Okay, guys, here we go! Our very first shopping list for our very first day of lunch prep! I’m getting rainbow-glitter-colored goosebumps just thinking about it (come to think of it, that’s probably pathological … gross).
I mostly stuck with basic lighter-on-cooking and heavier-on-assembling recipes for this batch, to introduce you gradually to the process.
But before printing the list out and running frantically to the corner store, hair trailing wildly in the wind behind you (I’m great on visuals), there are a few things you need to know. I want you to be able to customize (key word, remember?) this project to fit your own lunchy needs.
1.- Please note that for almost all of my menu items, there are alternate suggested ingredients for a purely vegetarian option. Don’t be discouraged if the title of the recipe seems to imply meat should be used – read on before skipping!
2.- I have three kids. Two of them are roughly my size (or bigger, the ungrateful little wretches), and eat like adults. One of them eats more like a typical 9-year old (which is about half of his siblings’ portions). Therefore, all of my recipes are scaled to yield a multiple of 2.5 servings (because I give my two older ones a “full” portion, and my youngest a “half” portion, and round out with snacks and fruits/veggies if I have to). I typically aim to make enough of each recipe so that I get 2-3 school weeks’ worth of my 2.5 portions. So just know that when I say “portion,” I mean something that I (and my older children) would eat, and when I say “half portion” I am referring to my youngest.
So know that if you have two small children who may only eat a half portion each, for example, you will actually be making one-and-a-half times more days’ worth of school lunches than I am for the same recipe and quantity of ingredients. Feel free to scale back or build up based on that.
3.- For each set of recipes, I will suggest material on the shopping list that you will certainly need, as well as equipment that you do NOT absolutely need, but that make my life TREMENDOUSLY EASY when preparing and packing 60-something portions of anything. I’ll discuss what I use and how I use it, and why I love it, but please know that you can do anything I do here without extra pieces, albeit a little more elbow grease from time to time.
So, without further ado, here’s …
Cooking Day #1
- Pesto Chicken Wraps (or Pesto-Mozarella Wraps)
- Breakfast Burrito Wraps
- Broccoli-Cheese Corndog Muffins (or Broccoli-Cheese Muffins, omitting sausage)
- SNACK BONUS: Ridiculously-Easy Cinnamon Dried Apple Chips
- MAKE-AHEAD BONUS: Ridiculously-Easy Tomato Sauce (for Day #2’s ingredient list)
Yield: 25 full Pesto Wraps, 25 full Breakfast Burritos, and 30 jumbo Broccoli-Cheese Corndog Muffins (or 60 regular-size “half-portion” muffins, or any combination thereof that you may need, depending on lunchers’ sizes) – that’s 6-weeks-and-2-days’ worth of lunches for my family, possibly more for yours, all in one day! Plus snacks!
If making all three recipes, you will definitely need:
- Wax or parchment paper (I LOVE parchment paper because it is so versatile and I use it for multiple purposes, including reheating, which I can’t do with wax paper)
- Jelly roll pans (you know, like cookie sheets, but with edges curled up) – at least a couple, preferably more. Regular sized are 10×15 but if you feed an army of Titans (or teenagers) like we do, go with the half-sheet.
- Heavy-duty freezer bags
- Muffin tins – a regular muffin tin gives half portions (an entree for a child), a jumbo muffin tin or popover tin gives full portions (an entree for an adult or older child), and mini muffin tins give good toddler portions. This recipe yields about 60 regular-sized muffins, or 30 jumbo (and remember, the more tins you have, the faster the baking will go, so beg, borrow, or steal if you have to, hehe)
- Muffin paper liners (regular, jumbo or mini, depending on what you’re going for)
- Cutting boards, knives, basic kitchen spoons and utensils
- Freezer space (more on this in a moment!)
You don’t absolutely need the following equipment, but for-the-love-of-parchment-paper, does it EVER make preparing hundreds of servings easier!
- Food processor
I recently upgraded to the Breville, and it’s the stuff my kitchen dreams are made of. I use it at least four or five times per week; it’s one of my workhorses during lunch prepping, and cuts down on time like you wouldn’t imagine!). Or you can use a strong blender
- Stand-up mixer. I use a huge mixer, because … well, cakes. But I also have this one (the head lifts, making it more convenient to access the bowl and paddle), and love it. It’s another workhorse around these parts, it’s ridiculous how often I use this thing.
- Dehydrator (I love mine, it takes less than ten minutes of actual work to produce a small bucket-load of snacks, and it operates itself and I can walk away from it – unlike my oven. Plus, it has five trays so it fits far more at a time than I could ever fit in the same oven, and has paid for itself a hundred times over in the sheer quantity of dried fruits and veggies I can produce, even on a work day)
- Extra-Large bowls (I have a fabulous super-jumbo tupperware bowl that I use almost every day)
- Spiralizer – either the add-on to the Kitchenaid (which is amazing) or a stand-alone version (which I haven’t used, but it looks good).
A WORD ON FREEZER SPACE
I admit, I have a lot of freezer space. I live with four adult-sized appetites, and one healthy child-sized one, and I tend to freeze and pack 20 weeks’ worth of food for all the kids at a time. Plus, once upon a time, I used to do this regularly for dinners as well as lunches.
So, I have a freezer upstairs for regularly-used items, then a downstairs freezer for frozen lunches, and a separate chest freezer (like this one) for when I’m feeling particularly go-getter-y (or for when I make Thanksgiving meals ahead of time because I have the stupid schedule). I call the chest freezer my Sexy Beast, and I make my hubby apologize to it if he doesn’t treat it with an appropriate level of tenderness.
Now, you certainly don’t have to have this. We’re going to work on how to maximize your packing strategies in order to best use your space, and we’re going to use flash freezing and labeling techniques that make my heart skip more than Ryan Gosling (who, for the record, has NOTHING on vacuum sealing). But you should plan on being able to fit two jelly roll pans or large cookie sheets into your freezer at once at any given time during your prepping. If you can’t do that, it may be worth it for you to take a look at getting yourself a separate freezer – not necessarily your own Sexy Beast, but maybe something a bit smaller and inconspicuous, that can still guard your hard work (and only cost you an extra $0.75 or so per lunch if you hold 4 months’ worth of meals for one person in it, right?).
So! there you have it! Some options and some food for thought. Maybe try out a batch or two of frozen meals first, and see how you like it?
Next post will give step-by-step instructions on how to put these recipes together … I’ll give you a few days to shop, and we’ll get started next week!
Questions? Comments? New nicknames for my freezer? Let me know!