10 Ways to Hack Packing Lunches for School or Work

Sep 22, 2016

Most of us, whether we’re kids or grown-ups, eat lunch away from home every day — that means we’re either bringing it with us, or buying it out. It can be challenging to come up with new ideas (although most kids don’t require a creative lunch — just a familiar one), but the biggest obstacle can be the scramble on mornings when you’re not quite prepared. Here are a few time and food-saving hacks, and ways to make lunch to go a smooth operation.

Freeze Your Treats

Beyond juice boxes, you can freeze baked goods — cookies, brownies, muffins or slices of banana bread — in individual portions to tuck into lunch boxes. Not only does this allow you to make them ahead and freeze, it makes it easy to just grab one out of the freezer — plus it acts like a mini ice pack, keeping the rest of the food cool until lunch time.

A pile of cookies, muffins and slices of loaf wrapped individually in plastic wrap.

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Stock Up on Reusable Forks

If you don’t like the idea of using plastic forks, buy a bundle of cheap ones at the thrift store. They’re sturdy and easy to pack, and it won’t be a big deal if they get lost.

A pile of mis-matched forks.

Serve Leftovers for Lunch

Plan dinner with leftovers in mind — extra pasta, fried rice, soup, chili or stew can be warmed in the morning and packed in a wide-mouthed Thermos to send to school. If kids have access to a microwave, small containers can be packed away in the freezer to grab and go.

A a thermos full of cooked pasta sitting next to a pear.

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Kids Love Bite-Sized Lunches

Lunch boxes with small compartments are easy to fill with finger foods that are easy for kids to nibble on — a good thing when they’re distracted with friends and playtime or tend to be overwhelmed by a large sandwich for lunch. Try berries or grapes, cubes of cheese, dry cereal, cherry or grape tomatoes, popcorn or tortilla wraps sliced into bite-sized pieces. 

A small tackle-box style lunch filled with wraps, carrots, popcorn, dry cereal, tomatoes, grapes, cheese and shelled peas.

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Send a Message in a Cookie

Fortune cookies make a small, sweet treat, with the bonus of a fun message inside (one you don’t have to come up with!).

Fortune cookies on a table.

Start a Lunch Club

To limit your lunch prep time, start a lunch club at work or older kids can try it at school! Gather five friends and assign each a day of the week to make lunch for everyone. If it works, serve them family-style: large salads or piles of sandwiches, for everyone to serve themselves. You’re only on the hook to cook one day a week, but know you’ll eat well every day!

A platter covered with slices of bread coated with mayonnaise, some with sliced meat and lettuce.

Eat Breakfast for Lunch

Most breakfast foods make for a perfectly suitable lunch — and most kids would be thrilled to have a cold pancake or waffle in their lunch bag. For those who love yogurt and granola parfaits, pack an individual container of yogurt along with a small container of berries and granola to assemble at serving time, to keep everything crisp and crunchy.

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Try DIY Cup-of-Soup

If there’s a kettle or access to steaming water at work or school, make your own soup in a jar with dry instant noodles, bouillon powder and diced fresh veggies or frozen peas.

A tight-sealing jar filled with plain instant noodles, boullion and cut veggies.

Pack a Jar of Salad

Leafy salads won’t wilt if you pour the dressing into the bottom of a jar, then pack the leafy greens and other ingredients in overtop; at lunchtime, tip the jar upside down and shake to dress your salad. Attach a fork with an elastic band to keep them together.

Make Wraps Ahead of Time and Freeze 'Em

Spread flour tortillas with nut butters; nut-free butters; or cream cheese and slices of ham. Then roll, wrap in plastic and freeze. They freeze and thaw well and don’t take up much room in the freezer, so they’re perfect to make ahead to grab and go.

Wraps inside a small tin lunch pail, along with a bunch of grapes, a clementine and a package of string cheese.

Article Author Julie Van Rosendaal
Julie Van Rosendaal

Read more from Julie here.

Julie Van Rosendaal is the author of six best-selling cookbooks (with a seventh due out this fall), the food editor of Parents Canada magazine and the food and nutrition columnist on the Calgary Eyeopener on CBC Radio One. She is a recipe developer, TV personality, food stylist and writes about food for local, national and international publications. She is perhaps best known as the voice behind her popular food blog, Dinner with Julie, where she documents real life at home in Calgary with her husband and nine-year-old son. Connect on twitter @dinnerwithjulie.


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