10 lunch packing tips to help you pack healthy, tasty, and budget-friendly lunches. Love it or hate it, lunch packing season is here!
There are a lot of good reasons you should pack your lunch: The food you pack will almost certainly be more nutritious and less expensive than if you go out for lunch. Bringing your own lunch saves time so you can spend your lunch hour on other things (I like to get my exercise in on my lunch hour). And in most cases, bringing something from home will be tastier than what you might pick up.
There are also lots of reasons people don’t like packing their lunch. It’s a chore, for starters, and one you need to put aside some time for. If you don’t pack it right, you could end up with a sad, soggy lunch. And let’s face it: if you don’t put much thought into it, your lunch can be pretty uninspiring.
But there’s hope! If there’s one thing I may officially declare myself an expert it, it would be the art of packing lunch. And today I’m sharing 10 lunch packing tips to help you pack healthy, tasty, and budget-friendly lunches.
1. Equip yourself
If you want to pack good lunches, you’re going to need some stuff! I went out and bought a separate set containers that I set aside specifically for my lunches, so that when I’m ready to pack my lunches they’re always available. Nothing fancy, just rectangular containers with lids. For dinners and leftovers in the fridge I have a set of nice glass containers with snap-top lids, but for lunches I prefer plastic as they aren’t nearly as heavy. And since I commute on my bike, the weight of my backpack matters!
Wide-mouth mason jars are great for layered salads, and if you’re into compartments there are lots of cute little bento-style boxes available. One of my favourite lunch packing tips is to save those little single-serve jam jars from restaurants and hotels. They’re the perfect size to tuck a bit of sauce or salad dressing in with your lunch without having to dress anything in advance.
If your office or school doesn’t have a fridge, you may want to invest in a couple of ice packs or a good insulated lunch bag. Or you can just plan lunches that do well at room temperature. Which leads me to…
2. Make a plan
Make a plan, yo! If you find yourself standing aimlessly in the kitchen waffling about what to take for lunch, agonizing that you’re going to be late, then throwing your hands up in defeat and just hitting that questionable salad bar at the grocery store near your office yet again, a plan will help you.
So here’s what you do: late in the week, say Thursday or Friday, get some paper and a pen (or your phone and your Evernote app), and write down what your perfect lunch looks like every day for the following week.
Start a Pinterest board where you can save recipes from around the web that looks like they’d make for good packed lunches. Follow other people’s boards for lunch packing tips. Pull it all together with recipes and ideas, and make a grocery list. And then…
3. Pack for the week on Sunday
Set aside some time on your Sunday to prep and pack your lunches for the week ahead. You can totally do it!
Remember that: sturdy greens like kale are much more durable than delicate greens like spinach. So a kale salad that you make on Sunday will likely will be in good shape when lunch rolls around on Thursday. You probably don’t want to include short-life ingredients like avocados until the last minute, and consider that intact cherry tomatoes fair much better over time than does a diced field tomato. Salads also last much longer without dressing, so pack the dressing in a separate container to add at the last minute, or go for layered mason jar salads with the dressing on the bottom.
“But Katie, I like to take sandwiches for my lunches.”
Good news, folks, you can totally bulk pack sandwiches as well. Even sandwiches with tomatoes in them, and if you follow The Sandwich System, you’ll avoid sad soggy sandwich situations. Pray tell, what is The Sandwich System? It’s a three-step system devised by my genius of a husband, who has bulk packed his Sandwiches on Sundays for as long as I’ve known him. You can read about it in detail here.
4. Hit up your freezer.
One of my biggest lunch packing tips (and life tips in general) is to make friends with your freezer. There’s so much you can bulk prep and freeze to have on hand for grab-and-go packed lunches. Freezer burritos and wraps are a favourite of mine, and I love to freeze lasagna and other casseroles in single-serve portions. Strata also freezes brilliantly cut into squares and wrapped in foil.
Soups, chilis, and stews are freezer friendly by nature. And to be honest, frozen is my favourite way to transport soups in my packed lunches. Nobody wants a container of liquid soup sloshing around in their bag!
5. Repurpose leftovers
Dinner leftovers make great lunches! Plan to make more than you know you’ll eat – intentional leftovers – are a great lunch packing strategy. Write it into your plan so you don’t forget! Here’s an expert-level lunch packing tip: when you’re cleaning up after dinner, pack the leftovers into lunch containers right then and there. Label them, and then pop into the fridge or freezer right away.
6. Pack delicious lunches you actually want to eat
This one is important. If you pack yourself a sad desk lunch that you’re not excited about, the likelihood that you’ll stick to your lunch packing goals is low. And the likelihood that you’ll ditch your soggy salad and go out for lunch anyways is also high. So, back to point #2, you need a plan. And your plan should include delicious, healthy lunches that you really want to eat.
7. Pack smart
If you were packing your bags for a trip you wouldn’t throw your shoes on top of your best silk shirt, would you? So don’t pack your lunches like that either. Delicate things need delicate handling. For example, I like to pack my muffins in a sturdy Tupperware container rather than throwing them into a plastic baggie because it prevents them from getting squished in my back pack.
Get good lunch containers, layer your items from sturdy to delicate, and protect things that are going to get squished or broken. You want your lunch to be palatable when you sit down to eat it!
Another favourite lunch pacing tip is to bulk schlepp. My office has a good amount of fridge space, so I tend to take a few lunches with me at a time. That way I can load up my backpack with lunch boxes on Monday, but then on Tuesday, which is a swim day, I’ve got room in my bag for my swim gear instead.
8. Potluck it
What if you only had to pack one lunch a week? Consider starting a lunch packing club at your school or office. Get a group of five people together, taking into account any food preferences or allergies, and make each person responsible for bringing just ONE lunch each week that feeds everyone in the group. It’s fun, you’ll get to try new things, and you’ll only need to cook / pack lunch one time each week (or less, depending on how many people are in your lunch club).
9. Dress it up
A little salt and pepper can go a long way in turning your lunch from blah to beautiful. As can a drizzle of good olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Or a dollop of mustard. Or a taste of tamari. You get the point. Keep a selection of your favourite condiments at your office, and you’ll be able to spruce up your lunch any old time.
10. Give yourself a break!
And the last lunch packing tip… give yourself a break! Food is fun and social, and sometimes you just need to get out of the office. A nice lunch out with colleagues from time to time is great, and sometimes necessary to vent and blow off some steam from the work week. I’ve taken to preparing four packed lunches each week, because most weeks I’ll have a lunch meeting or two. But if I don’t I’ll either grab something from the freezer, or take the opportunity to go out with colleagues. And since I only go out for lunch occasionally I feel totally justified in treating myself to a nicer lunch than I would if I went out every day.
So what’s your lunch packing strategy for the coming months? Let’s help each other out and share more lunch packing tips and strategies in the comments below!