Test Kitchen Tips: How to Pack a Lunch Box

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Test Kitchen Tips: How to Pack a Lunch Box

Packing lunches everyone loves can be tricky, so we turned to an expert for tips: our Director of Culinary Amanda Haas, author of the book Cooking Light Real Family Food. When it comes to making healthy, great-tasting meals, she’s a pro. And for lunch boxes, she says, “My goal is to get my family to eat as much real food as possible.”


Amanda’s go-to lunches include chopped salads, chicken or steak with chimichurri, soups, braises and build-your-own wraps, and she always includes a fruit and vegetable in the mix. Here are some of her best tips!


Give everyone some control. “My kids don’t really like sandwiches—they would always come back half-eaten,” says Amanda. “So finally, we asked them, what do you want?” She was surprised when they asked for salads, casseroles, fruits and vegetables. As often as possible, she brings everyone along on grocery shopping trips, and she has one golden rule: If someone brings a fruit or vegetable to the cart, then they can have it. They are more likely to try (and enjoy!) something they chose themselves.


Make a double batch. It only takes a little additional effort to make a double batch of something you can eat for dinner, then pack leftovers for lunch. Amanda likes Chinese chicken salads (dressing on the side) and vegetable-packed lasagna. “My kids love lasagna: I can put almost anything in there and they’ll eat it, so I pack in as many veggies as I can.”



Give leftovers some love. Eating the same dish for dinner and the next day’s lunch can get boring. “Sometimes I’ll wait two or three days before packing dinner leftovers for lunch so they don’t feel so much like leftovers,” says Amanda. She also deconstructs meals to create hands-on lunches. Tuesday’s dinner tacos can be packed as tortillas, vegetables, chicken and salsa for Wednesday’s DIY taco lunch.


Serve a hot lunch. Look for microwave-safe containers that will hold heat for hours. Amanda heats up soup and lasagna in the morning, then packs them in containers for a hot, satisfying meal at lunch.


Skip the sweets. In general, Amanda shies away from packing desserts in lunch boxes. “If no one eats dessert during the day, we can do a sweet treat in the evening and feel OK about it.”


chinese-chicken-saladShare the workload. Planning and cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner for a whole family is a l0t of work. For instance, she has a friend who makes a chart with a list of proteins, vegetables, fruits and snacks, and lets her family choose and pack lunch boxes themselves—that way, they’re guaranteed to be balanced meals. Everybody wins!


Make it look good. “I am so not the person to cut sandwiches into cute shapes, but if a lunch looks nice, everyone will want to eat it,” says Amanda. Try cute bento boxes, and cut vegetables into even sticks. “A little bit of effort goes a long way.”


Amanda Haas Photo Credit: Jen Kay


12 comments about “Test Kitchen Tips: How to Pack a Lunch Box

  1. Weekend Project: Make a Meal Plan | Williams-Sonoma Taste

  2. Miriam

    You should not be suggesting or teaching children to eat out of a microwave. It is a horrific thing a microwave does to food. Shame on you. It most definitely diminishes the William Sonoma brand!

    1. Janette Carpenter

      I don’t like microwaving either. I rarely use mine, and I especially avoid putting plastic in the microwave.

    2. PhilipCHICAGO

      Everyone has a right to their own opinion, but you don’t have to get nasty! BITTER, party of ONE, BITTER!!

    3. drew

      Actually if you read it, she states that she heats up the food in the morning then packages them up in containers that will hold the heat. The article passage just says to look for microwave safe containers.

  3. Susanamantha

    Oh my. It’s a shame when people have to be unpleasant, especially to someone who is trying to be helpful.if you don’t like microwaving, don’t Use one.

    1. Kathy

      Thank you. I was thinking the same thing. I think the recipes sound great. There are alternatives to plastic that children can take with them.

  4. Karen

    She is trying to help doesn’t we sell micros. If u have nothing good to say your opinion is not necessary

  5. Rebecca

    Great suggestions! (If you don’t want to use a microwave, pre-heat your container with hot water. Be sure to check with manufacturer’s instructions, usually available online, re maximum temperatures for your particular container.)

  6. Holly Scott

    They have nothing better to do. I think those are great ideas. Glad I don’t work with or associate with those two.

  7. Stacey Leandro

    I think you might be missing the most important point. She is packing home cooked, healthy meals for Her family. In an age where fast food is the normal and home cooked is a treat I think using a microwave for the heating source is the least of our challenges.


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