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During the school year my meal time mantra is: Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Repeat meals, that is.
Today, I want to share exactly what this repeat, repeat, repeat mantra looks like when it comes to packing a school lunch. Instead of calling this a repeat lunch menu, I prefer to use the term, rotational lunch menu. That just sounds way more strategic and smart. Because finding ways to simplify life, like repeating meals, is exactly that…being strategic and smart.
Last week, we talked about 20 different lunch ideas. Technically speaking, 20 different lunchbox ideas–represented via photos in this post and this post–is about a month worth of packed lunches. Not bad, right?! But here’s the thing. There’s no need to serve a different lunch every single day of the week, unless you want to. What’s our mantra again? Rotate, rotate, rotate.
If we approach a list of 20 meal ideas with a rotate (AKA: repeat) mantra, then there’s way more than a month worth of lunch ideas listed in last week’s blogposts. Plus, if we think of the lunchbox in terms of mix and match meal components versus looking at the lunchbox as one single lunch, we’ll get even more use out of the lunch ideas–whether the ideas come from you and your family, Live Simply (hi!), another blog, Pinterest, or the wonderful world of Instagram.
Simplify School Lunch with a Rotational Menu
What is a rotational lunch menu?
A rotational menu is simply a meal plan that’s repeated over and over again for a period of time determined by you. Think of this rotational menu as a guide for what to put in the lunchbox each day during this set period of time.
The plan certainly isn’t set in stone, so if you want to change things up one day, you’re welcome to do so. While this plan may sound boring, that’s certainly not the case. A rotating plan can allow for as much variety as you’d like. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.
Why use a rotational menu system?
A rotational menu system simplifies lunch-packing and meal planning, and eliminates daily (and even weekly) decision fatigue. If you’ve put in the time and effort to create a meal plan, why not take full advantage of the time spent doing this by repeating that menu.
Using a rotational menu, particularly for lunches, also helps you determine what to prep in advance. Without a plan, it’s hard to prep anything in advance because you’re not sure what you’ll be eating on a day-to-day basis. Seeing a week worth of meals on a calendar allows you determine what foods may be prepped in advance to help simplify the week to come. This allows you to focus on prepping in bulk (doubling a recipe, for example, and freezing the extras) since you know the meal component will be used again in the future.
How do I create a rotational menu?
Something I’ve found helpful for creating a rotational school lunch meal plan is to write down a list of ideas divided by category or meal components: main, fruit, veggie, and crunchy/snacky. Sort your school ideas using these categories.
For a starter, you can use the ideas shared in the posts on the blog: this post, this post, and the post shared last year. Then add your own ideas. Keep this list somewhere visible and make it an on-going list that you can add to and build upon throughout the school year. Think of this list as a favorite or master idea list for lunch, much like the favorite list you’ve created to simplify breakfast and dinner meal planning. I’ll be sharing a printable list in my soon-to-be-released Simplified School Lunch Kit.
Next, plug these meals into a 5 day lunch plan and rotate this plan during your desired time period. When you’re “done” rotating this plan, don’t toss it. Keep it! This is a valuable plan that you can repeat again in the future. Just think, if you had four meal plans that you rotated every two weeks, you’d have two month’s worth of lunches planned. That’s amazing!
To get super practical, here’s what this may look like:
Choose 3 mains to serve each week, and then choose a couple of fruits, veggies, and crunchy/snacky sides. The fruits and veggies may be more seasonal, which adds variety to the rotational menu. Use these choices to create a menu by rotating the various components to create a lunch plan, and then repeat this plan for a set time period. You can see an example of how this plays out in real life via this download printable.
Will my kids get bored with a rotational menu?
Here’s the thing about making a rotating menu work…You have to find your groove. Find what works best for you and your kids. Maybe that’s a 5 day plan that you repeat for two weeks and then reuse again in a month or two. Maybe that’s a 5 day plan that you repeat for an entire month. Or, maybe that’s a 5 day rotation you use for a week and revisit every month. Determine what works best for you and your kids. And remember, when you’re done using this plan for your designated time period, save it! This is a valuable resource that you can revisit again in the future.
A rotating meal plan can offer variety by using seasonal fruits and veggies. Even with main recipes, varieties exist. For example: pizza pinwheels can be made with pesto and cheese instead of red sauce, cheese, and spinach. A build-your-own-taco meal can be made with beans or shredded chicken or ground beef and then any accompanying sides: salsa, guacamole, cheese, lettuce, spinach, etc. A pasta salad can easily be changed up by adding various veggies or a cubed cheddar cheese or torn mozzarella cheese.
Remember, a rotational plan is about simplifying lunch planning and packing. Give it a try and tell me what you think.