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Save Time with this Make-Ahead Lunch Strategy

lunch-bagsWith a full list of food allergy friendly ideas to prepare healthy lunches half of the battle is over. The other half is having the action plan to execute it. Probably the most common thing I hear from clients is this: “I know what I need to do, I just need to do it!” If only I could charge a nickle every time I heard it. But why is it so common? We know what has to happen, but we can’t seem to put the pieces together? I think it has to do with having a clear, outlined plan. A strategy formula that you follow over and over. It’s the way many businesses are able to grow and deliver a reliable product. Let’s deconstruct the lunch time preparation like a business would into key steps.

Menu for the Week (60 Minutes)

This step needs to occur a week in advance or by Saturday (at the latest). For this to be really smooth and time saving- this is what works the best. It likely takes about an hour of time to sketch out, so if you find yourself in a waiting room or otherwise have blips of downtime here and there, pull out your notebook and start jotting down ideas. If you are following a pre-designed menu plan- well you just saved yourself a good hour!

Supplies Needed (30 Minutes)

Now it’s time to draw up your grocery list. Examine the meal plan for any items that you may be running  low on or need to stock for the upcoming week. Stock up when possible on the most popular items, especially if they can tolerate a longer shelf life.  Stocking up now will save time shopping later. In addition to food, consider items like toothpicks, baggies, containers, and beverages that are part of the lunch. This should take no more than 30 minutes, but it’s a key organization piece that will get you in and out of the grocery store without taking up half your day. The best option is to choose the store that has ALL of your required items- save more time with less stops.

Labor Required (3 hours)

Take a look at the jobs that lie ahead and make a list. You may choose to highlight on your menu the items that require prep work so that you can group similar tasks together. For example, highlight yellow all the fruit & veggie chopping. Highlight in pink all the lunches that can be made from leftover dinner the night before and decide which days those will be.

The grocery store trip = 60 minutes.

Fruit & veggie chopping: 20 minutes
Make Dipping Sauces/Hummus/Mayo = 15 minutes
Make chicken salad = 10 minutes (use precooked chicken)
Assemble wraps/roll-ups/fun stacks= 15 minutes
Assemble kabobs: 5 minutes
Packing leftovers: 20 minutes
Clean up time: 30 minutes.

Schedule Hours (10 Minutes)

The best advice I can give here is to group similar tasks together and dedicate a good 2 hours in the kitchen to get 80% of the work done for the week on Sunday. You may have more time available during the week, so you can split up the 2 hours, but I find most people are most likely in the mindset to do this on the weekend where there are fewer time demands compared to during the week.

Combining all the tasks together will minimize clean up time. Most prep work is just about getting the fruit, veggies & sauces ready. All of these can be stored in containers and be available for later in the week. Try adding labels or color dots to organize meals for Monday, Tuesday, etc.  If you can’t get all your prep work done on Sunday, try using mini post-it notes on the calendar with tasks like “chop celery sticks” or “make avocado mayo” so that the next time you in the kitchen making dinner, you can add on the to-do item for upcoming lunches while you are already in kitchen-mode. (This technique works great for prepping dinner meals in advance as well!)

Put the grocery shopping on a separate day. If hours are tight in your day, put the grocery store trip at a time where you can be most efficient. (Shop at non-peak times or without children, if possible.) With a detailed shopping list, you may be able to get in & out in 30 minutes.

Readjust As Needed

The times listed are estimates based on my experience, but do substitute your actual time once you’ve executed your plan. Having the actual time will help you to plan better. So often we think “I don’t have time for that,” but if we were to actually break it down, we do have 20 minutes here or there to carefully prepare a nutritious lunch. It’s all about spreading out the steps and chunking many small tasks into one afternoon of dedicated kitchen labor. Figure out which days of the week work best to have leftovers or which evenings are less hectic so that you can mix up a sauce. You may do best with 100% assembly completed on Sunday if your free time during the week is super slim.  As you get more practiced with your system, things will become more efficient and eventually take less time to complete.

Your Best Tips?

Can you share one of your best time saving tips to prepping meals ahead of time? What was an a-ha moment or favorite product that has changed the way you put together lunches? Leave a reply below.

If you know of a friend who may benefit from these tips, please share this post.

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