When I first started thinking about what I needed to have in order to pack 2 lunches as quickly as possible each morning, there were 4 things I knew I needed: 1) lunch boxes with separate compartments, because my girls are in a phase where no foods must touch other foods, 2) a way to plan out what I needed for lunches a week at a time so I could continue to grocery shop once a week, 3) a way to try to make sure I have a balanced meal each day, and 4) a way to figure out where everything would go in the lunch box, so I don't have to complete a jigsaw puzzle each morning.
The first thing I did was buy my lunch boxes (and some cupcake liners for smaller foods in bigger slots and, let's be honest, to add some fun color):
I love these lunchboxes because they are colorful, they don't leak between compartments no matter how you turn them, they are dishwasher safe, and they are pretty easy for the girls to open and close themselves. Also, they're not too expensive. I got them here (and the cupcake liners here).
After considering several different options, I landed on my latest favorite organization method: magnet boards! I picked up some 88c cookie sheets at Walmart and got to work.
I cut out shapes from the scrapbook paper to look like the 5 compartments in the lunchbox. I traced around a small cup for the circle, and just eye-balled the rest. Then I taped the shapes down with double-sided tape, and ended up with this:
The next step was to make magnets with different foods that the girls would eat. I wanted to have a list of vegetables, fruit, protein, carb/snack, and dips. I asked the girls to tell me what they liked and we made a huge list together. Then I wrote each one on a piece of regular white paper that I stuck to these self-adhesive magnet sheets. I used a different color pen for each category.
Then I just cut out each word. I have plenty of space leftover to add more foods as we think of them, or to use with other projects. It was after I cut all of the magnets out that I realized that there were a lot of them, and they were going to take up a lot of space on the magnet board! Originally I had wanted to have the whole thing on one cookie sheet, with the extra magnets off to the side and the shapes for the lunchbox compartments on the other. There was no way they would all fit, so I just used another cookie sheet, made column for each food group with more scrapbook paper to match the colors I used for the words, and ended up with this second board:
I used some command strips to hang them up on the wall right in between the cabinet where I keep the lunchbox supplies and my command center where I plan out my week and our dinners.
Woohoo! My plan is to use them to plan out lunches for a week at a time. I'm planning to pick out 3-4 items from each category and re-use some of them a few times during the week (as well as using the veggies and fruits for other meals). The reason I want to have the compartments as a visual is because I can't assign a category to a particular compartment, because some things are too big or too small for each area. So if I have a banana in the big section, I can put some meatballs in one of the smaller ones. My plan is to put all of the items for each area on the board, then move them off to the side as I use them. That way I can avoid repeating foods too much (we all know how 3-year-olds feel about eating the same food 2 days in a row!! unless it's ice cream...).
I'm sure this system will evolve (and potentially be completely replaced) as I find my rhythm, but for now I am happy to know I have a system and a plan to follow, so hopefully I won't be running around on a Thursday morning trying to figure out what to pack for lunch!
Those of you with more experience than I with packing lunches every morning: do you have a system for planning out lunches? What do you use? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments!