Packing Lunches for Work and School

The Clever Cookstr shares tips and tricks for making packed lunches, whether you're sending kids back to school, or trying to save money by eating in at work. 

Kara Rota
3-minute read
Episode #14

This week, I’m sharing my top tips and tricks for packing lunches. Whether you’re planning midday meals for kids heading back to school, or trying to cut back on those $12 chopped salads by bringing lunch to work, preparing these to-go meals can definitely seem like a chore—and a challenge. But there’s hope for making packed lunches easier, and more satisfying!

Tip #1: Cook for Leftovers

This is probably the most important tip, so I’m sticking it right up front. I know this seems obvious, but cooking with leftovers in mind is the most cost-efficient and time-saving way to keep your diet nutritious and varied during the day. Cook when you have time--a pot of sauce on Sunday afternoon, stir-fried vegetables Monday after work, some quick-cooking rice or quinoa before bed. Then you can combine these elements to make new meals for the next few days.

For kids who are less than enthused about eating the same thing for lunch that they had for dinner the night before, it’s a perfect opportunity to practice the magical art of turning one meal into something else. There’s this Calvin Trillin line I love: “The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years, she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.”

If you had grilled or roasted meat the night before, then wrap cold slices of steak, pork or lamb in flour tortillas, with julienned cucumbers and carrots, and a thick dipping sauce on the side (maybe peanut butter or tahini based.) If dinner was standard roast chicken and potatoes, toss the leftovers with barbecue or teriyaki sauce for a whole different flavor profile.

Tip #2: Treat Yourself!

First of all, be realistic about what you’ll eat. It may sound good to subsist on kidney beans and brown rice every day, but if you don’t pack a variety of food that you really want, you’ll end up relegating those containers to the back of the office fridge, then ordering some delicious pad thai from down the street. It’s better to aim for packing lunch two or three days a week, rather than going cold turkey on your daily turkey BLT from the deli-- and then giving up altogether!

It’s key to make your lunch appealing, even if it’s just for you! Just as presentation matters in a restaurant, it matters in your lunchbox, too.


About the Author

Kara Rota

Kara Rota headed children’s programming at Chicago’s Green City Market and studied food politics at Sarah Lawrence College. Kara has been a featured speaker at numerous venues including Food Book Fair, the Roger Smith Food Conference, and the Brooklyn Food Conference. She has written about food for Irish America Magazine, West Side Rag, Recipe Relay, and Food + Tech Connect, and is the former Director of Editorial & Partnerships at Cookstr.com.