This school year, I am making the switch back to packing my own lunch. I’ve managed to avoid it for years, either walking home for my lunch break, or not teaching in the afternoons at all. Alas, that’s all changing this fall!
Eating lunch at work or school can be complicated for a number of reasons: taking mealtime medications, avoiding allergens, exposing our medical realities to coworkers… and so many more. As a POTS patient, I have to recline during meals, and ideally for 30 minutes after eating. My amazingly understanding supervisor at my new job set up a recliner in the staff kitchen, but I still have to field the daily questions from coworkers wondering why I am lying down while eating, and why I’m pale and quiet. They ask, “are you sick?” as if that weren’t my constant state of being.
Medications are also tough. I not only have pills to take, but also liquid mast cell stabilizers. I LOVE using my Mighty MedPlanner for packing lunch — it can hold all of my bulky meds, as well as an epipen (just in case), Vogmask for the mold in the computer lab, and snacks in case I get hypoglycemic and can’t wait until lunch.
No matter what your journey has looked like, cooking and packing up meals can sap a lot of spoons. Here are my top 5 tips for making healing, easily adaptable, PACKABLE lunches!
1. Make big batches
Going through the process of buying ingredients, cooking, and cleaning up is a lot of work! Doing it every day may not be the best use of your limited energy. So, next time you go to make a meal you love, make a bunch of it! You can use the leftovers for lunches. That way, you get multiple meals out of the same amount of effort.
2. Use your freezer
Not all meals store well in the fridge. Some foods may acquire bacteria or histamine, becoming inflammatory for many people with chronic conditions. So, how do you save the extras from your big batches? Freeze them in single portion-sized containers. For example, I make huge batches of pesto. In a freezer-safe container, I scoop single dollops of pesto, adding layers on top with aluminum foil to separate. Once it’s all frozen, I break apart the dollops and store them all in a container or freezer bag. At the start of the week, I make a big pot of pasta. Each day, I throw pasta, one dollop of pesto, and whatever protein sources I have around, into a container. Easy, healthy, delicious lunch!
You can also use ice trays (they make many sizes) to freeze single servings of sauces, beans, rice, etc. Bringing frozen ingredients also works as a sort of ice pack — frozen cubes of quinoa can keep your salad cool, and will likely be thawed by the time lunch comes around.
3. Get the right containers
Having containers that are safe for the freezer and microwave, and fit conveniently in my bag has made my packing process simpler. I especially like containers with built-in ice packs, or that can hold my silverware. My go-to is glass tupperwares with tops that seal well enough to trust throwing it in my bag without spilling.
Jars can also be helpful — airtight so they won’t spill, small and fit nicely in your bag, and microwavable!
4. Follow a routine
Cognitive effort can take a lot out of me, especially if I have a million things to remember to ensure that I’ll make it through the day. I’ve learned to not let my lunch be another source of stress and decision-making. I’ve found a good routine — the same container, same pocket in my bag, and rotate between the same three meals. I might have pasta and pesto for a few days; when that runs out, rice with sauteed veggies, and if all else fails, oatmeal. I never have to think too hard, because I know what lunch will be and exactly how to make it. I know it’s safe for my body, healthy, and filling enough. No decisions, no stress.
5. Prep the night before
Being chronically ill in a culture that values punctuality can be a challenge. Even if you get up two hours early and keep yourself focused on getting out on time, something unexpected can happen. I cringe whenever I think of those days I was staring down the clock while stuck in the bathroom or too fatigued and dizzy to get off the couch. Mornings are tough enough — there’s no need to add food prep to the mix! I get it all set up the night before, as part of my bedtime routine so that I can just blindly grab and go in the morning! Salads are versatile and tend to do well in the fridge. Some meals, like overnight oats and chia pudding, are actually intended to sit in the fridge for several hours.
For quick, easy meals, search for on-the-go or 15 minute recipe books — there are many already out there!
Have a packed lunch hack? We’d love to hear it!