wish I were organized ALL the time in every aspect of my life- some day! Tiffins are online. Hopefully someday my kids can help with the packing.

    Tanya- A PUDDING CUP- I love those! You shoudl have seen my Ma’s lunches- for and Army they were.

    Patsyk- Welcome! Thanks for the comment. It is better to pack at night, at least you can get for few more minutes of sleep in the am.

    That Girl- Bento lunches are amazing. Real works of art some of them. I think I am a container- aholic I have so many different little containers. I do have one cute bento box!

    AZ;)- 12 hour shifts. Ouch! I remember my days doing the 12’s. Nights actually and very long. Some nights I was way too busy with my patients to even eat. Some nights, things around me were just a bit too gory to eat anything at all;-O

    Manda Jo- Hard boiled eggs are a great idea- great protein source and so easy to pack. I do like egg salad sandwiches too! Thanks for the comment, good idea about packing breakfast too!

    Sheila- Your welcome! I am sure we can brainstorm some more. I am always looking for other ideas too.

  24. Robin Sue
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 10:38 PM | Permalink

    Hi Melissa- Try a local restaurant supply or even ask a local restaurant if they will sell you a sleeve of them. Or order them from here:
    http://www.webstaurantstore.com/third1199/products/plastic-souffle-portion-cups-lids.html

    I am sure there are many other places online to compare prices with also. I split cases with friends to keep costs and storage issues down!

  25. tamilyn
    Posted January 6, 2009 at 12:44 AM | Permalink

    When the girls were younger, they each had a basket with their name on it and we would put baggies of crackers, snack mix, fruit snacks, and juice boxes in. They would grab what they wanted and into the lunch box it went. We did the soup and spaghettios in the Thermos container. But now as teenagers, it is just easier for us to do lunch at school. They are starting to add more healthy options because students are asking for them. Now their boxes in the pantry are used for their snacks for riding the bus for away games and competitions. The hubby and I pack lunch almost every day as we work 12 hours days also and the vending machines are not that healthy, but they have awesome yellow cake and chocolate frosting! But we use a big insulated lunch bag and share-but guess who packs it? Uh huh.

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