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When you’re a busy mom, it can be a challenge to get lunch on the table. Some days it seems like I’m just in the middle of a really productive work period when the, “Mom, I’m hungry!” murmurs start. And once one kid feels a little pang in their stomachs, it’s contagious. Before I know it, everyone is wondering when it’s time for lunch.
So, my work period comes to an end and I do what I need to do to ensure lunch gets served. I used to make lunch too complicated. Then I’d have to stop what I was doing and go actually cook something.
Now I’ve realized that lunch shouldn’t be a pain. It should be easy to get lunch on the table, even as a busy mom!
This means I made a lot of changes. And lunch happens regularly, without as much chaos or disruption to our day. This leads to much less stressful afternoons.
Here are some of the changes I made that help make lunchtime go smoothly. It’s much more streamlined now!
As a homeschooling mompreneur, the kids are here every day for lunch. It’s a regularly occurring event. But, many meal plans leave out this meal. Or they just tell you to heat up leftovers or let everyone fend for themselves.
And yes, leftovers make a great lunch. We have one day a week devoted to eating them. But, you have to plan for leftovers when you make your dinner plans.
And if your family is just “grabbing something” to make their own, you have to make sure you bought ingredients at the store for them to make something with. Otherwise you’ll find that the dinner you were planning on cooking tomorrow just got eaten for lunch.
When you make a meal plan, do yourself a favor and plan what you’ll eat for lunch. Then everyone will know what’s up for grabs, and you can be sure to purchase what you need.
Plan Easy Lunches
When you’re planning lunches, pick easy options. If the noon hour is a crazy time of day for you, you want the simplest meals you can. This will help cut some of the crazy out of your day.
Wondering what you can eat? Here are some favorite, simple lunch choices for my family:
- Sandwiches (egg salad, peanut butter & jelly, tuna salad, meat & cheese, grilled cheese (made in the oven so you can cook them all at once!)) – Don’t be afraid to mix it up a bit. Use tortillas instead of bread and roll the sandwiches. Or try Pita bread. If you’re starting to feel like you’re in a rut, just switch something to make it feel new again.
- “Lunchable” style – lunch meat, cheese, crackers, and a mini-candy bar. You can make it healthier by including a veggie or fruit tray as well!
- Egg fried rice – if you use leftover rice, it only takes a couple of minutes to scramble eggs, heat the rice, and add some diced ham and frozen peas!
- Brunch! – Scrambled eggs with toast, pancakes, actual breakfast leftovers, yogurt, or even a bowl of cereal if the day is super crazy!
- Mac & Cheese – kid friendly, quick to prepare, and easy to change up. (Try adding hot dogs, tuna and peas, leftover cooked hamburger, or even a can of chili!)
- Soup – you can start it simmering in the morning, or just open a couple of cans when it’s time. Serve with some bread and butter or crackers.
Match Your Lunch to Your Days
Most of my freelance writing deadlines fall between Tuesday and Thursday. I don’t like starting the week with Monday deadlines, or feeling like I’m in a hurry on Friday to wrap everything up.
So my business require more of my time in the middle of the week.
Making homemade pizza for lunch (another favorite!) isn’t a good option for those days during this season of life. But, I have the time on Monday. So Mondays this year we eat pizza for lunch.
Think carefully about your week. When do you need the fastest, easiest options for everyone to eat? Plan accordingly!
Have a Backup Plan to Get Lunch on the Table When Life Happens
Life happens. Meal plans aren’t perfect. Last minute opportunities arise.
And if you don’t have a backup plan, you might find yourself wondering how you’re going to get lunch on the table when you don’t have time to cook what you were planning on.
That’s why I have a list of backup options for lunch. They’re pretty much convenience food, that one of the kids can prepare.
For instance, if I don’t have time to make pizza one Monday, I have a couple of frozen ones in the basement freezer. They’re there “just in case.” Then when I use them, I put them back on my shopping list the next time I go. That way I replace them so the next time I need them I’m not out of luck!
These are all perfectly acceptable options for a backup plan! No matter what anyone else says.
Make sure you have a plan and what you need on hand.
Enlist Your Kids
Cooking is an important life skill! So enlist your kids and teach them how to prepare lunch.
My three-year-old daughter enjoys making her own peanut butter taco. She can also get herself a glass, put some ice in it, and fill it up with water. If she grabs an apple to go with it, she just made herself a complete meal.
On sandwich day, the majority of my kids can make their own meal. Or help a sibling prepare something.
My older kids are capable of more. They can cook mac and cheese, egg fried rice, or pretty much anything else on the menu. Remember if they can read and have the safety knowledge, they can cook!
Take the time to teach your kids how to prepare food, and then give them opportunities to practice. It will be worth it!
Whenever I can get some lunch prep done the night before, or in the morning, I take the opportunity. Here are some tasks that can be done when you have the chance:
- Dicing veggies for a salad or sides
- Preparing egg salad
- Slicing cheese
- Starting soup in the crock pot
- Cooking rice in the Instant Pot
- Packing lunch boxes if we have an outing or appointment
You can also prepare ahead of time by making a double batch of something. I love doing this with breakfast style foods (muffins, pancakes, waffles, etc.) and pizza dough. I can leave the rounds in the freezer and then just set them out in the morning to thaw.
Use Paper Plates
I save this one for really hectic periods of life (I just stocked up since we’re having a baby soon!)
But, when I’m in a busy period at work, or I know we’re going to be diving into a long homeschool project, I keep paper plates on hand. It doesn’t take long to wash actual dishes, but using paper plates makes clean up even faster.
The kids appreciate not having to spend as long cleaning, and I love the simplicity.
Some days, especially for sandwiches, we just use a napkin instead of a plate. That works too!
Not having to think about a beverage makes lunch time prep go faster. We drink water with lunch.
If it spills, it’s easy to clean and not sticky.
The kids can get it themselves.
And staying hydrated helps keep moods better. If your family is used to drinking other things with lunch, there might be some rebellion at first. But, they will get used to it.
We transitioned from Kool-Aid to water, so I know it can be done!
Have a Plan for Clean Up
Using paper plates isn’t the only way to keep clean up simple. It also helps to have a plan.
My kids have table chores. These are tasks that get done after every meal. They learn these tasks when we redo our chore chart each summer, and keep them for an entire year.
This way cleaning after meals becomes a habit. And when the dishwasher doesn’t get loaded, I can instantly know who forgot a chore. No more trying to remember which child I asked to do it. Or keep track of an often-changing rotation.
It helps make life simpler!
Remember Your Nutritional Needs
It’s okay to not eat what your kids are eating!
As a mom, your nutritional needs may be different. Your kids likely need more carbs and high-energy food so they can keep growing. You might benefit from extra protein and vegetables instead.
Sometimes I have a salad and a Larabar for lunch instead of what my kids are eating. Or I dip carrot sticks in peanut butter along with some multi-grain crackers.
You have to take care of yourself! Know what your nutritional needs are, and what foods help energize you with long-lasting energy. Then eat those foods.
What Are Your Best Tips to Get Lunch on the Table?
I’d love for you to share what tips and tricks you use to help get lunch on the table and have the noon meal go more smoothly. Please share in the comments!
Know a busy mom? Please share this post with her!
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.