I often get asked, how do I become a lunch packer?
I hope running through the previously published posts of recipes, photos and ideas to distill my thoughts on packed lunch ideas that work will help you get started!
Please note, I’m just a lunch packer. I’m not a dietitian nor have an education in nutrition. The foods I choose might not work for your needs or lifestyle. I respect your choices and hope you will afford me the same courtesy.
If you have never been a lunch packer, this will be a lifestyle change. 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?
I’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 in school, 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 can find a copycat recipe online and can create your own burrito bowl. If you never choose a salad when dining out, you’re going to be dissatisfied and distracted at work or school if you pack a salad as your main entree for lunch. Maybe start with salad as a side to your main dish.
If you like leftovers, you might find making an extra serving at dinner is a quick way to a packed lunch. If you don’t cook or cooking from scratch is out of the question at this time, you might assemble meals from the frozen food aisle, use soups or sandwiches.
As you make 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 your schedule. Make sure you address any challenges that would keep you from packing or that could become possible excuses.
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 of packing ten lunches before eating out. Maybe you live for Taco Tuesday with your coworkers and would only be able to pack on the other days.
Once you know how many days you’ll be packing, determine when in your personal schedule you’ll shop for groceries, prepare your meals, and pack your lunches.
Next make 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 a step further and create a weekly or monthly meal plan for lunches and dinners.
1. What time and financial investment are you willing to make in packing your lunch?
2. Make a list of food and meals you enjoy eating, including snacks and then figure out which of those can used in a packed lunch
3. What type of containers do you have for packing your lunch and what types you might need to buy
4. Consider making a weekly or monthly meal plan
5. Make an ingredients and grocery list
6. Plan a time to grocery shop and prepare 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 and then I make an entrée or soup and portion it out. Produce is usually a twice a week purchase due to personal preference, it is a quick in/out stop.
Before I put meats away from a grocery trip, I repack them for size 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 so that your meal is ready to go into the slow cooker.
What and How I Pack
I prefer plain yogurt without aspartame, which is often int the individual containers. I buy a big container of yogurt and make my own servings in the 1-cup Pyrex. I might add fruit or honey 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. Then put my vegetables and protein in another and assemble at lunchtime. I also like grilled cheese and quesadillas completely assembled and don’t mind eating them cold.
For salads, I use the 2- or 4- cup glass Pyrex for each bed of greens because I’ve found they keep a little longer than plastic storage containers. When I pre-pack my greens, I top them with a paper towel and place the bowl upside-down in the fridge. Others really like packing salads in mason jars, but this method seems to work best for those packing fresh each night.
If I’m taking a protein for a salad, like 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 when my schedule has me up working out before work and committed after work or in the fall when it is dark by 5pm.
My old workplace discouraged eating lunch at desks 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 (Yes, food in a library!). My current workplace, I have a cube but prefer to see sunlight and breathe different air so I still go to my car, except for when it is really cold, since we cannot have food in the library.
If you’re committed to lunch packing, you will figure out something that works for your situation and routine.