3 Ways to Master “Make-Ahead” Lunches

3 Ways to Master ‘Make-Ahead’ Lunches

3 Ways to Master “Make-Ahead” Lunches

It’s the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. Even if you’re not back-to-school, adults often feel inspired to start new healthy habits, like packing a balanced lunch. However, busy schedules and life commitments can get in the way of these noble intentions. We frequently feel unprepared and stressed, and either spend money eating out or dish out lunch money to our kids.



Today’s blog is number one of a two-part series. First, I will share how our schedules impact our meal-time stress, then the benefit of packing ahead, and finally three tips to master “make-ahead” lunches. These are the lunches that can be prepared in advance to avoid morning mayhem. We’ll start by setting the foundation for how to tackle busy schedules and prepare packed lunches (without the stress.) In part two, I’ll share 7 of my favourite make-ahead lunches for work or school.

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Our Busy Schedules & Inherent Challenges

To set the foundation, I think we all need to agree on something. With our hectic schedules, healthy eating will never be the default. Instead, we need to accept the importance of setting ourselves up for success, knowing we will be pulled in many different directions. Clients can master eating well, despite busy schedules, by making healthy eating super convenient and lowering barriers to accessing wholesome food. This way we can avoid scrounging, buying lunches or feeling less than proud of the same ol’ lunch packed for our kids.

Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” In the working world or school, would we go into something without a plan and hope it all would turn out smoothly? Likely not. The same goes for lunches. We need a plan to put good lunch-making into action. Now that we in agree that healthy eating requires planning, we can move on to the benefit of packing lunches and three ways to master your “make-ahead” lunches.


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3 Benefits of Prepping Lunches in Advance

  1. Healthier Lunches – Packing or bringing lunch to work/school = Generally more vegetables, less fat, calories, salt and sugar than eating out.
  2. Saves Money – Eating out is expensive. Most people do not add up how much they spend eating out. A $9 lunch four times a week adds up to around $1,700 a year! You could go on a nice vacation for that price. Buying groceries, especially those on sale, costs less than eating out.
  3. Prioritize your Diet and Mental Health – What you eat impacts how you feel. Therefore, fuelling your body with nutritious food helps energize you, impacts focus/mood and supports you in being physically active. Eating well can also lower stress which increases well-being.



3 Ways to Master ‘Make-Ahead’ Lunches

# 1. Prioritize Planning:

  1. Think about the Week Ahead – At Dietetic Directions, we teach clients how to physically outline their schedules or their family’s schedules. Write in if you have work functions, social meals, team meetings or other commitments that will run over lunch. We now have boundaries to work around for lunch planning.


Weekly Meal Plan


  1. Consider your Energy Reserves – When you plan ahead, predict energy reserves. This helps in making a realistic lunch plan. If you know the end of the week gets extra busy, plan a simpler lunch or make extras the night before for a grab-and-go. For one client, when her schedule gets hectic, her go-to option is a whole grain tortilla (always in the freezer) with hummus. She grabs a fruit with this and a small baggie of almonds. Done. She learned that a decent lunch doesn’t have to be time-consuming or stressful.


  1. Buy what you Need –­­ After reviewing your schedule and considering your energy, then decide what lunches to make. From this, make a grocery list and buy the ingredients you need. If this sounds overly simplistic, it is not. Many people have tremendous trouble with this step. You are setting yourself up for success by having foods on hand.


grocery chart


# 2. Stock-up on Lunch-Box Essentials

  1. Insulated lunch bag – the bigger the better. Especially when putting containers with fruit, veggies or sandwiches. They takes up space. Small lunch bags aren’t handy, even for kids.

Healthy School Lunches

  1. Plastic or glass containers – Stock up on different shapes and sizes of re-useable containers. They will be used for sandwiches, veggies and fruits and portioning nuts/seeds and dips. Consider buying BPA free containers for reheating.


  1. Accessories: If possible, keep your water bottles cool or buy thermal ones, which will entice you to drink throughout the day. Many like having re-usable cutlery in their lunch bags. Freezer packs are a smart essential to keep cold foods cold. Don’t forget napkins.


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#3. Mental Shift: Skip the Fancy Lunches

To change your lifestyle, you need to change your thoughts. Many clients have a mental block where they associate lunches with being daunting, overwhelming and time-consuming. Consequently, they feel as if they can’t be bothered. If you don’t want to change this mindset, you obviously won’t. However, if preparing lunches is a priority, then taking a closer look at your thoughts and shifting them is imperative to changing behaviour. How we feel about food preparation will impact if we make lunches or not.

Additionally, in a world of Pinterest recipes and subsequent parent-guilt, choosing easy lunch alternatives can be difficult, which becomes a paradox. When we feel burdened by fancy, high-level lunches (like cutting bread into star-shapes and serving them as sandwich kabobs), we tend to give up.  This deters us from actually making lunches or planning simple options. With achievement-stress, it is easy to feel defeated before we even begin.


Instead, in line with this mental shift, try taking a realistic approach. We often coach our clients to think of how they can make their goals “so easy they can’t say no.” This might mean coming up with a very simple lunch alternative (more on this in blog part-two). With habit forming, remember that consistency is more important than performance. Because the more consistent you are with your habit, the performance will come naturally.

If you get into the habit of regularly packing lunch, then you’ve taken the first step. Congratulations! When this is a habit, you can add to it. You might spend more time on preparation, or you become more creative in options. Suddenly, your new habit of preparing lunches is no longer dreadful and overwhelming but a do-able task.


To change your lifestyle, you need to change your thoughts. Click To Tweet

Bottom Line:

Packing lunches is a powerful way to improve your diet. You can improve the nutrition of your meal, save money and feel more energetic and healthier than eating out. In order to master “make-ahead” lunches, be sure to prioritize planning, stock up on lunchbox essentials and consider a mental shift from performance to consistency. By setting this foundation, lunches become less daunting and more achievable. Be sure to stay tuned for part two of this series, where I will share my top 7 “make-ahead” lunch options!


Healthy School Lunches


Now it’s your turn! Do you plan your lunches ahead? What do you find most challenging with lunches – either for yourself or for your children? What are your favourite tips to make lunch preparing more fun and less stressful?


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