The kids are back at school and I’m welcoming the return of some routine to our lives. It’s so much more peaceful at home with one instead of all four. But gosh, those school mornings can be a killer, can’t they?!
Without some sort of a system, it’s always a scramble. Three lunchboxes to pack, three piano practices to supervise, three kids to get dressed with no bits missing – shoes! Matching school socks! Hats! The correct uniform for the correct day! Readers and library bags and swimming gear and recorders, with each child requiring different items to be packed into their school bag on different days…
All the Mums know what it’s like.
We actually have a few systems in place now to help us in all those areas. I’ll be sharing some of them in my upcoming posts in this back-to-school series. But for me, the last frontier to conquer has been the school lunchbox.
I shared my mix-‘n-match system in this popular post. With this system in mind, I try to always have a selection of fruits, veggies and whole foods like nuts and crackers ready to throw into a lunchbox. I like offering the kids healthy options.
The problem is that food like that often needs a little bit of prep. Watermelon needs to be cut up, grapes need to be picked, strawberries need to be washed and divided up, carrot sticks need to be chopped… you get the idea.
As a result, whenever I’m strapped for time (which, let’s be honest, is most mornings) I usually end up falling back on the same old faithfuls – a piece of whole fruit that can just be grabbed and thrown in (like an apple or banana) and a packaged snack from the pantry.
Which is totally fine, of course, nothing wrong with that (no lunchbox shaming from me, Mummas – I am the worst!) but because I was packing it every. single. day it was all getting a bit boring – not to mention lacking in nutritional variety.
In addition, our old system broke down because we don’t have enough Tupperware divided sandwich keepers now that our third child is at school (and unfortunately they’ve been discontinued – sad face!). We also don’t have enough insulated bags to fit the lunchboxes into – those old sandwich keepers are very long. So we’ve veered away from the whole Bento-box style where we fill up all the cute little compartments.
Nowadays, we’re just throwing food into an insulated lunchbox and letting it all rattle around in there together. Which is fine, but it’s just another little roadblock towards including lots of fresh fruit and veg and whole foods, because it means all that good stuff first has to be packaged up or put into little containers.
And who has time for that on a busy school morning??
Not me. And I figure I’m probably not the only one.
Yesterday morning, though, something remarkable happened.
I finished making lunches in less than 5 minutes flat. The kids each got a freshly made sandwich, a variety of cut up vegetables, a portion of interesting fruit, and a snack. It was a nutritionally balanced, colourful and interesting lunch.
I was in and out of the kitchen in minutes, and then I had an entire hour to help my kids get ready for school.
I was able to have a relaxing chat with my daughter as I did her hair, sit with the kids while they did their piano practices, whisk Charlie off to change his nappy without worrying about everything going pear-shaped in my absence, remind kids about what they needed to pack into their bags that day, and just generally be around to make sure everything ran smoothly.
All the kids got all their jobs done (it was a 10/10 day on their chore charts – which has literally never happened before!)
We were all relaxed and happy. And the kids were nice and early to the bus stop.
It was like some sort of miracle.
Now, I know that not every morning is going to be like that from this day forward. But it was a pleasant surprise to see how one small change can make such a big difference to how smoothly our morning runs.
So what did I change?
I did lunchbox prep on the Sunday.
Lunchbox prep has always been a bit of a dirty word for me.
Isn’t that just for super-organised mums?? Who wants to spend time prepping lunches on a Sunday when you could be hanging out with the family or taking a nap?
This week I decided to just give it a go. For literally the first time ever. And you know what?
It only took 20 minutes. I felt amazing – like a for-real boss mum. And that 20 minutes has translated into soooo much saved time throughout the week.
Turns out, it’s a heckova lot quicker to prep some food while hubby is there to play with the kids and keep them out of the kitchen, and when everyone’s relaxed, than in the chaos of a school morning when you’re being pulled in four directions at once.
My typical lunch-making routine USED to look like this:
Me: Pull everything out of the fridge. Pluck two grapes from the bunch.
