If you’re a busy parent like me, the last thing you want to do during the back-to-school morning rush is find time to put together a healthy lunch for your kids. I’ve found that taking the time to prepare easy, nutritious breakfasts and lunches is a better option. Spending a few hours to plan ahead, shop and prepare food in advance will make hectic mornings a thing of the past. In addition, you will guarantee your child will have enough fuel to get through a full day of school.
We know breakfast is the most important meal of the day, however, when grabbing a quick bowl of cereal it can be one of the least healthy meals of the day. To help get your child fueled for a full day of school it is important to include a good source of protein and complex carbohydrates like whole grain or fruit. Some quick and healthier alternatives to cereal are easy to prepare and there are even healthy grab-and-go options for eating in the car:
1. Scrambled eggs and cheese with a side of berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries)
2. Make-ahead “muffins” with veggies, cheese and eggs cooked in muffin tins; heat up in the microwave and pair with an apple.
3. Frozen cheese blintzes and a side of berries
4. Bagel with cream cheese or nut butter with grapes or an orange
5. Oatmeal with walnuts and dried fruit (mix in cherries or raisins)
6. Egg whites with lean sausage links (the frozen Jones sausage are nitrate free) and a piece of fruit
7. Toast or English muffin with peanut butter and sliced bananas
8. Power bar (fruit- and nut-based Larabar, or a protein-rich Luna bar), a piece of fruit and a bottle of water are easy to grab when eating on the go!
Now that the kids are eating a healthier breakfast, their palate will be reset to eat healthier throughout the day as well. Instead of grabbing bags of chips and cookies to fill the lunch box, here are some quick and easy options:
1. Hummus and veggies (sliced cucumber or carrots, celery, cauliflower)
2. Rolled up deli turkey, chicken or ham around a cheese stick (you can put mustard on and then roll up or roll around a cheese stick, slice the roll and use fun toothpicks to eat the rolls with
3. Cold Greek yogurt in a thermos with granola and fresh berries to top off the yogurt
4. Sliced cheese and multigrain crackers with grapes or berries
5. Sliced apples to dip in nut butter
6. Protein rich pasta (Barilla Plus is made with chickpeas and much higher in protein and lower carb than other pastas – look for the yellow box!) with veggies or tomato sauce in a warm thermos
7. Nuts (cashews, almonds, etc.) and cheese cubes with a cluster of grapes
8. Hard boiled eggs with sides of carrots and berries
If you need healthy options for snacks, try one of these:
1. Dried fruits (mango, cherries, raisins, prunes)
2. Single serving packs of freeze dried fruits (can find at grocery and bulk stores) such as apples, bananas, mango, pineapple, etc.
3. Fruit leathers
5. Any fresh fruit or veggie
6. Popcorn (lower calorie than chips and more fiber)
How you meal prep and store the meals will also make it easy for you to get healthy meals ready to go, and ensure the food stays safe:
• Pre-warm a thermal container with hot water, then dump the hot water out and put in the warm food you are packing. This will keep the food hotter longer.
• Alternatively, if packing something cold, pre-cool the thermos with cold ice water so the container will keep the cold food colder longer.
• Pack cool lunch items the night before and place the entire lunchbox in the fridge overnight to help. Then in the morning, grab a cold pack from the freezer and slide in the lunchbox to help maintain coldness in the lunchbox.
• I often make extra portions for dinner and then a day or two later, pack the leftovers for an easy healthy lunch. How about leftover chicken soup (with chicken, carrot, celery) or lentil soup in the warm thermos?