Someone asked how I do this on the Mommy Stories Facebook group, so here are some ideas. Hope they help. I'd love to hear your ideas!
The Lunch Process
So once a week on Sundays is when I pack the meals for daycare for the entire week. It's a lot easier, less for me to think about during a busy work week. On Sunday I pack the food. It takes me about an hour. I need quiet time, so I usually put on music or a TV show on my lap top, or nothing, but I have found I can't do it with people around. I need lots of kitchen space and nobody bugging me so I can focus on what we need.
Monday morning I bring a large reusable grocery bag with two lunch bags inside - one for cold refrigerator items and one for dry items like oatmeal or crackers. I also include extra bibs for my younger one, or any clothing that my kids wet through the previous week and therefore needed to dip into the stash of clothes I keep at the babysitter's house. I keep a mental note of which clothes came home from daycare so I can wash them and replace them.
On Wednesday morning I bring two more bottles of milk, and again Friday another bottle of milk. I find milk takes up a lot of space, so I bring those a few times a week. When I was nursing and had frozen breastmilk, I'd bring her a ziplock bag to put in the freezer of all milk for the week. When I got near the end when I didn't have a huge stockpile of milk, I'd bring it every couple of days.
One thing at a time
It's easiest to focus on one meal at a time... breakfast, snacks, lunches, drinks. I put them all out, in little bags or bowls first so I know how much I need.
To figure out how much you may need, on a weekend when you're home just start focusing on how much you're putting in a bowl for your child. Then put that amount into a baggie, so you know when packing lunches later on for the week about how much they need. I typically include a few extra snacks just in case. You can always ask your sitter to check in with you mid-week to see if they will need more food.
For milk, it's been easiest for us to measure out the amount we want our kids to have and put them in bottles. When I was doing this for both kids I would put a yellow cover on my younger one's milk (yellow = Medela breastmilk bottle cover = breastmilk for the little one). We'd use the white Dr. Brown's covers for my son's milk so my sitter could easily distinguish. I'd send a couple of these at a time to the sitter, then bring more a few times a week.
Every day my children take a sip cup of milk with them so she uses that all day and washes each meal.
I have a plastic container filled with smaller plastic and glass bowl containers that I put individual meals, snacks, yogurt, etc. in. I got these in a large package at Wal-Mart.
Lately I've been trying out the large container of yogurt and putting out individual sizes instead of using smaller individual wrapped yogurts. I just put them in a bowl and tell her if it's for one or two days, etc. Once your sitter gets the hang of your system you rarely have to tell them what each thing is for anymore.
OK so that doesn't look as great as they taste, sorry! But my kids LOVE blueberry and apple cinnamon pancakes. We send these in for lunches, breakfasts, snacks, etc. We make batches on the weekend anyway for us to eat, and then leftovers are sent to school.
I cut up everything that needs to be cut up so that it's easiest for our sitter to feed the kids. I don't have to say if these cucumbers are for snack or lunch, she figures it out. I just put in my head what I think it is and ensure there is enough of each type of meal to provide.
I package various snacks... cranberries, animal crackers, graham crackers, etc. I always make sure there are plenty of these. Typically at the end of the week some of these are leftover, which is what I plan on so that's good.
I also make muffins and send a few of these a week. They are nice as snacks, breakfast, or even to fill in with oatmeal. I'll send a big tub of oatmeal and to make it taste a little better she'll break up some of these muffins into the oatmeal. I make them from Jiffy mix and add my own things - corn, cranberry, apples, banana, sweet potatoes, squash, zucchini, etc. The kids love them! I have huge batches in my freezer and then just take 3-5 out a week in another ziplock bag to send to the sitter. I made these in August and they are still going strong :)
When my children were younger and eating puree homemade baby food, I'd have veggies and fruits separated all downstairs in our large freezer, in similar ziplock bags as you see below for muffins. I'd go down there on Sundays and grab a variety of veggies and fruits (1 cube of fruit and 1 cube veggies for lunches and then 1 cube of fruit to go with baby cereal for breakfast). I'd put them into a large ziplock bag (separated by fruits and veggies) and send that to daycare for her freezer for the week's meals.
Once I'm done making each individual meal section, I put the cold things into one bag (on the left) and the dry things into another bag (right). This makes it easiest for her on Monday morning when I bring everything to her to sort and put away. While I get the kids' coats and shoes off, say goodbye with hugs, she's asking me questions about various items and putting them away, it's a win-win.
I put the whole red bag with cold items into the fridge Sunday night so it's easy to take out Monday morning.
Packing food is time-consuming for sure, but it's also nice knowing I have some control over what they eat, so if you try to make it work for you it'll be easier, I swear.
A few food ideas we use:
(note that some items are on more than one list, which makes it even easier to pack food)
- apple sauce
- fruit, especially bananas
- cereal (dry or with milk depending on age)
- Cheerios with cranberries dry
- pancakes (blueberry, plain, apple cinnamon, sweet potato)
- waffles with cream cheese
- cinnamon raisin or wheat bagel with cream cheese or jelly
- toast and jelly or peanut butter
- scrambled eggs and cheese
- cereal or granola bar
- fruit, especially bananas
- apples and peanut butter
- apple sauce
- animal crackers
- wheat thin crackers
- puffs (for little ones)
- Pirates Booty
- Cheddar Bunnies
- pretzel sticks with peanut butter or yogurt
- veggies (carrots for big kids, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc.)
- Veggie Chips
- cereal or granola bars
- cheese sticks
- rice cakes with peanut butter
- dried fruit - banana chips, apple rings, etc. mixed together or alone
- cheese, crackers and turkey pepperoni
- peanut butter sandwich, or peanut butter and jelly
- peanut butter or with jelly on rice cakes
- waffles, pancakes, bagels
- tortilla chips with salsa and cheese cubes on the side
- yogurt with granola/cereal bars
- cheese sandwich
- turkey and cheese sandwich bites (I cut them up into little squares for my little one)
- pasta salad
- mixed frozen veggies with cubes of diced ham
- taco burger with lettuce, tomatoes and cheese, with tortilla chips to dip
- pasta with tomato sauce or Alfredo sauce
- Annie's macaroni and cheese
- leftovers... whatever you have that you know they'll eat
Those are just some of our regulars. You can really do a lot with kids' ideas. I oftentimes get stuck in a rut, then ask some moms I know or search online and find tons more ideas. Keep trying to be creative!
Hope this helps :)