As a family that is always running this place and that, I love hacks that help make busy life a little easier, so I am excited to partner with Smucker’s to share my on-the-go lunch hacks with you.
As parents, we are often running from place to place, activity to activity. Sometimes in the rush you can forget to pack certain food groups or forget to pack lunch altogether. Rest assured, fellow parents, there are hacks for making lunches quick, easy, and complete so you can grab it and go all year round.
If you are anything like me as a parent, you want things to be readily available. You don’t want your schedule to fall behind. You don’t want to forget to send your child everything he needs for a complete meal. You want to be prepared, feel “Unstoppable“, win a gold medal (or at least a silver medal) for your parenting.
Whether you are packing lunch for a day trip to the mall, school, field trips, or just in case your chores-on-the-town take a little longer than you had planned because the kids are tagging along, these “Lunch to Go” hacks will save you time and precious brain power…and we all know how important that is.
Packing lunches requires some preparation, sort of how Team USA trains and trains before they can compete. One of my biggest time-hogging chores, personally, is cutting up the fruits and vegetables, splitting them into single servings, and moving them into baggies. Sometimes I choose single-serve containers of these, but I like to have fresh fruits and veggies available too, so it is very important and time-saving to have them pre-cut.
Set aside a certain amount of time to clean and cut a handful of different fruits and vegetables that we have, ones that will not go bad quickly, and I will sort them out either into baggies that I freeze to thaw and eat later, into one big container I can easily access, or automatically make single-serving packs of each. This way I have them prepped and ready for both planned trips and last-minute ventures.
Pre-Packed Lunch Kits
As you prep your fruits and vegetables ahead, go ahead and pack a few lunch kits ahead of time. Hard pencil boxes work well for this. They are inexpensive, stackable, and big enough to fit a full lunch in if needed.
The hard shell also prevents foods from getting smashed and they fit right into most soft lunch bags, which are added bonuses. Pack everything and keep it stored in the refrigerator or just pack non-refrigerated items and add the refrigerated foods before you head out the door.
Keep Ready-Made Lunch Items Handy
Maybe you’ve had a rough morning. Maybe you’re sick. Maybe you’re running late because those tennis shoes were simply not the right tennis shoes and your child simply will not get up off the floor until he has the tennis shoes…the ones with the blue and green (can you tell we’ve dealt with this?). Ready-made lunch items like Smucker’s Uncrustables are just what you need to keep your schedule moving smoothly. I love how convenient their frozen sandwiches are and the fact that both of my kids will eat them, hassle-free.
Every day life can be a hassle. Uncrustables wants you to be unstoppable, like Team USA. Uncrustables can be added into a lunch bag before you head out the door and in 30 minutes to an hour they are ready to be eaten. They stay fresh for 8-10 hours after they’ve been thawed, so they will be just right come lunch time.
Know What to Pack
Knowing what to pack for lunches helps me provide my family with complete and wholesome meals, just like Team USA needs to know what is expected of them ahead of time so they can bring it all when the competition begins. I have created some free printable Team USA-inspired lunch mats, reference cards, and labels to help guide you while packing lunches. Think of these as your lunch coaches, helping you pack each food group.
The lunch mats can be placed inside of your lunch box at the bottom and you can place each item on top to make sure you have them all. I have provided multiple sizes, as I know lunchboxes can vary in size. I have also provided a small version you can use as a reference card if none will fit your lunch bag. I recommend laminating this so it can be used multiple times over and so that it holds up to everyday use.
The lunch labels are shaped like rings and contain each of the food groups. You can cut these out and tape them into place on your lunch bag or box if the mats will not fit (perfect for bento lunch boxes.). I have provided a couple different sizes.
You can print the full set for free below:
Download Your Free Lunch Mats and Labels
Be Grab ‘n Go Ready
A great way to save time for yourself or even involve your children in packing lunches is to have a grab ‘n go station. You can organize these in special bins or shelves in the refrigerator and pantry. If you have younger children, designate the lowest shelf in the refrigerator/freezer and pantry as the “Lunch Items” shelf.
You may have noticed all the little colored stickers on each package of food. Pick up some colored stickers and designate one color or shape for each food group.
We used this key:
Grains = Black
Proteins = Blue
Dairy = Yellow
Fruits = Red
Veggies = Green
Treats = Golden Star
Since I did not have black stickers, I simply used a permanent marker to color some of the stickers black.
Stick these onto the packages/pre-bagged foods on the lunch shelves. Choose one of each color to add to the lunchbox. You are in control of the foods available, but your child is allowed to make his own decisions. This activity can also be used for teaching about nutrition and the food groups.
Offer a Lunch Menu
If your child enjoys foods that sometimes need to be prepared last-minute or you cannot have everything placed neatly on one shelf, offer a menu. This can be simple or slightly detailed; it is up to you. Personally, I would model it slightly after a kids’ menu at restaurants, listing a few quick food items your child typically enjoys in each food group.
Go ahead and laminate this so you can use dry erase markers on it. Your child can choose what he wants for his entree, side items, beverage, and dessert by writing a check mark next to each item he wants. Again, this offers your child the freedom of choice, but keeps things within reason and doable for you. If you laminate it, add several different choices and simply cross out those that are not currently available at the time, then erase the marks when they are available again.
Always Have Napkins
Messes are inevitable. Keep napkins in your lunch bag or box at all times, ready to clean at a moment’s notice.
Side note: in case you’re wondering, yes. I totally bought this lunch bag just for me. The boys have their own lunch bags–I saw this one and I just knew I had to have it. Seriously though, cats with mustaches.
School, family adventures, or long car rides–whatever the event, your busy family can be ready to go with these “Lunch to Go” hacks.
I would love to hear from you in the comments below–-Do you have a busy family? What are your tips for getting lunch together so you can get out the door quickly and prepared?