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Kids need to eat, even when you’re in the middle of compiling an epic blog post. Or completing a task for a client.
The good news is that lunch doesn’t have to be complicated! Here are 20 tips and tricks I use frequently to ensure that we all have lunch on the table each day without a lot of effort.
Since I homeschool the kids, we’re all here for lunch every day. But even if your life situation is different, you’ll probably still find some tips here that’ll make your life easier.
If you implement just a couple of these lunch tips, you’ll start seeing a noticeable streamlining to your middle of the day meal.
1. Plan for lunch
Lunch happens every day. But for some reason, many people forget to plan for this meal. They think:
We’ll just eat leftovers or everyone can just grab something.
And while leftovers make an awesome lunch, you have to actually plan your dinners to make sure there’s enough left over for another meal.
You have to make sure that you’ve bought things for your family to “just grab” at the store.
Otherwise they’ll be faced with empty cupboards and growling bellies.
So do everyone a favor and plan out your lunches when you meal plan. It makes life and grocery shopping easier!
2. Prepare the night before
Check your meal plan each night, and make sure you’ve got some of the basics taken care of. If you need sandwiches the next day, go ahead and make them.
Or gather all of your leftovers together in one place so they’re easy to pull out and heat.
It just takes a couple of minutes, but will make your day run much more smoothly.
3. Pack lunch boxes
My kids don’t always finish school and chores at the same time. They also don’t all get hungry at the same time.
By having lunch boxes ready, they can grab and go whenever they want to eat lunch. They don’t have to tell me. They don’t have to ask what’s theirs. They just know.
Right now we’re only doing lunch boxes for lunch on Thursday since that’s my busiest day. But I’m thinking about doing them more.
They’re easy to pack (or have the kids pack) the night before. They’re easy to grab. Even my 1 year old can be given a lunch box by a sibling and set to work eating.
Lunch boxes are also fun. My kids will often take them outside and eat on a blanket for a picnic. Or head to the bus and eat in there.
They help avoid a lunch rut!
4. Have kids prepare lunch
My young son (who just turned 4) can make himself a peanut butter and jelly taco and get a glass of water. If he has a piece of fruit to go with it, that’s a whole meal.
My almost six year old loves making lunch for the family. She specializes in roll-ups–either peanut butter and jelly or meat and cheese.
The older kids can create even more, especially my teenager. She loves to get creative in the kitchen and tackle lunch (or dinner) for the family.
Let your kids cook. They don’t have to use the stove to create a meal if they aren’t ready.
The independence will be good for them, and cooking is an essential life skill!
It may take a little more work for you in the short-term, but the long-term pay offs are huge!
5. Leftovers are good!
We always have at least one lunch a week dedicated to leftovers. My kids decide what they want, dish up a portion, and pop it in the microwave.
The middles help the littles so everyone gets food.
We aren’t all eating the same thing, because we usually only have 1 or 2 helpings leftover of any given dinner. And my husband packs leftovers for his work lunch.
But, I have also purposefully doubled (or tripled) dinner in order to ensure we had enough for a second meal.
Either way, we eat up our leftovers. We avoid waste and save money. And it’s a really quick meal!
6. Get your chopping done
I love grabbing a salad for lunch (either as a side or as my whole lunch). But, I hate taking time to chop everything each day.
So I dedicate a little time each week to chopping. I chop lettuce and put it in a Ziploc bag. I peel and cut carrots. I chop celery. I take care of any other veggies I have that week.
One mess and I’m done for the week. I love it!
7. Use paper plates
We don’t always do this one, but when life is really crazy I make sure we have paper plates on hand.
Because lunch isn’t only cooking and eating. It’s also cleaning up. And even with all my helpers, there are days when it’s just time to pull out the paper plates.
So I do. Lots of time saved!
8. Drink water
From a young age, kids can get their own water to drink. It’s the healthiest beverage for all ages. And, if it spills it won’t stain or make anything sticky.
So we drink water with lunch. We’ll occasionally have lemonade or ice tea with dinner, but lunch time is all about being quick. So water it is.
Your kids may complain at first, but they will get used to it! All 8 of mine love drinking water now.
9. Assign table chores
Remember talking about clean up earlier? Table chores makes this 100% easier.
I assign my kids table chores each July. They keep them for an entire year. By the end of August, they’re all proficient at doing them. And I don’t have to try and remember who has to load the dishwasher today.
Here’s this year’s assignments:
Daughter (15): Unload dishwasher, put food away
Son (9): Wipe counters and chairs
Daughter (7): Load dishwasher, wipe off fridge
Daughter (5): Clear dishes off the table
Son (4): Wipe front of dishwasher
Daughter (2): Wipe fronts of cupboards
Son (baby): Chase me around while I’m sweeping and try to eat more food. (Well, maybe that doesn’t actually help! 😀 )
10. It’s okay to not eat at the same time
We don’t always eat lunch together. There are natural ebbs and flows in our day, and the majority of our lunches don’t require me to cook a meal and call everyone to the table.
