Tis’ the season to start thinking about your back to school routine! Let me help you get back into the groove with some tips and lunch ideas to save you time and energy amidst the back to school chaos.
Keep your kiddo involved in the process! You don’t have to go this alone. When the monthly school hot lunch calendar gets posted, take five minutes to sit down with your kiddo and circle the hot lunches he/she will have that month. Post it in an area of the kitchen so everyone can be in the know, so you don’t have to keep looking online to check what lunch is coming up. This will help with planning out your kid’s meals for the week, and also, when you can get a reprieve from packing lunches.
Kids are more likely to eat something they’ve helped make, so keep your kiddo involved in the process as much as you can, even if it’s just packing up their food into their lunch bag. This will allow you the control, but give your kid a sense of purpose by doing this together.
Have a picky eater? Create a theme day for one day out of the week with their favorite packed lunch, like “Tomato soup Tuesday’s”, so your child knows what to expect, and looks forward to it. Kids are usually eager to help when they have some choice in the matter, so use this to your advantage.
Here are some additional ideas to get you started!
- Tomato soup + cheese quesadilla (a cold quesadilla, you say? Yes! Dunked in soup, it won’t matter!)
- Salami slices + olives + hummus (hit up Costco for those individual ones, and stick in the freezer to extend the use by date) + pita bread
- Iceberg lettuce shreds + dried cranberries + mandarin oranges + sliced almonds + grilled chicken + sesame dressing
- Roast beef slices and baby spinach rolled up in a flour tortilla + pickle + fruit on the side
- Penne pasta + mini meatballs + marinara
- Cooked pasta + diced veggies+ diced cheese + Italian salad dressing makes an easy cold pasta salad
- Grilled cheese and diced ham sandwich (Cold again, you say? Yep, just make sure it’s cooled down before you pack it up)
- Breakfast for lunch! Hard-boiled egg + blueberry pancakes + fruit + diced cheese
This can be a challenge for busy households, but, carve out an hour or so out of your Sundays and meal prep for the week, you will thank yourself later. This will save you from the groggy pre-coffee deep stare into the depths of your refrigerator minutes before the bus comes.
Keep it very simple, chop up some fresh veggies, boil some eggs, dice your cheeses for easy assembly that week. This leads me to lunch idea #1. I send my daughter to school with this chef salad a lot. It’s easy to prepare the night before, as the ingredients stay separate thanks to this Sistema portable salad container, keeping it fresh and perfectly portable.
- Shreds iceberg lettuce
- Diced ham
- Hard-boiled egg
- Sliced cucumbers
- Grated carrots
- Ranch dressing
Have your children write down a list of foods, healthy and a couple of fun not so healthy options that they would like to see in their lunches. Try to incorporate at least one of those items a week into their lunches, no matter the wildness of it.
Since kids can be a bit particular about their meals, this is a wonderful opportunity to have a “map” to meal success, and get creative with it. For example, my kid loves pesto. I’ve mixed it into cream cheese to spread on a bagel, stirred a tablespoon or two of it into some sour cream for a veggie dip, and have made it into this meal, lunch idea #2: a delicious and easy prep ahead pasta salad!
Pesto Pasta Salad
- Cooked and drained pasta
- Grape tomatoes, halved
- Mini mozzarella balls, halved
Most lunch bags come insulated to keep meals cool. Rather than purchasing an ice pack that can be bulky and heavy, freeze your juice boxes. This will keep their meals cool if needed, and thaw by the time lunch arrives, doing double duty.
You know what you can freeze? PBJ’s! Take 15 minutes and make a bunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as you normally would, wrap them tightly in saran wrap and stick them in the freezer for a lunch packing emergency. Does your kiddo not care for the crust? Use this same method to make your own “uncrustable” sandwiches using a cut and seal press. When freezing this method, lay them all out on a cookie sheet, freeze until solid, and then store in a ziplock bag for easy grabs.
Invest in some functional handy lunch equipment. A good quality thermos can keep soup piping hot for a cozy winter lunch on those cool rainy days. Have an array of lunch containers, and keep them organized in an easy to get to drawer in your kitchen.
If you have found one you love, buy three so you won’t stress if one is dirty, and one is accidentally left at school. There will always be one ready in the rotation.
Another lunch hack is to use paper cupcake liners which make a nice divider for foods as seen below. These can be fun during the holidays, switching them up to bring a little seasonal cheer to the lunch box. And now, we have lunch idea #3: A spin on Starbucks Protein Box, but homemade, tailored your way!
DIY Protein Box
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Mixed nuts with chocolate chips
- Sliced apples
- Diced cheese
- Peanut butter mixed with honey
And now you are off to lunch meal success! Remember: take your cues from your kids. If you are seeing food come back to you at the end of the day, it’s time to change it up. Ultimately, you want easy, healthy meals, and come June, you will become a well seasoned expert.
All photos by Marla Smith Photography
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