The calendar and weather forecast are both still saying it’s summer, but look around and you’ll see the telltale signs of fall. The days are already a bit shorter, the afternoon shadows are longer, and televisions are full of ads for school supplies, back-to-school clothes, and of course, the new fall network line-ups. Yup, the relaxed mornings, lighter traffic, grab what you like for lunch, and later than usual dinners cooked on the grill – they’re pretty much winding down. It’s officially back to school time, and back to reality.
One of the hardest parts of back to school for most parents is meal planning. We all want to send our kids (and ourselves) off with a full stomach and a healthy lunchbox. Sometimes, however, what we want isn’t what we get, because we slept through the alarm, or someone had an early morning pigtail braiding crisis, or our meeting ran late the night before and we didn’t get to the store. So it’s a quick pass through the drive-through or a few dollars handed over to buy lunch. While that’s OK once in a while, it’s much healthier (and cheaper) to eat breakfast at home (or pack it to eat at school) and pack a balanced lunch. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be a major undertaking if you do some advance planning and keep a few staples on hand.
First, invest in a sturdy, washable lunchbox with a freezer pack. Look for BPA-free insulated plastic, or ideally, lightweight stainless, which is easier to keep clean. Also, consider purchasing insulated containers to keep cold foods cold, and a thermos to keep hot foods hot. Don’t forget to wash the lunchbox and all containers regularly to keep everything clean and safe!
Next, keep your refrigerator and pantry stocked with staples at all times. I love the following foods, but tailor this list to your liking and needs: eggs, nut butter (almond or sunflower if your school doesn’t allow peanut butter), string cheese or mini Babybel cheese, quick-cooking oats, frozen fruit, whole wheat bread, English muffins and mini bagels (keep them in the freezer), high-fiber cold cereal like shredded wheat, and Greek or regular yogurt. Add fresh fruits, mini veggies (like baby carrots, mini sweet peppers, and mini cucumbers), low-fat milk, and turkey or chicken breast from the deli each week or as needed.
When making breakfast or packing a lunch, follow the Rule of THREE – make sure each meal has something from at least 3 different food groups: a fruit or vegetable (or both!), a grain (aim for whole grain or 100% whole wheat bread, muffin, bagel, rice or pasta), and a protein (meat, dairy, nuts, etc.). Limit beverages to 1% milk or water, as juices, sodas, or juice drinks provide empty calories with little or no nutritional value.
Try some new, make-ahead recipes for breakfast:
To avoid the early morning rush, pack lunches the night before. Sandwiches are always fine, and an easy way to get several food groups in, but experiment with other options.
Try some of these easy ideas, and don’t forget to follow the Rule of Three!
It’s one thing to pack a healthy breakfast or lunch, but it’s another thing to get your kids to eat it. To ensure that lunch is eaten rather than traded or tossed: