How to plan and pack healthy teacher lunches

How to plan and pack healthy teacher lunches

In all my years as a teacher, packing lunch has never been a priority. I never know what to pack for lunch outside of leftovers. Lately, my go-to lunch has been salad kits. They are super easy but then I’m left eating salad every single day at lunch and I’m not a big fan of the same food every day. Plus a salad isn’t as filling and then I’m more susceptible to saying yes when there are other treats available. If I could make healthy, filling lunches each day it would save me time and calories. That’s why I’ve asked my friend and wellness coach, Marija Crosson, to share some of her best tips for packing healthy lunches for school.

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What makes for a great lunch

Lunch is the meal that has to sustain us the longest throughout the day.  I use the following ratio as a guide to make that happen:

  • I always start with 50% veggies to make me full. I shoot for 2-3 cups of greens and/or raw/roasted veggies. For greens, try arugula, kale, mesclun, and spinach. For roasted veggies, try broccoli or cauliflower. For raw veggies, try bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, or cucumber.
  • Then, I incorporate 25% protein to help keep me full longer. I shoot for a ½-1 cup of eggs and dairy, chicken, turkey, beef, pork, game, seafood, or plant-based protein. For meat and fish, try shredded chicken, ground turkey, baked salmon, or canned tuna.
  • The last 25% of my plate is fiber-filled carbohydrates to give me sustained energy. I shoot for ½-1 cup starchy veggies, beans, and legumes, or whole grains. For starchy veggies, try roasting acorn squash, butternut squash, or sweet potatoes. For beans and legumes, try black beans, garbanzo beans, or lentils. For whole grains, try brown rice, farro, whole grain pasta, or quinoa. When choosing processed and packaged carbohydrates, look for at least 1 gram fiber for every 10 g total carbs
  • Then I add in 1-2 accessories to make the meal pop with flavor. I shoot for 2-4 T of healthy fats/dressing/sauce/condiments. Try avocado, cheese, nuts, seeds, or vinaigrette.

Salads, bowls, and stir-frys fit this approach really well. You can use the above ratio to create your own combos but if you prefer to cook from a recipe, my favorite meal prep lunches come from the following food blogs: Ambitious Kitchen, Eating Bird Food, Fit Foodie Finds, Love Leaf Co, and Our Balanced Bowl. I think it’s helpful to build up a master list of recipes you’d like to try so then each week, the research is already done for you.

I used to organize my recipes in a Pinterest board but found it cumbersome to cook from. Recently, I’ve fallen in love with the Paprika Recipe Manager. It’s the best $4.99 that I’ve ever spent on an app. You can store, categorize and rate recipes, create shopping lists directly from a given recipe and also map out what meals you’re eating on which day. But even more than that, I love how each recipe has an ingredients tab and a directions tab, making it a breeze to keep track of where you are while you cook.

Big picture planning

I’ve learned that a little bit of strategy before jumping into this process goes a long way.  

When it comes to planning, ask yourself:

“Would I rather eat the same thing every day?” → {choose one recipe} or

“Would I rather mix things up?” → {choose 2-3 recipes to alternate across the week}.

When it comes to prepping, ask yourself:

“Would I rather have a bigger prep once? –> {on Saturday/Sunday/Monday for the week} or “Would I rather have a smaller prep twice {on Sat/Sun for the next 2-3 days and then mid-week for the last 2-3 days}

Having the right gear also makes this process a lot easier.  There is nothing worse than a lunch that spills all over your bag. And after my fair share of tests (and ruined bags), here are my favorites:

Option 1: Ball mason jars

  • I like using the wide mouth quart sized mason jars for salads and bowls

Option 2: Snapware glass containers or Sterlite Ultra-Seal plastic containers

  • I like using the 2 cup rectangular container for plain Greek yogurt + fruit or quinoa salad
  • I like using the 4 cup square container for stir-fry, salads, and bowls

When trying to decide how many to buy, a question worth asking yourself is:

“Would I rather save time and energy?” → {Buy multiple containers so you can pack them at one time} or

“Would I rather save money?” → Buy one container and keep the prepped ingredients separate in the fridge to assemble the night before.

Weekly Planning

On Thursday or Friday, I look at my weekend and what we have going on, then block out three chunks of time into my schedule.  During the first block, I sit down to plan out my meals for the week by looking at my master list of recipes and deciding what I want to eat that week.  I then make my grocery list by cross-checking the ingredient list with the items I already have in my kitchen.

During the second block, I go grocery shopping or place my order online. Did you know that if you are an Amazon Prime member, you get free 2-hour delivery through Whole Foods?  Check to see if they deliver in your area. It has helped us save a lot of time. Another good option is Instacart – they partner with local grocery stores to also deliver your groceries. Most local grocery stores now have a delivery or order online with pick up service.

During the third block, I cook the recipes and portion them out into my lunch containers. Each night, I pack everything (silverware included) into my lunchbox and put it into the fridge. Then it’s super easy to grab and go in the morning!

Benefits of packing

Incorporating even just a few of these meal planning and prepping tips will help you save money, time, and mental energy.  It will also help you increase your energy so that you can thrive throughout the school day. How good would it feel to simplify nutrition so that you can focus on what matters most?


Marija Crosson lives in Philadelphia with her husband Michael and son Owen. She is a literacy coach who supports K-3rd grade teachers with curriculum and instruction. She is also a virtual health and wellness coach who helps high performing women feel good from the inside out. Find more tips and tricks follow her on Instagram and join the conversation on Facebook If you would like to participate in one of her boot camps or have questions, contact Marija at marijacrossonwellness@gmail.com

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Meal Planning for the Working Mom

Meal Planning for the Working Mom

Before my husband and I married he was very clear that his cooking skills were non-existent. As he put it, “I heat, I don’t cook.” This was fine with me, I was perfectly happy to take the lead on all things food. Since this post is not about his previous eating habits and overcoming his limited palette I’ll refrain from elaborating on those hurdles. For me, the greatest hurdle was cooking for two. Then shortly after, 14 months to be exact, cooking for a family of four. This may sound crazy to many of you, but in my single days, I had more of a Carrie Bradshaw relationship with my oven. It didn’t actually contain my sweaters, but it certainly could have in those days. Meal planning was not something I felt deserved ink on my to-do list. Let me also say, as a disclaimer, there are certain areas of my life, mostly teaching, where I am very planned and prepared; however, there are other areas that are extremely messy. Because I can fully understand the value of a planned lesson I quickly realized that this type of organization could also help at home.

Meal planning doesn't have to be difficult when you're a working mom. Use these tips and tricks for making easy meals that your family will love. Save time by implementing these meal planning strategies.

Meal planning tips and tricks for the working mom.

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My planning process

Decorating a planner using flair pens and stickers seemed like such a waste of time until I started to actually do it. Now I love to sit down, choose a color scheme and find the perfect stickers to represent my week ahead. A friend introduced me to the Happy Planner. I have loved the layout they provide. There are also accessories like grocery list notepad inserts to make it extra easy. This system has greatly helped me stay organized at home. Sitting down on Sunday afternoon to plan has now become my habit.

I like to start by writing in all the week’s events. These events can have an effect on what’s for dinner. When I have more time in a day I like to try new recipes and collect them on my Pinterest board, Carly’s Kitchen. I reserve the bottom square of each day in my planner for dinner menus. I write the title of the meal and then each side. This makes generating a grocery list for the week easier. Add the usual breakfast and lunch items, plus a few snacks if the drawer is low, and I’m ready to head off to Kroger.

I’ve always been the kind of cook who has no problem following a simple recipe. As long as it has normal ingredients and cooking methods I can follow directions. Soon I discovered that choosing recipes, even from Pinterest, was not very fun and it was extremely time-consuming. That’s when a friend asked me about hosting a Tastefully Simple party. Now, this is not a post or blog about me being a direct sales consultant, but this is how I made my life a little easier so I’m going to share my story.

Prepare meals in advance

When I joined Tastefully Simple they advertised making it easier to get dinner on the table during the school year at a decent time. All without feeling too exhausted to enjoy the meal. I love their concept of the Freezer Meal Workshop. The kit of products comes with 10 recipe cards, a pre-made grocery list with options for sides, and even a few leftover ideas. I would send out a message to my friends asking who needs 10 meals in their freezer? The ones who responded YES would gather their groceries and join me in my kitchen on a set day and time. About two hours is usually enough time to put all the meals together. Having someone to talk with while preparing the meals is much more fun. Sometimes we even poured a little wine.

There are so many positive outcomes from this kind of meal prep:

1. In the end, I have meals ready to go.

2. I’ve spent time catching up with friends.

3. The meals are going to save me time after work from needing to prep.

4. I’ve only spent money on the groceries I actually needed.

5. We are going to eat home-cooked meals for two weeks.

For the times that I’m not able to find a friend or two who can join me I still use the recipes, I just follow the “cook tonight” directions. It does require more prep time after a full day at school, but it’s usually only 30 minutes or less.

I know there are systems that will also send you the groceries, but I actually enjoy grocery shopping. Not everyone does. For me it’s relaxing, and it has that nostalgic feeling to be pushing my daughter in the cart like my mother used to do for us. I have always been impressed with my mother’s grocery shopping skills. The woman can write her lists in order of the aisles! I prefer someone else make the list for me.

That feeling of checking things off the list! Add using coupons and then putting it all away knowing you have a stocked kitchen makes me feel ready to tackle the week. I’ve also started to use this time on Sunday to set my goals for the week. For keeping track of my goals I’ve been using Lara Casey’s Powersheets.

Are you an Instant Pot user? Be sure to sign up for our newsletter and download your FREE monthly meal plan of pressure cooker dinners. Share your secrets for planning meals. What works best for your family? What tips or tricks have you discovered? I’m a sucker for a good app!

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