DEAR SARA: I hate packing lunches. It is my absolute most despised chore. I will have to pack four a day, and only one kid can reheat leftovers. I'm thinking of setting up a sort of lunch-packing station -- a hidden place stocked with individual portions of snacks and lunch stuff that I can just grab and pack. Sort of like an assembly line. Then maybe have fruit and veggies for the week already cut and portioned out in containers in the fridge. I'm even thinking of getting some covered bowls and dishing out the breakfast cereal for the week. My kids are going to be getting the bus at 7:30 a.m., so mornings are going to be really hectic. Any other ideas for making lunch packing easier? -- Carla, Canada
DEAR CARLA: I like to do as much as possible the night before, and I wake up early and give myself plenty of time. I have a section of counter reserved for lunch boxes. My pantry has pull-out shelves, and I reserve one shelf for lunch foods and supplies. If you don't have pantry space, try a plastic tote/bin just for lunch supplies. The rest of our lunch foods are organized by the built in drawers in my refrigerator (produce, deli foods). I pack the foods that don't need to be refrigerated in lunch boxes the night before with napkins and any needed utensils. I put other foods that do need refrigeration into reusable containers. I reserve the front part of one shelf in the refrigerator for filled lunch containers and drinks. This makes it easy to pull out in the morning. I wait until the morning to make sandwiches. That's simply my personal preference. You can make and freeze some ahead of time.
In the morning, I just add the containers of food into the lunch boxes with a freezer pack, add a drink and make sandwiches. It takes about 5 minutes.
My kids don't have access to a microwave, but I have insulated food jars. If I send them with hot food, then I need a little extra time in the morning. I boil water in the microwave and pour it into their Thermos to pre-heat their food jars, and then I heat their food and place it into the food jar. It stays hot for about 5 hours.
When the kids come home, they bring their lunch boxes to the kitchen. I wash the insides, and the containers are washed with dinner dishes. I have a lunch box menu list of ideas, too. My kids help put some of their choices into the containers. Sometimes, when I'm cleaning up after dinner, I'll have them put their nonrefrigerated lunch foods into their lunch box. Visit this page for my school lunch box ideas list . The list can help kids make healthy choices. I ove pack their lunch boxes a bit because my kids have sports activities after school. They have their extra snacks (usually fruit or raw vegetables) ready before we head out.
I know it seems like a dreaded chore for you, but these lunch box days don't last forever. Try to have everything planned ahead and handy so you're not going from one end of the kitchen to the other and sorting out what to make.
Sara Noel is the owner of Frugal Village ( www.frugalvillage.com ), a Web site that offers practical, money-saving strategies for everyday living. To send tips, comments or questions, write to Sara Noel, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .
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