Preparing school lunches for your kids can be a time-consuming, tedious event—even for the most organized parent. Plan ahead, and keep some key ingredients in your pantry and fridge as an effective way to always ensure you can get that lunch packed in short order.
Here are 10 tips to help make lunch production an easy (okay, fine, easier) task:
- Stash ready-to-snack vegetables in the refrigerator. Wash and prepare vegetables (we like broccoli and cauliflower florets, celery sticks and carrot sticks, and sweet bell peppers) as soon as your bring them home from the store. Pop into containers filled with cold water and store in the fridge. Then just toss them into those lunch boxes in the morning—no extra prep required (plus there will always be veggies on hand for snacking!).
- Prepare extra servings of dinner to save for school lunches. Roast an extra chicken, cook a second pot roast or make a large pot of rice and beans, and you’ll have ingredients on hand for sandwiches, salads or a hot lunch. Pasta or ramen noodles, turkey meatballs and baked chicken strips all work well for next day lunches. Tip for keeping food hot until lunchtime: Fill a wide-mouth Thermos with boiling water and put the lid on; let sit for 7 to 10 minutes. Heat food to steaming hot, then empty water and dry Thermos; fill with the meal. By lunchtime, the food will be at the right temperature for eating.
- Set up a salad bar. Stock the refrigerator with salad fixings and you’ll be able to throw together delish creations in no time. Be sure to include a protein like chickpeas, cooked chicken, grated cheddar or crumbled feta. Have different greens options available, as well as a bounty of veggies in the crisper. Consider brown rice, quinoa or macaroni as an add-in, too. Then toss with a light dressing, such as a balsamic vinaigrette (or look for individually sealed dressings to reduce the potential for mess—no one needs a backpack full of dressing!). A sprinkling of pumpkin or sunflower seeds, dried cranberries or croutons add texture and crunch.
- Get your dip on. Buy containers of hummus, black bean or baba ganoush and portion out for lunches. Pack with whole grain wraps cut into wedges, mini-bagels, naan or flatbread, pretzel sticks, raw veggies or whole grain crackers.
- Single-size yogurt and grain-based cereal bars are an easy grab. For yogurt products, look for a Milk Fat (M.F) content of less than 2.5%. Similarly, a healthy cereal bar contains less than five grams of total fat and no candy, chocolate and/or marshmallows. These kitchen staples are great for after-school snacking before activities, too!
- Keep a variety of fresh fruit on hand. Watermelon wedges, sprigs of grapes and cherries are popular choices. You can also cut fruit up at the beginning of the week and store properly in the fridge for a grab-and-go option.
- Try dried fruit FTW. Look for products with no added sugar and ‘fruit’ is listed as the first ingredient on the nutrition facts table. A handful of naturally sweet dried mango, raisins or apricots will help a mid-day sweet tooth attack.
- Bake a large quantity of banana muffins or fruit bread to portion out. Do yourself a favour and double that batch of your kiddo’s favourite baked good. Freeze sliced loaf or muffins, pull from the freezer and toss into lunch bags. It’ll thaw by snack time.
- Freeze water in plastic bottles, and it will keep other items in the lunchbox cold. Got a kiddo who isn’t into water? Add some fresh fruit to the water and let it steep, then strain out any errant seeds and freeze.