Thursday, July 24, 2008

Lunch Planning

With the increase in people brown-bagging their lunch, it seems like there would be a definite market for a product like the dinner meal planners that specializes in lunches. Meals for the week, a complete grocery list and steps for preparing it including what can be done the night before. It would be particularly cool if this was tied in with one of the dinner planners to minimize ingredients and steps, but that's a bonus in my mind.

I for one would definitely pay a dollar a week (this seems to be the typical price of the dinner planners) for something that took the decision making out of planning lunches, provided a combined shopping list and included packing/prepping/eating tips.

This service should include some of the features that I look for in the dinner planners such as allowing you to change out or remove meals if you desire. Also, it would be nice if it included information about what recipes required refrigeration (ie can not be unrefrigeratored for 4-6 hours), whether they are "brown-bag" friendly or require more of a box or laptop-type case, if they can be prepared the night before and whether they require any tools/equipment for at-time-of-eating preparation. It might be nice if there were checkboxs where you could indicate your preferences for these issues before you began your customization, but just being able to remove/add recipes would be sufficient.

I haven't searched a lot yet, but so far I haven't turned up something that provides this service. There are recipes and advice, but no site seems to offer a "we'll tell you what to eat each day and you just have to follow our instructions" program.

A company called Laptop Lunches that makes a lunch packing system has a pdf that provides some basic ideas for things to go into a lunch. They provide this same list along with a lot of other information and tips on their website and have a photo gallery of lunches packed if you are a visual person. If you order their system, it includes a guide (which reviews well on Amazon)containing recipes and tips and they have a couple books (even a vegan one) and a dvd available on their site with more information about lunch preparation. In addition to the basic set ($35), they have a larger, fancier one called the Lunch Date ($115). That's pretty pricey, but I could see someone who had been using the basic system consistently deciding to take the plunge though I think you could definitely build a similar enhanced system yourself for less. Get a bag that you like (bonus: it's personal), a thermos and a soup type thermos and you're there. One final nice thing about the system is that you can get additional inner containers so you don't have to wait until the previous days are clean to prepare it.

Another fun site I turned up is Lunch in a Box. This site has a ton of information about preparing bento style lunches to the point that it's actually pretty overwhelming. Unfortunately, there is no "starting from the beginning" sequential section or book, so I think implementing this would be a little difficult.

There are some books that look like they would be good tools for someone to generate their own plans, so this might be the best course of action to take. Identifying a book that balances taste, variety and nutrition with quick, simple and convenience is a real challenge, but some books worth looking at:

Lunch Box: Creative Recipes for Everyday Lunches - this looks like it might be good at helping to expand our minds about what can be a packed lunch. Review complains that they're too healthy and not tasty enough.
The Brown Bag Lunch Cookbook - has an intentional adult focus, includes general lunch prep tips. Not currently in stock as new. Many of the recipes seem like they would take a while and this is a complaint within the reviews.
Brown Bag Success: Making Healthy Lunches Your Kids Won't Trade - kidcentric, but includes a monthly planning cycle approach which might ease the planning burden. Reviews complain about extensive use of peanut butter (many schools are peanut free) and lack of health-value/poor nutrition.
The Healthy Lunchbox - focuses on healthy, nutritional meals written under American Diabetic Association. Provides logistical information about preparing and packaging lunches. Reviews indicate that recipes appeal to adults as well as kids. Has a unique interview to ask kids (though I imagine you could do it yourself) to get lunches they actually like.
The Top 100 Recipes for a Healthy Lunchbox - this is another kid-centric cookbook, but does not limit itself to traditional kid ingredients and does emphasis healthy recipes. A review notes that adults enjoy the recipes as well. Appears to be just recipes without any instructional content.
The Lunchbox Book: Nutritional and Creative Ideas - provides flexibility and information for altering recipes for food allergies and some other health conditions. Only 30 meals included and focused exclusively on kids.
Lunch is Ready: 30 Meals in 1 Day - bulk preparing and freezing, but for lunch! A different approach, but one that I could see working well. Contains over 200 recipes, so more content variety than many of the books and all are freezable. Currently unavailable though.
Lunchbox Menus for You - Contains 40 5-day menus each with a shopping list! Claims good nutritional basis, but I worry that the meals are too basic/simple. Reviews say it is well-formatted and easy to use, even making the shopping lists removable. Only 86 pages and I'm a little worried how they fit all that information in there and it seems like it may be too kid-based.
Lunch Boxes and Snacks: Over 120 Healthy Recipes - in addition the recipes, it includes information on how to pack lunches and what can be made the night before. Reviews indicate that the recipes are varied, tasty and suitable to adults as well as kids.
The Brown Bag Lunch - Not too much information available, but very positive reviews lauding the taste and appeal of the recipes. Every recipe includes information on how it should be packaged and when it needs to be prepared.

My final thought on this issue is if you decide that you can create this system and fill this gap, please don't just make a kid-centric, bland program. I'm pretty convinced that if you feed kids flavorful, diverse meals, they will eat them. I'm not saying you can't recognize the existence of some picky kids and provide some options or functionality to handle plain-jane eaters, but there are so many working adults and kids who eat all kinds of food who will really enjoy the broader menu.

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