Easing the Cold Lunch Routine

Here’s my problem with making school lunches in the morning: I’m not a morning person. By sheer will power, I do manage to get out of bed, stumble down the stairs and pour a cup of coffee. I then proceed to stare at the wall above the kitchen sink and wonder what I’m supposed to be doing. As the caffeine wakes up my brain, I remember, “Ah, yes, make school lunches … but what should I make?” And the staring continues.

With the start of this school year, though, I have a new plan that will minimize the need to think in the morning, but will get the job done. This plan works equally well for “work lunches” also.

Much like a meal plan for the dinner hour, each day of the week has a different theme to ensure a variety of lunches and not just the standard turkey sandwich every day. My biggest tip for easing the lunch-making routine: whenever possible, double your dinners.


Monday: Sandwich Day I see the sandwich as a complete meal in a tidy package. Many of the below ideas can be toasted, wrapped in foil and stored in a thermos for a Panini-style, cold weather lunch.

• Pita pocket with hummus, carrot, red pepper, cucumber, avocado and spinach

• Sesame bagel lightly toasted with smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumbers

• Ciabatta roll with turkey, provolone, tomatoes, green leaf lettuce, pesto and mayo

• Kaiser bun with ham, Gruyere, whole grain mustard and butter lettuce

• Baguette with goat cheese, pesto, tomatoes and arugula

• Rye with pastrami, red onion, dill pickles, whole grain mustard, mayo and baby greens

• Whole grain bread with tuna, mixed with mayo and lemon pepper and romaine lettuce

• Rustic white bread with freshly ground peanut butter and Nana’s blackberry jam


Tuesday: Soup or Chili Day For dinner, I make “Soup on Sunday” which makes it easy to use those leftovers for lunch later in the week (even freezing the extra if necessary), when it won’t feel like a spoonful of de ja vu.

• Vegetable

• Potato and corn chowder

• Ribollita

• Ham and white bean

• Sausage and lentil

• Tomato

• Chicken noodle

• Kielbasa and kale

• Minestrone

• Taco soup

• Pasta and pancetta

• Spicy pumpkin

• Chili: vegetarian, beef or chicken


Wednesday: Appetizer Day Invest in some containers with dividers, and put together a medley of finger foods.

• Italian theme: cheese, salami, crackers, olives and Caprese salad

• Mexican Theme: guacamole, salsa, chips, bean and cheese quesadillas (kept in thermos) and pepitas

• All-American theme: cut veggies with ranch or spinach dip, trail mix, a hardboiled egg and applesauce

• Mediterranean theme: hummus, cut veggies, Greek salad and dolmas

• Breakfast theme: hardboiled egg, yogurt, whole wheat muffin/ banana bread, fruit salad and granola


Thursday: Pasta or Rice Day Again, make use of the Thermos.

• Ravioli with marinara

• Cold pasta salad

• Sesame peanut noodles

• Spaghetti with Ragu

• Pasta with pesto and cherry tomatoes

• Chicken and rice

• Beans and rice

• Sautéed veggies and rice, and so on


Friday: Give Yourself a Break Day Use up any remaining leftovers, or have your kids eat school hot lunch. Sneak away with a friend or your partner for a you lunch.


Extras I always include a container with in-season fruit as a side, a couple of pieces of dark chocolate for the sweet fix, and a Klean Kanteen full of water for a drink.

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