At one time or another we’ve all struggled with packing a daily lunch or even a great picnic. Creating a meal that tastes great, looks good, and holds well in the locker, the drawer, or the cooler can present some challenges. Most of these challenges can be handled with good planning and organization. So here are some simple guidelines you can follow to get that next great meal ready to hit the road.
Plan Your Menus
• Write your menus several weeks in advance and rerun them on a cyclical basis.
• Combine ready-to-eat (RTE) and fresh handmade items with foods you’ve previously prepared through batch cooking.
• Consider colors and shapes, as hunger is triggered in part by visual stimulation. Colorful fruits, vegetables, legumes, and fresh herbs will make your lunches appetizing to the eye.
• Think about how easy it is to eat an item in a given situation or location.
Stock Your Storeroom
• Create a par stock list that you use to keep needed items on hand; there are apps that support really organized lists.
• Stock your cabinets, freezer, and refrigerator, and buy in bulk when possible.
• Rotate your stock, putting the new behind the old so your ingredients stay fresh.
• Look through your par stock list when it’s time to grocery shop. Take an inventory of what you already have and make a list of what you’re missing.
Prep Your Lunches—and Their Ingredients
• Employ batch cookery. For example, soups and stews hold and travel well (or can be frozen for later use), so make plenty.
• Build sandwiches the right way, in this order: bread, waterproof ingredients (like cheese and lettuce), meat and dressings in the middle, more waterproofing, and then bread again. This way, all the ingredients keep their integrity during travel.
• Use up leftovers. Stale bread makes croutons for salad or dipping sticks for hummus. Turn the leftovers from last night’s roast chicken into chicken, olive, and artichoke salad.
• Get packaging that supports your food best. Your food must be kept fresh and sealed to promote cleanliness as well as food safety.
• Take advantage of reusable packaging. There are many great small containers that can be used and washed, so make them part of your lunch kit.
Make It Healthy
• Include a variety of grains, nuts, vegetables, fruits, and starches. Watch added salt, and keep portion sizes appropriate.
• Read product labels. Avoid or limit the use of products high in sodium or calories, and favor those that use good fats.
• Explore global flavors. The world offers exciting spices, tropical fruits, cheeses, and more. All keep well, are healthful, and add variety to lunch life!
By Brad Barnes, CMC
Director of CIA Consulting Brad Barnes is a Certified Master Chef and a 1987 graduate of the college.