We do have a time for table chores–after the last person eats. Then we get together and clean up.
But it really is okay not to all eat at the same time. If you were all going different places you wouldn’t be either.
11. It’s okay to be simple
I used to think that my kids needed a hot lunch everyday. That if I didn’t cook lunch I was somehow less of a mom.
You know what? It’s just not true.
Keep it simple, and don’t let Pinterest, blogs, or anything like that tell you what makes a good mom.
Every family is different. So do you. It’s okay!
12. Figure out a rotation
Making a rotational, annual meal plan has greatly reduced meal time planning stress.
We all know what’s to eat everyday. And the kids thrive on the routine.
Our current picks:
- Monday: Stir fry
- Tuesday: Egg fried rice
- Wednesday: Leftovers
- Thursday: Pizza (either frozen, homemade, or tortillas with pizza sauce and toppings)
- Friday: Make your own or leftovers
- Saturday: Sandwiches
- Sunday: Something in the dutch oven or crockpot to eat after church
Our lunch is rounded out with vegetables or fruit. They’re all super simple, and don’t take much effort to get ready.
I know what to buy each month to ensure we have enough food to make it through the month.
13. Make large batches
Your prep definitely will vary based on what you pick. But when I cook for lunch, I try to make a large batch and freeze.
This year, it works well for rice for our egg-fried rice, and pizza dough. So when I mix those up, I make enough for two lunches.
The other gets frozen. Then it’s quick to pull out and reheat the next week.
14. Use washcloths as napkins
I got this tip from Amy, another large family mom blogger. Washcloths make lovely napkins!
They soak up a whole cup of spilled water. They wipe hands and faces. They don’t get holes in them from scrubbing too hard.
They’re also inexpensive and easy to wash.
15. Remember your nutritional needs
Sometimes moms feel like they have to eat what the kids are eating. I’ve found that this doesn’t work well for me, especially when I’m pregnant.
I just need more protein and vegetables and fewer carbs during this stage of life.
So I rely more on salads with meat than on other lunch options. The kids don’t seem to mind me eating salad and not making them, though they’re certainly free to have some if they’d like.
Make sure you pay attention to your dietary needs moms–you have to take care of yourself!
16. Let the kids help with the menu
Want to eliminate whining about the food selection? Let the kids play an active role in creating the menu.
Each of my kids has a day, and they pick the meals on that day. Everyone has food they enjoy every week. Even if they don’t always like every option, they know it’s just for the day.
17. Have the food you need on hand
Going to prepare stir-fry for lunch and suddenly realizing you’re out of noodles isn’t a great feeling. So make sure you have what you need on hand.
Make a shopping list that includes lunch ingredients, and buy what you need. If you can, buy extra in case your next trip to the store gets delayed a bit.
18. Have a 5-minute back up plan
Life happens. Kids get hurt and have to go to Urgent Care. You get an unexpected phone call. The cows get out.
When life is crazy, you still need to eat. That’s where a 5-minute back up plan comes in.
Always have ingredients in your pantry for a 5 minute lunch option. It’s not for everyday use, so when you have to pull it out it feels almost special.
Here are some of our emergency meals:
- Cheese or peanut butter “tacos” (roll ups)
- Frozen prepared food that can be microwaved (corn dogs, burritos, etc.)
They aren’t necessarily as nutritious as I’d like lunch to be, but they get the job done in record time and keep away meltdowns.
19. Work while you eat
I did it many times while I was working as a teacher. Many office workers do it everyday.
Sometimes, if a deadline is tight, you have to work while you eat. That’s true even if you’re working from home.
I don’t like doing it, so I try not to often, but I know I can when I need to.
20. Keep your sides simple too!
There’s no point in keeping your main lunch offering simple if you’re just going to stress about sides.
Fresh fruits and vegetables make simple sides for meals. We often have apples and carrots, because they’re easy to grab and last for a lot longer than other choices.
Put one child in charge of washing your sides, and another in charge of peeling/cutting if necessary.
For lunch boxes, buy baby carrots and sliced apples in packages if you’d like.
Keep your sides, and everything else, simple!
What are your best lunch tips?
I’d love to hear your other tips for keeping lunchtime simple. Please share in the comments section below!
Lisa Tanner is a former teacher turned homeschooling mom with 11 kids. She's also a successful freelance writer. Lisa enjoys helping other busy moms find time to start and grow a side hustle of their own.