The Tiffin Tin

What\’s in your lunchbox?

Working the Assembly Line

with 2 comments

Making lunch for several people at once can be a little like that famous scene from I Love Lucy: the one where Lucy and Ethel get a job making candy, and then Lucy gets distracted, and suddenly everything speeds up and there’s candy everywhere and Lucy and Ethel are in big, big trouble. In our version, we all wake up fifteen minutes later than we should, the lunchboxes are still in the hall, full of the slightly disreputable leavings from the day before, and there’s no bread anywhere to be found, and the parents become undignified and frantic and the children end up eating dry cereal for breakfast. That sort of thing.

After more mornings of this than I care to admit (the adults in our family have been making school lunches since 1998), I’ ve only recently come to some techniques for keeping the line moving, and the lunch-preparer sane. I offer them to you hoping you will not have to spend eight years learning the hard way as I did. These tips are helpful no matter how many children you have. Something for Everyone: that’s the Tiffin way.

  • Advance preparation is absolutely key. Before you go to bed, each lunchbox should be cleaned out, and — this is a key point — filled with the containers you’re going to use the next day, if you are the sort who uses containers. (I am.) The water bottle should not be under the couch. It should be in the lunchbox. This task is an ideal one for children to perform when they get home from school or after care. It is a terrific way to teach them to think ahead, and prepare ahead.
  • Try to get up before your children. Or, if you are hoping to have some help with the lunches (and you should) appoint one child to be your early morning helper. They will enjoy being up alone with you. I know getting up early is incredibly difficult sometimes, especially when you have little ones who like to sleep in your bed and hate to let you go, but it’s an important habit to adopt. You don’t have to be June Cleaver, dressed to the nines for breakfast, but it’s good to have YOUR things ready before the madness that is breakfast begins. That means you should be showered, in clean enough clothes, and your own tea or coffee should be piping hot in a nice cup just for you. Perhaps your helper would like a cup of hot chocolate. There is no reason why the making of lunches cannot be a small morning indulgence. One in which you have the house to yourself or share it with one special child.
  • Lay everything out before you start. Think about what you’re making and get all of it out of the refrigerator and cupboard. The rhythm of the assembly line works best when you don’t have to interrupt yourself to go rooting around the fridge for cheddar cheese.
  • Have a sink of warm, soapy water at the ready. When you finish using a utensil, put it in the sink. Even if you don’t have time to do dishes, it’s much nicer to come home to things that are soaking, than things spread everywhere.
  • Do one item at a time. Prepare all the protein items and put them in the boxes (sandwich, soup, etc.). Then the fruit and/or veg items. Put in the calcium or yogurt, or whatever other thing you give your children. You should be sure that the lunch is balanced. (I’ll be writing about that tomorrow.) Add cold packs to each lunch, if needed. A napkin. And a utensil.
  • Put things you’re done with away, as you finish using them. It’s less confusing to have fewer open containers of mayo and mustard on the counter when you’re working. Plus, as you put things away, you have a sense that you’re nearing completion.
  • When you’re finished with the food, tuck in one small thing (if you have time) that your child doesn’t expect. A chocolate kiss. A note. A small toy. A joke. A riddle. A trading card.

I hope this makes the morning less of a madhouse. This entire process takes a while to refine. Some things I’ve suggested will strike you as madness. Mix and match. You are the parent and you get to decide how things are going to be!

Written by bloglily

September 27, 2006 at 6:55 am

2 Responses

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  1. Thanks for holding up to the light my awful, daily truth: those disreputable leavings lurking in the hallway. They are there every single morning. It’s time to take a leaf out of your Tiffin Tin and clean ’em out the night before.


    September 30, 2006 at 1:59 pm

  2. Hello Charlotte, This blog is my obsessive slightly weird daily truth — I LOVE packed food. It’s the nomad in me. Or maybe there’s something about containment that gets to me. Who knows. I’m glad you’re here! xo, BL


    September 30, 2006 at 2:28 pm

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