Kid 1: “MUM, where’s my SOCKS?”
Me: Sort out sock situation. Find containers for grapes. There is no sign of matching lids.
Kid 1&2 start fighting.
Me: Break up fight. Pluck one more grape.
Kid 4 (the almost-2-year-old): “Mummy mummy mummy mummy mummy!” (Translation: I want what you’ve got.)
Me: Give toddler a grape. When he starts shrieking for another one, give him two more. Container is now empty again.
Kid 2: “Mum, you need to help me with my piano practice!”
Me: “I’m busy! Just start without me!”
Kid 2: “I caaaaaaan’t!”
Me: Ignore this. Pluck three more grapes. Give two of them to the toddler. Container now has one grape in it. Still no sign of those missing lids.
Kid 3: “Mummy, come and do my hair! No, I don’t want Daddy to do it, I need Mummy!!”
You get the idea.
Basically, it took five times as long as it should have to make lunch, due to constant interruptions. It was stressful. Plus, it meant I wasn’t free to help the kids when they needed me. I was always tied up in the kitchen.
And because I had to abandon and return to the lunch-making several times over the course of a school morning while I helped kids with other stuff, I was often shoving lunch boxes into bags at the very last possible second before the kids ran out the door.
If your kids are older than mine and a bit more independent, this might not be such a problem. But no matter how old your kids are, if you’re on a tight schedule in the mornings, I can tell you for sure that there’s nothing like the feeling of throwing a healthy lunch together in a couple of minutes flat thanks to a bit of lunchbox prep.
My simple lunchbox prep system
So, how does it work?
I kept my lunchbox prep REALLY simple. Because if it’s too time consuming, it’s not gonna happen.
I just washed, cut up and pre-portioned fruits and veggies into containers and ziplock bags.
The combinations I used this time were:
- Snacking carrots and cucumbers
- Green beans and cherry tomatoes
- Sliced watermelon
- Sliced orange
- Strawberries and green grapes
- Strawberries and blueberries.
Most of those needed very little prep.
For instance, the strawberries, grapes, blueberries, and cherry tomatoes didn’t need to be cut up – just washed, dried off and divided into packets. The green beans had to be top and tailed. The little carrots I simply cut in half (unpeeled, so they stay juicy). I cut the cucumber into big chunks so it would last longer. Then I sliced up a couple of oranges and some watermelon, and I was done.
I don’t love being in the kitchen, so I burned through the lunchbox prep to get it over and done with – and it was done so fast it surprised me.
The packages of fresh fruit and veg went into open containers in the fridge, so I can easily reach in and grab out what I need.
This morning I asked our eldest to pack the lunchboxes for all the kids. “1 packet of veggies, one packet of fruit and a snack from the pantry” were his instructions – and it was so easy for him to do.
All I had to make was a sandwich. Over and DONE.
In the pantry, I’ve recently moved our snacks down to the bottom shelf so the kids can access them more easily. I keep any boxes or bulk packets in some big wire baskets, and a stacking Tupperware container with a flip-top lid for individual pre-packaged snacks.
The flip-top bins are great for little kids to access. Or for me to easily grab a snack out on a busy school morning.
It’s so much cheaper to buy crackers etc by the box instead of individually packaged. So this weekend I also took a couple of minutes to portion some rice crackers and pretzels into little packages, and stashed these in the bins as well.
So that’s it – a simple lunch prep system that anyone can do. Even a very much non-domestic-goddess like myself.
Try it – I swear it will take under half an hour, and then you’ll rock your entire school week feeling like the best Mum ever!
(Which you already are, btw. But this will make you really NOTICE just how awesome you are.) 😉
If you want more ideas of fruits, vegetables, snacks and whole-foods that you could pre-package like this, make sure you grab the free printable in this post. There are over 100 realistic whole food ideas to help you quickly and easily add some variety to those weekday mornings.
Oh, and if you found this helpful, make sure you check out the rest of the series.
Back to school series
Thanks for reading along, friend. More fun back-to-school ideas to come next week!