As much as I don’t want to admit it, the summer is rapidly coming to an end. For many of us, this means a return to “real life” and regular routines. It is also oftentimes a time that many of us choose to focus on getting back into good habits after summertime indulgences. One of the best ways that you can help yourself to get back on track is to pack lunches, whether it is for school or work. A lot of people I talk to dread packing lunches for their kids and/or themselves. It feels time consuming, boring, and uninspiring. Instead, they choose to buy lunches for themselves or pay for school lunches. As you know, I am not a hardliner and I heartily believe that there are definitely times when buying lunch is a solid option, but there are two main reasons why I advocate for packing your own lunch: health and money.
Yes, it is possible to get a healthy lunch out or in the school cafeteria, but I know that at least for me, when I am super hungry and standing in line to order food or looking at a wide array of options the temptation to choose the less healthy option is always strong. And if I am being truly honest, I often succumb to that temptation and then, of course, regret it later on when I feel gross and sluggish. If you pack your own lunch, on the other hand, you are much more likely to make better choices that will give you (and your kids, if you are packing for them) lasting energy and focus. Plus things like sugar and sodium content will be much lower if you are packing the food from home.
As for money, buying lunch is expensive! If you buy lunch out you are likely to spend about $10. Just think, if you brought lunch to work instead of buying it just once a week you could save $500 and that number jumps to $2,000 if you brought from home four days a week and only ate out once. $2,000! That is most definitely worth the effort.
Now, I’m not going to lie, packing lunches can take some effort, but if you follow the approach I am about to lay out it really won’t be overwhelming and the pay off for your health and wallet will make it totally worth it!
Follow the Formula. Do you feel like you never know what to pack? I used to feel that way. I can remember standing in front of the fridge, wracking my brains for ideas for lunch. Knowing what to pack can be the first major hurdle to overcome, so here’s a little equation that I use in our house which makes planning (or packing at the last minute) much easier.
1 main dish
A healthy, easy lunch!
Use the Extras.
Take advantage of what you’ve already got prepared. If you’ve got leftovers from dinner or some grains or vegetables you cooked up a couple of days ago, you’ve got a huge timesaver! Dinner leftovers can be heated up at home and put into a thermos or can be brought at room temperature and then heated at lunchtime. Leftover grains can become a quick and easy grain salad and leftover vegetables can become the inspiration for a salad or additions to a quesadilla or wrap with hummus.
Change Things Up.
If you have the same lunch everyday, you will get bored and the motivation to make lunch will wane (and if you are packing school lunches for your kids you risk creating a food rut), so try to do something a little different each day. Instead of an apple try swapping in berries, kiwis slices, cut up mango or melon, apple sauce, or fresh or frozen fruit mixed with plain yogurt. Instead of baby carrots try cucumbers, bell peppers, celery sticks, leftover roasted vegetables, and throwing in a dip or dressing helps too!
Include a Treat.
If everything is virtuous, then it won’t be as appealing, so make sure to include something you (or your kid) will be especialy excited about. Some of our favorites include popcorn, a couple chocolate chips, mini-muffins or cookies, seaweed, or a small handful of some favorite crackers or chips.
I’d love to hear your favorite lunch items are! Are you good about consistently packing lunch? If so, what keeps you motivated and what makes it easier?