The back-to-school Lunch Bucket
The back-to-school Lunch Bucket : a healthy meal planning tool
When my kids were growing up, they hated their school’s cafeteria food. Even on “pizza day” they still preferred to take a packed lunch. As a working mom, I didn’t always want the pressure of making them a lunch every morning so I invented the “lunch bucket”, a healthy lunch planning tool, as a way to get their lunches packed with tasty, healthy and sometimes creative options. Here’s how it worked:
1. Find out what the kids want to eat for lunch.
When I grew up, I had a PB & J every day for 8 years, I swear. There was no real thought put into it. I didn’t want to repeat that. One of my kids liked sandwiches and one liked pasta. Every weekend I would ask what they preferred and tried to make stuff that they really wanted. In the winter months, sometimes they would request chili or something hot. They each had a thermos and reusable containers that they were responsible for bringing back home. If their item needed to be hot, I’d microwave it and pour it in the thermos. Most of the time, it was still hot at lunch time.
2. I would pre-make 3 lunches for each kid plus a couple extra side items.
I made the sandwiches and pasta and wrapped them in plastic or put them in containers. I pre-measured chips in wax paper bags (old school but hate using all that plastic wrap) and cut carrots and fruit and put them in reusable containers. I might have a little something sweet for them like a cookie or banana bread, and just for fun, I had napkins with little hand-written messages like, “Do your best today”, or “Can’t wait until you get home”.
3. I would load all the lunch items in a plastic container in the fridge and mark it “Lunch Bucket”. Midweek I would reload the lunch bucket with lunch items for 2 more days to finish out the week.
The Lunch Bucket had some rules that went with it.
A. After 3rd grade, each kid was responsible for building their own lunch. They’d go to the bucket and pack what they wanted. It was interesting to see sometimes how one or the other would favor things like certain fruits or want more chips. Occasionally, one would take 2 sandwiches which was a good indication of a growth spurt.
B. They had to bring back all the reusable containers. I tried to be mindful of how much plastic wrap I was using. Sometimes it was the only thing that would keep the food fresh, but those cheap grocery store Tupperware-type containers worked good.
C. No after school snacking out of the lunch bucket. If there were leftovers after Day 3, it was OK to snack out of the bucket, but other than that it was off limits.
Every weekend I’d repeat this process. I’d ask what they wanted the following week.We’d go get the stuff along with other items we’d need for the week. I have fond memories of putting the lunch bucket together at the end of the weekend. I had much more energy to make better stuff than I would have if I’d try to do it in the morning when I was trying to get out of the door as well.
The only problem with this lunch system was that their lunch bags had to be pretty big to accommodate the reusable containers.
Overall, they liked the lunch bucket. They were eating what they wanted, and I knew what they were eating was good for them because I prepared it myself.
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