Whether you're packing lunches for yourself or your family, packing a whole week's worth of lunches is more efficient and will save you time each day. These 10 simple rules will ensure that your lunch is as tasty Friday as it was on Monday.
1. Stock up on containers.
There is no way around this — in order to pack a week's worth of lunches, you are going to need a week's worth of containers. Buying a set or two of matching lunch boxes will make stacking and stashing packed lunches in the fridge easier, but you can also utilize mismatched pieces if needed. Small containers for salad dressings or dips will be helpful too.
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2. Keep it simple.
Some of the best recipes for long-lasting lunches are also the most basic. Save the complex dishes for weekend eating and stick with simple sandwiches, pastas, and salads when packing a week's worth of lunches.
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3. Embrace repetition.
To save time (and your sanity), repeat a few of the same lunch components throughout the week. Monday's pasta salad with chicken can also be packed as a pasta side for Thursday's turkey wrap.
4. Pack some things frozen.
Yogurt freezes well and, whether you freezer yogurt squeeze-tubes or package your own yogurt, freezing it will keep the yogurt from sloshing about in the lunch box. Apple sauce transports better this way too. Corn, peas, and cooked edamame can all go into lunch boxes frozen and they will thaw in the fridge, which keeps them fresher longer.
5. Know what will last.
Understanding what recipes are worthy of packing for a week's worth of lunches takes some trial and error. While that doesn't mean certain foods are unable to be packed ahead, it does require some strategic planning. For example, sliced strawberries will be mushy by midweek, so they should go into Monday or Tuesday's box.
6. Leave a few things unpacked.
While the goal for packing a week's worth of lunches is to eliminate the daily chore of packing lunches, it is OK to leave a few packing details for the day of. Browned avocados aren't appetizing to most eaters, so while you can pack up the black bean salad, quesadilla, and watermelon for Tuesday's lunch on Sunday afternoon, you should hold off on slicing and packing the avocado until Tuesday morning. I like to give apples the same treatment.
7. Pack while you cook.
Let me be straight with you: Packing a week's worth of lunches is going to make a mess of your kitchen, so better to pair it with a meal you can enjoy afterwards and only do cleanup once. Another bonus? You'll already have the oven on for roasting vegetables or toasting frozen waffles.
8. Take shortcuts.
Here is your permission to rely on ready-made meal components, in case you needed it. Find frozen waffles you love and use them to make sandwiches, or serve breakfast for lunch; pack your favorite store-bought dressing; or use pre-made pizza dough to make pizza pinwheels.
9. Don't overfill lunch boxes.
Squishing food into too tight a space is a surefire shortcut to spoilage. Salad greens packed too densely can't breath and will start to wilt; stacked and squished sandwiches will get soggy. This is where a bento-style container with compartments comes in hand — each component of lunch can be packed in its own space without squishing against each other.
10. Pack wet things separately.
Chicken salad sandwiches are one of my husband's favorite lunches, but packing chicken salad on bread just means soggy sandwiches by midweek. Instead pack the chicken salad and the bread in separate compartments. Same goes for salad dressings. Packing mayo for sandwiches on the side as well as sauces for cold noodles will ensure tasty lunches from Monday through Friday.
Do you pack lunches in batches? Do you have any tips or tricks to add to this list?