School lunches. Dun dun dun…
They’re a plague on parents far and wide. Deciding what to pack, finding the time to pack, fighting the kids on what you just packed and potentially losing your pretty reusable containers to the school trash can.
The whole thing is battle I’d rather not fight, but the kids have to eat and it’ll be goldfish and gummies if I don’t step in and do something.
Of all the enemies involved with school lunches, time seems to be the biggest beast. Since no one has invented ways to add hours to the day, creating a good plan to use time wisely seems to be the next best option.
Each month I write a meal plan, and then each week I modify the meal plan as needed to accommodate our schedules and the weekly CSA box. If this plan works so well for dinner, why not do the same thing for school lunches?
But I didn’t want to stop there. Anyone can come up with a meal plan for school lunches. That’s not the hard part.
The hard part is finding the time involved to implement the plan. You know, amongst other important and time-draining parts of life like working, shopping, laundry and sleeping.
So I created a one-week meal plan that is not just for school lunches, but one that:
- Uses whole foods
- Is frugal (approx $$ for the week)
- Feeds two elementary aged kids
- Can be prepared in advance AND in under an hour
How’s THAT for a school lunch win?!
Now, the concept of cooking an entire week’s worth of lunches in an hour is speed cooking at its finest. Your goal is to get as much done as possible in this one hour time frame. This means keeping cutting boards out, not washing dishes and kicking the family out of the kitchen while you work.
(Need a TV babysitter for an hour? I won’t judge.)
Chances are you won’t have enough containers to portion out individually for every single day. No worries – keep like items together and let the kids pick and choose from the menu for the day.
Five School Lunches in Less Than an Hour
Main Dish (choose two)
- Zucchini Muffins with Carrots and Apples (1 muffin x 3 days)
- Homemade Spaghetti O’s (1 serving x 4 days)
- Chicken Salad (1 serving x 3 days)
Side Dishes (choose three)
- Slices of cheese (1 oz x 3 days)
- Carrot sticks (4 sticks x 3 days)
- Celery sticks (4 sticks x 3 days)
- Apple slices (4 slices x 3 days)
The Cooking Plan:
- Prepare muffins (15 min) and bake (25 min).
- While baking, peel and slice 7 carrots into 56 sticks (each carrot halved, then 4 sticks for each half); 7 celery ribs into 56 sticks; 2 apples into 24 wedges total. Slice 6 ounces of cheese into 1 oz portions. Take 8 carrot sticks and 8 celery ribs and dice. Dice raw chicken into small pieces.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta. (10 min)
- While the pasta is cooking, remove the muffins from the oven and allow to cool. Cook the chicken in a skillet over medium-low heat. Prepare pasta sauce in a small saucepan.
- Remove chicken from the heat. Combine cooked pasta with the sauce.
- In a large bowl, combine chicken with diced celery, diced carrots and desired condiments (mayo/mustard/relish)
Portion and Package:
- 6 muffins in a container with a lid, in the fridge. 12 muffins in a freezer-safe bag, in the freezer.
- Place chicken in a container with a lid.
- Place pasta in a container with a lid.
- Place cheese, fruits and vegetables in a container with a lid.
Assembling a School Lunch
Allow the kids to choose what they want from the menu and help them portion into appropriate lunch containers. That’s it!
While the cooking plan above is specific to the dishes I chose, it can easily be tailored to your own menu. Choose one baking item, one stove-top item and one no-cook item and prepare them in that order. If you can include lunch preparation into your already scheduled dinner plans, you’ll be done even faster!