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Packed Lunch Ideas that Work

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I often get asked, how do I become a lunch packer?

Since this is the fourth year of Lunch It Punch It, I thought I would take the time to answer that question by running through the previously published posts of recipes, photos and ideas and try to distill my thoughts on lunch packing in one post.

I hope this information helps you get started. If you’re a veteran lunch packer, please leave a comment on what helps you or a note of encouragement for new packers!

Please note, I’m just a lunch packer. I’m not a dietitian nor have an education in nutrition. The foods I choose to consume, might be the last thing you would eat. I respect others’ choices and hope readers will afford me the same courtesy.

To be successful when embracing any lifestyle change, you need to know yourself, your schedule, routine and the excuses you make for not doing it. What time and financial investment are you willing to make in packing your lunch?

udandi's packed lunch | lunchitpunchit.comI’ve been a lunch packer most of my life. I didn’t go to a school with a cafeteria and by high school; I didn’t want to spend a short lunch period waiting in a line for food. The older I got, the less my mom packed my lunch and it became my responsibility. Since she did the grocery shopping for our family, she needed to know what I would eat. Together we made lists so she knew what to include in her grocery lists.

Make a list of foods or meals you enjoy eating, don’t forget snacks. Be realistic, if you normally eat a burrito with double steak from a fast casual restaurant, you probably won’t be satisfied with a prepared frozen meal of lasagna. But maybe you find a copycat recipe online and create your own burrito bowl. If you only eat greens when a house salad is served at a fancy restaurant, you’re going to be dissatisfied and distract at work or school if you pack a salad as your lunch.

spinach salad by LunchItPunchIt.com

If you like leftovers, you might find making an extra serving at dinner is a fast way to a packed lunch. If you don’t cook or have any desire to learn, you might assemble meals from the frozen food aisle, canned soup or sandwiches.

Fast packed food | lunchitpunchit.com

On your list of meals, note what type of containers you own or need to buy in order to pack these meals. Chances are if you’ve never been a lunch packer, you’re going to need invest in products like sandwich bags (reusable or not), glass or plastic containers, cutlery, and/or a lunch tote.

If you have some containers, pull them out and match lids to the base (I love Pyrex). If possible, store your lunch packing supplies in one area of your kitchen. If your school or workplace lacks a microwave, determine what non-heated meals you can pack or whether insulating containers would work for you.

Your next list is an ingredient and/or grocery list. Inventory your pantry, freezer and fridge while making a grocery list based on your meal wish list. You might go so far as to create a weekly or monthly meal plan for lunches and dinners.

Figure out how many meals you need to pack in your week, however you define it. Maybe you’re not ready for the Lunch It Punch It challenge or maybe you live for Taco Tuesday with your coworkers. Determine when in your personal schedule you’ll shop for groceries, prepare your meals, and pack your lunches.

How Lunch Packing Happens for Me

My choice to pack is a combination of desire and circumstance. I work in a rural area with limited access to eateries and taking lunch meetings with coworkers, clients or friends is not possible.

I only need to pack a lunch for one person, me. At some point in the weekend, I shop for groceries, especially produce and then I make an entrée or soup and portion it out.

corn chowder |lunchitpunchit.com

Click the photo for the Broccoli Chowder with Corn and Bacon recipe

Before I put meats away from a grocery trip, I repack them based on my recipes and meals. If you’re a slow cooker meal lover, consider what ingredients can be prepared after a grocery trip and packed in freezer bags/containers.

What and How I Pack
I prefer plain yogurt without aspartame so I pass over the individual containers in favor of big container, then I make my own yogurt servings in the 1-cup Pyrex. Fruit or honey is added to the container the night before, but if taking granola, I pack it in a small container.

If I make a sandwich, I put my bread /pita pocket/tortilla in a separate reusable bag from my vegetables and protein and then assemble at lunchtime. I also like grilled cheese and quesadillas and don’t mind eating them cold.

For salads, I like the boxed greens because it is the right mix for my eating habits versus buying various greens and chopping them up. I use the 2- or 4- cup Pyrex for each bed of greens because I’ve found they keep a little longer than plastic storage containers. Others really like mason jars.

salad prep glass bowls

If I’m taking a protein for a Thai Chopped Chicken or taco meat, I keep it in a 1-cup Pyrex for reheating at lunchtime. I put salad dressing in a small container, but after seeing coworkers keep their salad dressing in the work fridge, I brought one in, too.

From my container prep work, I fill my lunch bag the night before and leave it in the fridge. I’ve gone so far as to pack two lunches since I have two totes. This is helpful for my schedule because I go to the gym before work and have frequent after-work obligations and errands.

Meal Prep Fridge | Lunchitpunchi.com

Food prepped for packed lunches

I drive to work, so if I want a break in my day that includes sunlight or different air and lighting than my cubicle, I eat in my car (except for when it is really cold). My old workplace discouraged eating lunch at desks (it didn’t matter for those of us who shared desks – don’t ask) and our break room was in the windowless basement, so many of us would go to our cars or eat in the general area of the library.

If you’re committed to lunch packing, you’ll figure out something that works for your situation and routine.

Packed lunch aftermath |lunchitpunchit.com

You can get involved in the community bag tagging your lunch photos or tweets with #LunchItPunchIt
Find my photo of packed lunches on Flickr and recipes on this blog.
Thoughts and product reviews for containers, lunch bags and more can be found in the products category of this blog.

{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Yvonne January 9, 2014, 2:51 pm

    Hi there.
    Great tips. I am a big believer in the leftovers method. I will pack left overs in a lunch container and save it for the day after tomorrow. So I don’t eat the same thing two days in a row. My favorite is pasta.

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