It is not uncommon for me to hear of an efficient way of doing something, putting it on my checklist…and then never do it. 😉 I have read or seen many, many great ways to be efficient with housework or in the kitchen, and I have yet to try them out. BUT, I watched a video from one of my favorite homeschool moms a while back, and it was a complete lifesaver for days when I just wasn’t feeling it to make lunch.
During a certain time of the month or when life it just a bit crazy busy, it is a huge struggle/challenge/irritation for me to pause and get a lunch ready. We did the lunchbox thing for a while last school year, but, even then, I had to make room in the pantry or fridge for 5 lunch boxes and stay on top of whether or not they were packed each day, especially for the little ones. After a while, the novelty wore off, and it was just another work item added to my daily checklist (which already contained way too many items).
The video I watched was by a mom who just had her eighth baby, and she homeschools. It was just a simple, yet completely amazing, way to be efficient in the kitchen, give the kids options (but not a million options), and have them be a little more hands-on with their lunch. So, I decided to give it a whirl. I had to locate some storage containers from around the house, but I made sure I did NOT buy anything new. I did not want to spend money on this; I just wanted to try it out.
The idea is that lunch is broken down into categories, and the kids pick a certain number from each category to make a complete lunch. The categories we typically have are: main/protein item, fruit, cracker, dairy, veggies, dessert. Now, if I haven’t stayed on top of cutting veggies, sometimes we don’t have that category, but otherwise we have all of those. 😉
Here are some poor quality pics to explain: 😉
This is where I got the phrase “lunch drawers”. I have a simple three-drawer storage unit on the pantry floor that holds my protein, fruit, and dessert categories. Sitting on top of it is a shallow plastic bin for crackers (but I didn’t get a pic of that because right now the cracker bin is holding bunch of clementines). Before each grocery shopping trip, I peek in these drawers to see what needs to be refilled. Nothing crazy expensive or time-consuming goes in here. It is all about EASY lunches.
The protein drawer has some simple items, mostly peanut buttery things. I throw in the little peanut butter crackers from Aldi or small containers with a couple spoonfuls of peanut butter (that they scoop out with apples or crackers). I will also put in the breadsticks and cheese packets from Aldi – yes, I realize they are not protein items…oh well. Some other things we’ve had in there are snack size bags of peanuts or cashews (or both) or peanut butter scoops with chocolate chips tossed in. For peanut butter scoops, I use these small plastic containers I have that hold like 1/4 cup of food. I just scoop 2-3 spoonfuls of peanut butter in, put the lid on and toss them in the drawer. Not much to it. The kids can pick ONE item from this drawer.
The fruit drawer holds a couple different things. We have had applesauce cups, snack bags of dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, cherries, pineapple, banana, whatever we have on hand), fruit strips from Aldi, and clementines. If I offer apples or bananas, those aren’t in the drawer; they just sit on the counter or shelf for the kids to pick up. They choose ONE item from this drawer.
Our dessert drawer does not get used every day. I don’t offer dessert with every lunch because my boys go to naps shortly after lunch, and I would rather not load them up with sugar just before. Lately, as you can see in this pic, our dessert drawer has become a catch-all for dessert-like items. Typically, the only thing in there is pudding cups. Recently, I tossed in items we have in a candy/snack container that were being picked over – rice krispie treats kids got from AWANA, a few types of Halloween candy (mostly just Reese’s peanut butter cups and mini M&M packets), candy buttons, or small packages of cookies. The only thing I went out and purchased was the pudding, but I did find if I grab snack things the kids typically overlook in the candy bin they will get eaten out of the dessert drawer. There’s probably some psychological experiment to be done there, as to why they will eat it from one bin and not the other. Haha!
The next area, the dairy choice, is in the fridge. I have a plastic pop can holder (like $2 at Aldi!) that I repurposed to hold yogurt tubes and string cheese. I like Aldi’s Moo Tubes for the kids; the sugar is lower than in other brands or even in some yogurt cups. I just dump in the yogurt and string cheese together (based on this picture, though, I need to get more string cheese). The kids can pick ONE dairy item. And, I apologize for this awful picture; I took it a few months ago. It looks like I have a million things stacked in here; I must have just gone grocery shopping.
I did not get a picture of the cracker or veggie bins. The cracker bin is filled with snack size baggies that have different kinds of crackers – Cheez-It types, saltine types, or even graham crackers. The kids choose ONE of those baggies, if they want; not all of them choose a cracker each day. For the veggies, I keep small baggies or containers of carrots, celery, broccoli, green peppers and/or cucumbers in the veggie drawer of the fridge. They can choose ONE OR TWO items to add to lunch. I also just let them grab the ranch bottle to use with their veggies. Because the veggies require some work on my part, I don’t always keep up with keeping cut veggies on hand….or, if I do, it is one or two choices and not all five. I have just been buying the baby carrots to be sure we have at least those during the really busy weeks. And, sometimes, I don’t even get them divided up – the kids will just open a bag of baby carrots and put a couple on each of their plates.
On a lunch drawer day, I will tell them kids to go grab some drawer items. They all know to choose one protein, one cracker, one fruit, and one dairy at the very least. On a good day, they can also grab a veggie and a dessert. Just depends on how much prep mom did or how she is feeling with regard to dessert. 😉
Even Ethan, who is 3 years old, can do the lunch drawers himself….and he loves it! He gets to choose his own lunch and do what the big kids are doing. My oldest two can fill all of their cups with water, and they can all seat themselves. The only part I need to help with is opening the applesauce cups or yogurt for the younger ones. It is a win-win: they feel like they made their own lunch, and I don’t have to be as hands-on with lunch. I have been doing lunch drawers on heavy cleaning or laundry days; after we finish schoolwork, I get to cleaning or doing laundry, and I don’t like to stop mid-task to get lunch together. If I can finish folding laundry or cleaning a bathroom while they choose their lunch items, everyone is happy.
I have heard of non-homeschooling moms using the drawers, too; their kids pack their lunches using choices from each drawer/bin. So, even if you don’t homeschool, this might be a fun, efficient option for your kids!
Do you have a tip that has revolutionized your lunch prep?? Please feel free to share!