This is my first year packing a daily lunch for a kid, as well as packing a lunch for five of us one day a week. It’s taking a little more organization than our standard scan-the-fridge-ten-minutes-before-lunch approach. I’ve never been a meal planner for breakfasts and lunches but am very much a habits person for those meals. It reduces decision fatigue and makes grocery shopping easier. While breakfasts and lunches run on autopilot dinner is our creative meal. I rarely repeat the same recipe for supper in a month, or even two, though I do almost always make enough for two or three nights at a time.
Front porch dinner prep so I could supervise that little red speck biking on the driveway.
I usually eat breakfast when I get up two hours before the kids. Ever since childhood I’ve felt nauseous if I don’t eat first thing in the morning. On school days I spend breakfast braiding hair, packing backpacks, or doing our morning time readings while the kids eat. I like to give them meals that are quick to prep, rich in protein, low in added sugar, and with a reasonable balance of nutrients. I’m not a food fanatic but I like to feed the kids whole foods/from-scratch meals when possible. It’s also critical for both catching the bus and the cook’s sanity that everyone eat the same thing at the same time, and that the dish not require much individual or personalized prep. For the kids’ breakfasts we usually rotate between:
- Fruit plus oatmeal mixed with unsweetened applesauce. I make them with milk, not water, for a little added protein. I’ll occasionally sweeten the oatmeal with mashed bananas (defrosted from my freezer stash) instead of applesauce.
- Fruit plus bagels with cream cheese
- Fruit plus scrambled eggs. I usually have one of the twins make the eggs while I deal with other tasks. Sometimes we throw in a little shredded cheese.
- Fruit plus plain whole milk greek yogurt with a small spoonful of jam or mashed bananas, or honey/vanilla yogurt.
- Fruit with sausage patties. This one is rare, generally reserved for a night when the Man is on call and I want to be able to cook breakfast the night before and just reheat in the morning.
- Fruit and baked German puffed pancake. This one is also rare because of the honey/syrup factor but it’s an easy “special” school morning breakfast because it only takes a handful of ingredients and cooks in the oven instead of requiring I babysit the stove or waffle iron.
If the kids want more after finishing their breakfast they can have shredded wheat or cheerios with milk. They’ve yet to discover sugary cereals so for now they’re really excited for the bland stuff “just like Daddy!” 😉 . Once a week or so we’ll have “special family breakfast” on a day when the Man is home and we don’t have an off-to-school time crunch. It’s usually something like pancakes, waffles, or bacon and eggs and toast with jam. I’ll also occasionally make a batch of these always-tender whole wheat muffins with bananas, substituting a smaller amount of honey for the sugar. This rotation gives us just enough variety to prevent boredom while keeping things simple and semi-automated. Also, while everybody understands that they get what they get, nobody is stuck for too long with a food that’s not their favorite like egg-apathetic Jenny or oatmeal-resistant Josie. If you’re looking for other low-maintenance but tasty breakfast ideas this post had a great roundup.
Dinner leftovers are generally saved for future suppers unless there’s only one or two servings left. Annie isn’t generally a lunch meat or cheese sandwich fan (she just deconstructs them) so for Annie’s school lunches I follow a basic rotation, prepping the night before and making generous use of her thermos:
- Unsweetened applesauce (a treat around here), cheese, fruit, sliced raw veggies.
- Yogurt, fruit or raw veggies, crackers or other carb
- One pot macaroni and cheese, fruit, raw veggies. This recipe makes a lot. There’s usually enough for two meals for all the kids, who thankfully aren’t picky about reheated pastas. If the adults are both eating it as well it makes enough for a meal plus a couple of people’s lunches the next day.
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich and fruit. Actually Wow Butter and jelly because there are peanut allergies at her school. This is the highlight of her week. I like to keep it to just once a week because of the extra sugar, and because I’m not a big fan of all the soy in Wow Butter. I usually make it on the day of the other kids’ cottage school, with PB&Js for their packed lunches as well.
- Natural cold cuts, cheese, veggies, fruit.
Once in a while I’ll throw in a little treat like a cookie or a couple graham crackers. While there’s nothing exciting or fancy in her lunchbox it’s enough variety to keep her interested, they’re all foods she likes so I know she’ll eat a full lunch at school, and they’re all foods she can eat without help opening packages or containers. And, once again, it’s all automated enough that I don’t have to think about it or rearrange the grocery list every week.
It’s worth noting that on work days the Man doesn’t require a packed breakfast or lunch because the hospital keeps the doctors’ lounge stocked with basic items like sandwiches, soup, yogurts, hard boiled eggs, and fruit.
What are the go-to breakfasts or lunches in your home? Does everyone sit down at the same time or is it a busier morning where everyone leaves at a different time? How do you handle that? Has it changed with the kids’ ages, number of kids, or homeschool/school/work shifts? What are your favorite easy meals to feed a crowd for breakfast or lunch? Any favorite options for make ahead meals or packed lunches?