Packing food for the day ahead can prevent you from choosing between being hungry and spending extra money. Getting enough filling and healthy food together for an eight hour plus day can be challenging. Read on for some helpful tips on packing lunch and preparing food for a long day of school or work and after hours activities.
If you have an after-school or after-work activity that is regularly scheduled, such as an athletic team practice or a club, you will already know when those late afternoons and nights will be. For these days, try to pack two main meals, such as a large salad and a sandwich as well as several snacks. If you have one, use an insulated lunch box and ice packs to keep food cool. On long days avoid packing meals that are already hot as they will likely not stay in a safe temperature zone for a whole day. If you want to pack something that can be microwaved, be sure to pack it in a glass or plastic container and not a metal one. For those unexpected late days, like a forgotten meeting or an unplanned one-on-one time with a teacher, make sure you have shelf stable snacks in your bag.
For planned snacks, consider packing foods that you normally store in a pantry or on the counter, such as granola bars and whole pieces of fruit. These foods are okay to sit in a lunch box for long days at room temperature. If you want to pack a food item that needs to be kept cold, like a yogurt or hard boiled eggs, use an ice pack and plan on eating these foods earlier in the day so you can be sure the food item stays at a safe temperature. Don’t have an ice pack? Freeze a water bottle or juice box overnight and pack it with your meals. By lunch time, they will have thawed enough to drink and can keep packed food cold throughout the morning.
Some examples of foods that can be stored at room temperature and eaten later in the day are peanut butter and crackers, granola bars, and whole pieces of uncut fruit. Fruits like bananas, oranges, and clementines that can be easily peeled may be more convenient. Even though we usually think of these foods as snacks, if you pack enough of them they can make their own balanced, nutritious meal, without too much time, effort or mess for you to assemble them.
For some hints and tips for work or school, read on.
- Get to know your campus. Find out if there are microwaves available for use and where you can sit to eat.
- Find out where you can fill up a reusable bottle, so you don’t need to spend money on drinks.
- Pack foods that you can eat easily and without making too much noise, in case you need to eat while you’re at the library.
- Prep and pack your lunch the night before so you can quickly and easily take it with you in the morning.
- Depending on the resources you have available, and what type of work environment you’re in, meals that don’t need to be heated may be your best bet for easy and appealing lunches.
- Pack more food than you think you’ll need for the day, just in case.
- If you have the option, store shelf-stable snacks at work. Bring in a few at the beginning of the week so you always have something on hand.
- If there isn’t a refrigerator available in your office, invest in an insulated lunch box and some ice packs to expand your options for lunch.
- You can freeze water bottles overnight and pack these to keep foods cold throughout the day.
- When you pack your lunch the night before, put your whole lunch box into the fridge and leave the top open to let air circulate, this will keep the bag cool and keep your food colder for longer.
- If you’re staying in a hotel for a few days, try to get one with a kitchenette and grocery shop when you get to your destination.
- Pack tupperware, napkins, silverware and your lunch box with you.
- Plan out some no cook meals like salads and sandwiches for your week. Remember, several “snack” options can be a very filling and satisfying meal and they don’t require any equipment or refrigeration.
Overall, don’t overcomplicate things for yourself. Try to include several fruits and vegetables in your meals, and plan foods ahead so you’re not spending too much time preparing your meals.
Written by Madeline McGohey, Simmons University Dietetic Intern#prepschool, mealprep