Creating methods for getting lunch made and out the door is essential if you don’t want to be crushed by the packing grind by mid-October. Julie Cole is one of the creators of Mabel’s Labels and the mother of six (six!) kids—in other words, she knows a thing or two about creating and maintaining a lunch-packing system. Most of her kids now assemble their own lunches, but there was a time when the job was all Cole’s—and she had strong feelings about when to do it and how to make the process less chaotic.
1. Never pack lunches in the morning
“Mornings are just too hectic. You shouldn’t decide what you’re going to wear in the morning, you shouldn’t decide what you’re going to have for breakfast in the morning, and you shouldn’t decide what you’re going to have in your lunch in the morning. These are night-before activities. I don’t like conflict in the morning: I like everyone to go to school happy, having had a positive morning. I find if you take away choices in the morning, there’s no room for conflict.”
2. Add lunch to dinner prep
“When dinner is on and the lunch boxes come home, give them a wash and pack the lunches right then and there, while you’re already in the kitchen. Then immediately put them back in the fridge so it’s done. In my house, the lunch boxes rarely get put away—they usually get repacked right away.”
3. Turn dinner into lunch
“When it makes sense, I double a recipe so it can be used for lunch. For example, I’ll make double chicken Parm, and then warm it up the next day and send it in a Thermos for lunch.” Here are five dinner recipes that can easily be turned into lunches.
4. Have a helper
“When kids have more skin in the game, they’re more likely to eat. When my kids were small, each one would have a day when they would help me make all six lunches—they were my helper. I couldn’t have each kid make their own lunch because I didn’t want six in the kitchen with me!”