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Working Smarter, Not Harder


Since my kids have started back to school this Fall, I’ve really been working to try to streamline our mornings. Their start time is earlier than last year which is good for me, but makes our mornings hectic. I know I should’ve been doing this all along, but I’ve recently started preparing school lunches the night before. Back when I was working full-time + part-time, I’d be busy working in the evening for my part-time job so I rarely made lunches until in the morning before school. With our earlier mornings, now, we don’t have that same luxury of extra time for food prep so I’ve been trying to find ways to save time by preparing things ahead of time as much as possible.

One example is that I’ve made a whole Snack Bin in our pantry. I like to buy things in bulk-size since it’s cheaper (e.g., pretzels, veggie sticks, and Cheese-It’s are all things I’ve bought in huge-sized packaging from Costco). But since we need individual-sized portions, I’ll open the bag and divvy it up into smaller-sized packages. I have a plethora of Glad-ware, so I try to use those as much as possible since they’re washable and re-usable. I also use ziplock snack-size bags sometimes as well. I take a few moments once per week to pre-portion our snacks and throw them in our Snack Bin so they’re easy to grab and add to a lunch box and/or be used as part of the kids’ morning snack.

Another example I borrowed (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, yes?) from another blogger. I recently saw a youtube video (and then a blog post < linked here for credit) from fellow-blogger, Jordan. She talked about making her own meat-and-cheese sandwiches in bulk and then freezing them for school lunches. Genius, right? She swears the kids love them and since it’s just meat-and-cheese it freezes and thaws out perfectly. No weirdness like you might get with lettuce or other additional ingredients.

Well, I had some lunch meat on its last leg anyway, so it either needed to be used or tossed out. What better use for it than to try Jordan’s idea of make-ahead meat-and-cheese sandwiches?

I used a couple different bread options:  I already had some homemade rolls that also needed to be eaten or tossed (winning! I love that these “last leg” food items weren’t wasted!), and I’d recently bought a long baguette from our grocery store that was only partially-used with dinner so lots leftover of it, too. I sliced everything up and added 2 thin slices of turkey lunchmeat and one slice of cheese (cut in half to fit).

After the assembly line, I put everything into big gallon-sized ziplocks and put straight into the freezer. I’m crossing my fingers that this works out. I just barely made the sandwiches so we haven’t tasted them yet. My kids can be picky, but I think they’ll enjoy having a meat and cheese sandwich on some “fun” bread (instead of boring old “normal” sandwich bread). I always pack a variety of other things as well (e.g., fruit, veggie, a juice box or “treat” of some kind, etc.), so hopefully the frozen sandwiches will be a part of a well-balanced school lunch! Woohoo!!

If you’ve got kiddos, what do you do to streamline your mornings? Have you ever tried making lunches in bulk and freezing for later? Any other “Work Smarter, Not Harder” type of tips?


  • Reply Barbara Molleur |

    Set out clothes the night before (including shoes!), and have backpacks packed up and ready by the door.

    • Reply Ashley |

      Yes!!! I’ve learned this the hard way, as I’ve assumed all was ready to go (backpacks packed, etc.) only to be frantically searching for SHOES when we’re supposed to be headed out the door!

    • Reply Susan |

      I actually started putting the entire backpack in the fridge with the lunch in it.

  • Reply Laura |

    Those littler sandwiches might work better for small kids anyway. I get a loaf of French bread from Wal Mart already sliced for $1 and use that for sandwiches.

  • Reply Kiki |

    My children are grown, but I still pack my husband’s lunch. I always do it right after dinner before I clean up the kitchen. The kitchen is messy anyway! And usually I pack leftovers from dinner, so that is convenient. It’s a task I am always glad I did the night before. I don’t do bulk sandwiches, but I usually have hard boiled eggs in the fridge, fruit, baby carrots, chips portioned from a larger bag, yogurt portioned from larger container etc. I try to send a lot of variety in his lunches.

    • Reply Ashley |

      I agree about doing it while the kitchen is still messy anyway! I had a really tough time with this last (academic) year because I always felt SO EXHAUSTED by the time dinner was over. Plus, I still had to log into my part-time job and do work there. But this school-year I’ve really made an effort to do lunches at night and it’s so much easier for me! I don’t typically do leftovers for the kids (they don’t have access to microwaves), but they like turkey and cheese or PB & J sandwiches. Sometimes I do “homemade lunchables” (sliced pepperoni, ritz crackers, and cheese). I often put their lunch together while our dinner is cooking so I’m making 2 meals at the same time. Works well time-wise, and saves me the hassle in the morning!

      • Reply Jean |

        You could make PB&J sandwiches ahead of time & freeze them as well.

        And if you have a cute cookie cutter, use that to cut the sandwich before you freeze it. Might want to make sure that it’s close to the same size as the bread so you’re not wasting a lot of food, or find a smaller one that you could use twice on the bread.

        I should do this every day, but I don’t (get everything ready the night before). I do it on nights where I have to be up extra early the next morning so I’m not sure why I don’t do it all the time. And I only have to worry about getting myself ready (and taking care of animals).

  • Reply Sandra |

    Ashley, when you have a moment, check on “100 Days of Real Food”, select the Pinterest option from the menu on the side, and in the middle of the page click on the school lunches. There you will find many, many school lunch options/ideas that Lisa Leake (also a mother of two girls) has displayed.

  • Reply Sheila |

    I actually take my school prep a step further. I am not a morning person and with three kids each evening we are usually doing something extra. On Sunday afternoons, we look at the weather and each child picks out an outfit for each school day that week. Snacks are picked for the entire week and placed in the book bag. And we pick out the lunches for the week. Sandwiches and/or soup are the only things we don’t make ahead of time. We use bento style lunch boxes and have a shelf in the refrigerator. Since my kids really don’t like sandwiches it works out well to make wraps or “sushi” as we call it! Another favorite is “dipping day” which is ranch dressing with celery, carrots and cucumbers or what ever we have for the week.

  • Reply Nicole |

    I make and freeze my son’s pb&j sandwiches for the week and love it! Checking the link I see she does that too 🙂 I LOVE making a mess once a week instead of pulling everything out and making a sandwich every day. He says I make the best sandwiches in the world so apparently he loves them. Win win!

    I haven’t had great luck with freezing/thawing deli meat. If they don’t pan out with the girls and you & hubs don’t want them all for lunch, maybe you could microwave them or toast up like grilled cheese for a home lunch or dinner.

  • Reply Shanna |

    That sounds like a good job for your husband to take on now that he is not working. It can be done at any time of the day and he can take that entire piece of the morning routine off your plate. Additionally, are there mornings he doesn’t have class that he could get them ready, drop them off, etc?

So, what do you think ?