Mornings as a parent are hectic. Whether it’s wrangling reluctant kids into clothing or ensuring they have all they need for the day, there always seems to be some battle going on. And through the chaos, you may have discovered that preparing meals in advance or simplifying the process with lunch box meal prep can bring back the sense of calm to the first few hours of your day.
With how important morning-time is for impacting the rest of your day, check out our tips for preparing quick and easy lunch box meals, and start creating order out of chaos.
Begin with a Base | The Lunch Box
Easy lunch box ideas start with the container. Having the right-sized container can help with portion control. Plus, using one with dividers built-in, you can prevent foods from touching—for our picky eaters—while, at the same time, presenting different colors and food groups throughout the meal.
It’s a little of what they like to eat and a little of what you want them to eat.
Dividers also prevent lunches from becoming stale or monotonous. With three or four different types of food in each meal, there’s always something new to try.
When looking for the best lunch boxes for work or school, find one that is durable and easy to clean. This will make it easy to reuse any day of the week.
Easy Lunches To Prep In Advance
Meal prepping (and regaining your peaceful mornings) is about figuring out what meals you can make the day before. A lot of meal prep advice suggests eating the same lunch every single day. But this doesn’t have to be the case.
Consider these fun and inspired meal creations to prepare the night before (or on the weekend) to have a delicious, nutritious lunch ready to go, any day of the week.
The Do-It-Yourself Lunch
For many kids, the joys of lunch comes from the ability to build it themselves. Think about a store-brand DIY lunch like Lunchables; the reason it's so popular is that the child is allowed to be creative while they eat. Maybe they like to stack the cracker sandwich as high as they can; maybe they like to save up all the pizza sauce for an extra saucy finish.
This yummy thrill doesn’t have to be restricted to pre-packaged and heavily processed lunches. For some easy, healthy recipes at work or school that you can make at home, try these fan-favorites:
- Whole-grain pita bread cut into slices
- Your choice of shredded cheese (mozzarella or a multi-blend mix)
- Pepperoni (or your child’s preferred toppings)
- Small container of marinara sauce
If your children aren’t pizza fanatics, try the classic sandwich creation:
- Ritz crackers or even cucumber slices
- Your choice of deli meat
- Your choice of cheese slices
Bonus Tip: Cut the meats and cheeses into shapes for added fun! And don’t be afraid to switch it up with a few of our ideas for healthy school lunches. If you normally send your child to school with peanut butter, try surprising them with a sweet hazelnut spread, Nutella or cookie butter surprise.
Wrap & Roll
With less mess, less fuss and more finger foods, wraps and rolls can be great, efficient alternatives to the traditional sandwich. The most obvious substitution would be to swap out slices of bread for tortilla. Or you can try taking out the carbs completely by simply rolling deli meat around cream cheese or cheese sticks.
Take a familiar grilled cheese sandwich and turn it into rolls by rolling some bread around a cheese stick, grilling them in a pan and packing them alongside a thermos of tomato soup for an innovative take on a classic.
If that seems bland, how about some spring rolls?
- Dampen a rice paper wrapper in warm water to soften
- Lay down a bed of vermicelli noodles
- Pile on the veggies, like cucumbers and bean sprouts
- Top it off with a protein. The standard combination is pork and shrimp
The great thing about these wraps is their customizability. While the traditional recipes may be great to draw inspiration from, not everyone likes the same thing. Try using lettuce instead of rice paper if it’s too much work. Or for a meatless option, try tofu!
Spice Up Lunch With a Traditional Rice Ball
Looking for something a bit more substantial? Although technically neither a wrap nor a roll, a rice ball might be the answer. If you have some rice already in the house, rice balls or onigiri are both a speedy and cheap eat. Have your kids join in on making these fun treats they’ll see later in their lunch boxes.
- Although preferably Japanese rice, any rice will do
- Sprinkle a little salt into your and your kids’ hands
- Roll the rice and mold them into either a triangle or ball shape
- Create an indent in the center
- Place canned tuna, vegetables, or your preferred filling inside
- Cover the indent with rice
- Wrap the rice with nori seaweed
- Sprinkle sesame seeds on top for an extra garnish
Like wraps and rolls, the possible combinations are endless. Adjust to your preferences or to the ingredients you already have.
Time to Dip
Continuing in the spirit of hand foods, we suggest one of the easiest lunches—one centered around a dip.
A classic option is to use hummus. Include a container of the savory dip and pair it with pita bread, chips, carrots, celery and more. Spice it up with different flavors of hummus or other types of dip:
- Peanut or almond butter (be careful of others’ nut allergies)
- Bean dip with sour cream and cheese
Pick Up Sticks
Not the fast-food restaurant. Skewers can be an exciting twist for easy lunch box meals. Be sure to use blunt sticks to avoid sharp ends, then just stick on any sweet or savory treat to your liking. You could line up some veggies, meatballs, sausage slices or satay chicken. Or just recreate the classic with deli meats, cheeses and vegetables for a kid-friendly deconstructed sandwich.
For dessert? Fruit and chocolate kebab. Yum!
With so many fun options to choose from, you and your kids will spend hours finding the perfect combinations for their lunches this week.
Chicken Makes for Easy Pickings
A perfect balance between store-bought and homemade: the rotisserie chicken. Shred the chicken for enough meat to make a multitude of meals from it alone.
With your protein ready, you can use it in a variety of salads. Beyond the traditional greens, you can toss a serving of chicken into a cold soba noodle salad. Or, transform it into a pasta salad with some cherry tomatoes, olives, bell peppers and Italian dressing or mayonnaise.
Need more ideas?
- Chicken salad pita pocket
- Barbecue chicken sandwich
- Chicken quesadilla
- Chicken lettuce wrap
- Chicken and rice bowl
All of which can be prepared the night before, packaged and saved for a ready meal in the morning.
The Perfect Parfait
Layer yogurt, granola and frozen fruit for a perfect parfait. Skip the fruit yogurt tubes and make these on your own. With how quickly your family goes through store-bought yogurt, this can save you calories and coin.
Interested in overnight oats? You’ll need oats, milk and chia seeds for a typical base. To add more sweetness, you can include honey or maple syrup and vanilla extract. Feel free to also toss in some frozen fruit, dried fruit, nuts or nut butter to spice it up.
This is how you’ll put it all together:
- Combine the oats and seeds
- Add in yogurt and sweeteners, if you desire
- Pour in the milk
- Cover and chill mixture for at least two hours to the next day
- Take out of the fridge when ready
- Pile on your toppings and cover for lunch
Breakfast for Lunch
For some unknown reason, there is a delight in eating breakfast foods not during breakfast. Kids, in particular, are susceptible to finding pleasure in this. Guarantee an empty lunch box at the end of the day by packing some breakfast staples for lunchtime.
The first tier of ease is, of course, to pack boiled eggs. Peeled or not, boiled eggs cook in a timely manner and can be stored in the fridge for the whole week.
For an advanced egg, whip out your muffin tins. Whisk egg yolks and mix in veggies, meats or cheeses, then toss them in the oven to behold mini quiches or breakfast muffins.
Throw in some mini pancakes or an English muffin on the side, and your kid will have the makings to rival a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich.
Bake and Take
Frozen Hot Pockets and toaster strudels dominated commercials in the 80’s & 90’s as convenient on-the-go foods. However, you can easily replicate these sugar- and salt-filled recipes but with more healthy fillings.
All you’ll need are the ingredients for your fillings and store-made puff pastry:
- Simply cut the puff pastry into your desired shapes
- Place your mixture inside
- Layer puff pastry on top, like a sandwich
- Press a fork into the edges to ensure they stay closed
- Cut small X’s in the center, so your stuffing won’t leak out
- Brush the tops with egg wash
- Toss them into the oven
For some inspiration, try these classic pairings:
- Ham and cheddar cheese
- Spinach and ricotta
- Marinara, shredded cheese, and pepperoni
- Brie and fruit preserves
Easy Lunches for Easy Mornings
Switching to a meal-prepped lifestyle can help you regain your mornings. But preparing meals beforehand doesn’t mean your kids have to eat the same lunch box meal every day. Using the fresh, inspired ideas above, you can prep a week’s worth of meals that are nutritious and exciting every day.
- Feel Good Foodie. Easy Overnight Oats. https://feelgoodfoodie.net/recipe/overnight-oats/
- Japan Centre. Onigiri Rice Balls. https://www.japancentre.com/en/recipes/14-onigiri-rice-balls
- Kitchn. 7 Lunches Made with Grocery Store Shortcuts. https://www.thekitchn.com/7-lunches-made-with-grocery-store-shortcuts-234617
- Kitchn. 10 Prep-and-Pack Lunch Ideas That Aren’t Sandwiches. https://www.thekitchn.com/thinking-outside-the-lunch-box-10-sandwich-free-kids-lunch-ideas-222906