Six lunch hacks for busy parents

I microwaved a burger at 7 a.m. and it ended up taking over half my day.

Yes, that’s true.

I was testing a new lunch idea (item #2) and it worked so brilliantly that I thought: “Hey, self. You should take some poorly-lit photos of this on your iPhone and make a round-up post with different lunch ideas.”

So I spent too much time working on this post (you’re welcome) and now it’s ready.

Some of these tips are for sending lunches to school, others are for eating at home (kids + parents), all are possibly ridiculous but they are STUFF I DO. HERE IN THIS HOUSE. WHERE I MAKE A LOT OF LUNCHES.

Ready? Set? Go! My six current-favourite lunch hacks:

1. Pack a puck.

Our five-year-old son wasn’t crazy about the idea of eating “lunch foods” (like, uh, sandwiches?) every single school day. He’s an odd duck sometimes, but we love that.

We’ve only sent D to school with a sandwich maaaaaybe five times so far. He does enjoy WowButter (thank God) with strawberry jam, but he’s just more of a “dinner” kid who would rather have leftovers from last night’s dinner … you know, providing he enjoyed the dinner, which mostly he does.

So I started freezing little portions of our dinners (like pasta and chicken divan) in muffin tins or bowls, storing them in bags in the freezer, and thawing a portion in the microwave each morning so I could dump it into his thermos.

Lunch pucks! Lifesavers, honestly. More details here.

Easy frozen school lunches

2. Skip the sandwich.

As you guys know, we do BBQ Thursday every week (have been for almost three years, actually), which is often barbecued sausages or burgers or something like that. D LOVES hamburgers and calls himself the Hamburger King, so he always wanted to take a burger but I didn’t know how to manage it.

Well! I gave it whirl this very morning* for the good of my readers (and, uh, D of course). I heated up a burger in the microwave, cut it down to fit the impossibly tiny hamburger buns I’d baked the day before (not sure what happened there, but there was a rising issue).

I also cut a cheese slice, because I couldn’t resist the cuteness. I added ketchup, assembled it all, and wrapped it in foil while it was still hot. Perfect for popping into the thermos without it falling apart, and D reported it was delicious. #winning

*Yes, we had BBQ Thursday on a Wednesday this week due to Meat Expiry Date Drama and no, I’m not over it yet.

Other non-puck and non-sandwich-y things we’ve packed for school? Whole-wheat tortilla chips with a container of salsa. Pepperoni with cheese slices and crackers. Pizza slices. Rolls. English muffin pizzas.

3. Ban brown apples.
I LOVE this tip from Gina over at East Coast Mommy.
She slices an apple but leaves it whole (with the core) and wraps an elastic around it. When you take off the elastic, the apple is fresh with no browning. Genius trick that I’ve used a lot since D started primary in September.
4. Embrace pre-portioned servings.

Back when I was doing Weight Watchers after having C, I was really good about pre-making parts of my lunch so it was easier to eat well. I had a toddler and a baby at the time, so making nice little meals for myself was … just not a huge priority.

Sometimes I’ll cook up a pound of lean beef with lots of peppers, tomatoes, spices, salsa, etc. and portion it into six plastic containers. It’s easy to grab one, heat it up, dump it on a salad or throw it into a tortilla.

I do the same thing sometimes with cooked boneless chicken, veggies, and cheese. Then I can use the mixture for a quick wrap, quesadilla, taco, salad, etc. Can you tell I REALLY like Mexican food?

Megan from Honey We’re Home and Honey We’re Healthy does this too, except her meals are healthier and much prettier!

5. Liven up your leftovers.

I have admitted before that Darling Husband and I used to be terrible about wasting food — er, back in our pre-children days when we were rolling in disposable income as two DINKs (Double Income No Kids) and eating in restaurants whenever we flingin’ flangin’ felt like it, damnit.

I learned that I am really grossed out by unappealing leftovers (also toilets of all kinds, but that’s a bizarre phobia, uh, story for another day). So I never stick a half-full casserole dish or pot or something in the fridge (it would make me retch).

I can’t eat leftovers for lunch until I’ve prettied them up by either packaging them nicely (so they look like a new meal) or combining them in a way that looks nice. Sometimes this allows you to make a meal from NOTHING, and it saves the day.

Very old post here, but excuse the terrible flipphone-esque photos from the blogging Dark Ages.

Terrible photo I took a zillion years ago when the blog was a baby and I think I may have had a fliphone (or a really awful BlackBerry, IDK?)

We are now HUGE leftover-eaters, and we pretty rarely scrape much straight from the fridge into the compost bin. Our lunches are often just leftovers from the previous night, but if there isn’t enough to go around, I’ll make one of these cute muffin tin lunches using a bit of this and a bit of that.

(I used paper cups that we’d been given for this one to mix things up, and the kids lovedddd it. A different spoon for each item? HECK YES, I DON’T EVEN CARE WHAT’S IN THE CUPS. It was like eating six different Costco samples for lunch!)

6. Make simple foods look sensational! 
Everything looks better when it’s cut into a shape, right? We use a lot of cookie cutters, especially if I’m trying to pass off a dull selection of snacks as a COOL! FUN! LUNCH! OMG YOU GUYS!
I’ve written about our bento-inspired lunches before, but I will use any excuse to show off that darling PBJ with the marshmallow eyes and the pretzel stick limbs.
Stay tuned for my breakfast hacks and dinner hacks! I mean, not today or anything. I’m not a machine! But soon — promise!

So what do you think?

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