(This post probably contains affiliate links. My full disclosure policy is quite boring, but you can read it here if you’d like!)
You see, I love meal planning for dinners (obviously…). I love everything about creating new monthly meal plans – finding new recipes to try on Pinterest, mixing and matching ideas so we’re not eating chicken 5 nights in a row, or mexican for 4 days straight, etc.
You know what I don’t love?
Figuring out lunches.
It was the pressure. Too much pressure.
Since I’m a work at home mom, I felt the pressure to make these elaborate gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, organic, non-GMO lunches – and don’t even think about serving it in a plastic container that might have BPA or BHA in it! Metal or glass containers only. As a matter of fact, make sure your kid only drinks out of glass cups with stainless steel straws.
Just to be clear, I’m not judging you if you do this! As a matter of fact I’m all for this and would love to do it one day. This is just not my day to focus on that. Probably not my year either…
Back to the pressure.
It paralyzed me so instead of feeding my kid healthy, homemade lunches I was giving him the same thing over and over.
After 3 stellar days in a row of giving my pre-schooler PB+J, I decided to do something about it. But I did NOT want to add lunches to my overall meal plan and try to come up with new ideas.
I was stressing out about feeding him a great variety of foods and trying to be super mom and in reality, I was doing the complete opposite.
So first, I went and grabbed this freezer meal plan real quick, and was surprised I had everything on hand! And then, this is what I did:
1 Gave up the idea that school lunches need to perfectly healthy and full of variety
I gave myself permission for lunch to be the meal that we can be loose and relaxed with. Dinners are typically healthy and are full of variety and new foods and flavors. I also make good, hearty breakfasts that are not sugary. So I figure I can relax a tad at lunch.
2 I tried to think of a plan that was super simple
And especially one I’d stick with. I didn’t want “meal planning for lunches”. I was thinking of my capsule pantry and thought “why don’t I make a plan that is based on a few of his favorite foods right now and just rotate them. Duh. Helloooooooo.
3 Got some inspiration from a least expected source
I was working on some blog stuff, getting inspired by my favorite blogging-blogger Suzi from Start a Mom Blog and she had a matrix (she’s an ex-engineer) about looping social media posts. I know what you’re thinking: “what on earth does social media posts have to do with meal plannning, Elisa???”.
Stay with me, I’ll get there.
So she had this chart showing how to take the same 7 blog posts and rotate them once each day to come up with a new combination.
Holy guacamole, that was it! (My light bulb moment: blog posts = foods!!!)
And boom! that’s how this whole post (and free school lunch planner) was born! (thank you Suzi!!)
PS – if you have even the slightest interest in blogging or learning how to make an income from home, I highly, highly, highly recommend Suzi’s site to be your very first step. She’s very clear and concise, doesn’t give you a lot of fluff, and has amazing books and courses. Plus, I like and respect her personally – she doesn’t hide the fact that she’s a normal mom just like you and me, and she runs her business ethically, which is very important to me.
Okay, back to school lunches.
I’m going to walk you step by step how simple this is (it looks confusing at first but it’s not, pinky swear!).
How to plan school lunches quickly with my school lunch planner and grid:
1 Favorite Foods
Come up with 5 favorite foods for each of these 5 categories: main entree, vegetable, fruit, protein, dessert. Obviously you can change these to suit your own needs but I chose these because I wanted to make sure I was serving variety.
Here’s an example of how I completed mine. The key here is to think of their favorites, and do it quickly.
2 Fill in the grid
Take those foods from the top of your planner and insert them into the grid, staggered, like this. You’re just going in order starting in the upper left corner: Main 1, Main 2, Main 3, etc. Then Veg 1, Veg 2, Veg 3, etc.
So taking my entries from above, this is what my lunch planner ends up looking like.
Now, here’s the cool part. If you go down the planner from the top, you have your lunches planned for your first week. And if you go across the planner from the left, you have a new set of lunches planned for your second week!
You could repeat this for the following two weeks and have a month full of school lunches planned or you could quickly switch it up for a second plan (print out a second sheet!). I did it this way: I just changed a few of the main entrees and started with MAIN 2 in the upper left corner. And BAM! A whole new set of lunches! (Can you tell how excited I am for this??? It’s the little things, really.)
I hope you find this as simple and liberating as I do! Don’t forget to download your free School Lunch Planner below and pin this to your “School Lunch Ideas” Pinterest board!
Let’s be friends on Pinterest, I’m always pinning easy kid-friendly recipes!