There are people who are
really good at packing their lunch every day, but many of us fall somewhere along the spectrum of "will do it reluctantly" to "will inevitably end up running to Chipotle three times a week." As much as we tend to think of responsibly packed lunches from home as a challenge of adulting, in reality, some of us have been enjoying them since our elementary school days.
Our brown bags of yesteryear are the kind of thing we left behind long ago, along with glitter gel pens and slap bracelets. But, maybe we gave up on our trusty Ariel lunch box too soon. We looked back at the best packing strategies for kids' lunches and realized that they can work for grown-ups, too. (Not to mention make our weekday mornings that much easier.)
Whether you never pack lunch or are just looking to step up your game, here are eight easy tips that are way too good not to use, even as adults. If you'd rather not go the way of Disney characters and Capri Suns at this point in your life, don't worry — we've also got some slightly more mature ways to implement them.
Photo: Stockfood USA.
Pack In Categories A good packed lunch in elementary school usually has some combo of the following: sandwich, side, fruit. Instead of laboring over an elaborate main, or even a salad with enough ingredients to make it filling, try shopping in similar categories. By keeping yogurt, fruit, and simples sandwich ingredients on hand, half of packing lunch will be tossing everything into one bag, no actual prep and cooking time required.
Siggi's Icelandic-Style Strawberry-Rhubarb Whole Milk Yogurt, $1.99, available at FreshDirect.
Dang Sriracha Spice Sticky Rice Chips, $2.99, available at Thrive Market.
Photographed by Jackie Alpers.
Always Pack A Treat The packed lunch we were always jealous of included a cookie or a fun-sized Crunch bar — a way to make even a basic sandwich and orange wedges exciting. These days, you might not be able to use dessert for bartering purposes with your coworkers, but that doesn't mean you should leave it behind.
The Cookie Dough Café Edible Cookie Dough, $9.60, available at Jet.
Trader Joe's Sea Salt & Turbinado Sugar Dark Chocolate Almonds, $4.79, available at Trader Joe's.
Justin's Nut Butter Mini Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, $8.29, available at Amazon.
Don't Forget A Snack For many elementary school kids, snack time is a scheduled part of the day. That doesn't follow most of us into the adult world, but maybe it should. It can be as simple as an apple or some carrots, but why not have a little fun with it? Here are some of our current favorite options, though, Dunkaroos will forever have our heart
The New Primal Date & Rosemary Chicken Jerky, $5.79, available at Thrive Market.
GoodnessKNOWS Cranberry, Almond, and Dark Chocolate Snacks, $21.99, available at Amazon.
Justin's Nut Butter Banana Chips Snack Pack, $1.84, available at Target.
Photographed by Danny Kim.
Outsource The Packing Lunchables were a triumph of marketing — kids loved the idea of making their own stackable pizzas and adults loved that it was everything in one box, zero prep work required. While we may have outgrown them, looking for frozen and pre-made meals that are a full meal in one is a great way for those of us who hit the snooze button too much.
Hillshire Snacking Tuscan Flair Small Plates, available at Target stores.
Trader Joe's Chicken Burrito Bowl, $3.49, available at Trader Joe's.
Amy's Indian Paneer Tikka, $5.29, available at FreshDirect.
Photo: Getty Images.
Don't Forget A Cool Lunchbox Back in the day, a cool lunch box was social capital. Now, it can be another way to keep you organized. Pre-packing it is an easy way to grab and go in the morning, and will help your chips from getting crushed and your make-up bag from accidentally getting tossed in salad dressing.
Emily & Meritt Black/White Stripe Sack Lunch Bag, $24.50, available at PBTeen.
Baggu Baby Baggu in Palm, $8, avaiable at Baggu.
Photo: Stockfood USA.
Keep It Simple Especially if you're including extras like snacks and dessert, your main course doesn't have to be complicated. A simple PB&J is a staple for a reason — why not try it again, this time with some fancy spread?
Big Spoon Roasters Honeyed Peanut Butter, $14.25, available at Mouth.
Bonne Maman Apricot-Raspberry Preserve, $16.85, available at Amazon.
Enjoy Variety Variety packs appeal to kids because they provide choice without requiring separate purchases. Keeping an eye out for variety packs can keep routine from feeling too, well, routine. And, hey, adults get bored, too.
Bare Organices Apple Chips Variety Pack, $32.77, available at Amazon.
Pipcorn Mini Snack Packs, $38, available at Pipsnacks.
Sahal Snacks All-Natural Nut Blends, $19.95, available at Amazon.
Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh.
BYO Beverage Even if we didn't mind sipping from a juice box at work, most of them are so small you get two sips max. But something other than water is an easy way to keep your desk lunch from feeling blah. Having a favorite sparkling water or soda in the work fridge is one way to do it. Or, try infusing regular water with your favorite citrus and herbs. It's a cheap alternative that will keep you hydrated and constantly playing with new combos.
Citrus Zinger Original Infuser Bottle, $15.99, available at Target.