Do you have kids who are heading back to school this fall? I do, and if you’re anything like me, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the demands on your time.
Between orientations, post-summer reunions, school events, and kids on a new schedule, it seems like the to-do list is never ending!
One important strategy to lighten your load this school season is meal prep. We’ve got 5 meal prep strategies that you can use to create stress-free lunches. Plus, you’ll love that your family is eating well.
I hope it helps make things easier for you and keeps everyone happy and healthy during these busy days!
Delegate Parts of Your Back to School Lunch Routine
No matter their ages, your kids can help at some level with meal prep and lunch packing. Not all of my kids are as enthusiastic as Chef Jack, but they all love to help assemble their lunches.
Kids love to participate in food prep. Whether it’s cutting up ingredients, packing sections of their bento lunch boxes or stirring muffin batter, giving them some responsibilities will help your child to eat their meals if they’ve had a role in their creation!
Kids are also more likely to try new foods – even fruits and vegetables – if they’ve helped to prepare them. My kids LOVE to help make these Oat & Date Balls and even choose them over cookies and candy!
Plan and Prep Ahead
It’s hard for any of us to make the best decisions when we’re tired or frazzled – even a dietitian! Having a plan A and even a plan B helps to keep meals running smoothly, no matter how the day unfolds.
Using a meal plan as a guide can be REALLY helpful. It doesn’t mean that you have to make every meal on a meal plan but it can help to get started with preparing healthy meals the whole family can enjoy. Select three dinners and a few snacks for each week of the month. Stick with it until you have a repertoire of at least 10 dinner meals you can put into rotation – this can take up to 4-6 weeks. Dinners such as soups, stews, and roasted proteins make excellent lunch box appearances when paired with non-prep items such as fruits, vegetables, cheese, and crackers.
My favorite dinner leftover combinations include:
- Lentil meatloaf sandwiches
- Cut up these leftover porkchops and add some crackers and fruit on the side
- Sunshine stew with rice
- Tofu, veggie, or other protein kabobs with yogurt sauce
- White bean and kale soup with whole grain toast wedges
A helpful tip to leveraging dinner as lunch is to scale your recipes to ensure you have enough for lunch the next day. Also, pack lunches BEFORE you eat dinner to avoid adding burden to your already busy morning schedule.
Batch Your Work
We talk about batching work with tasks at the office, but what about in the kitchen? Same time-saving principle applies!
For example, if your child loves having crunchy red bell pepper sticks in their lunch, don’t cut up a new pepper each and every night. Once or twice a week, cut up bell peppers (or have your kiddo do it!) and store them in baggies that are ready to toss into the lunch box. Or store all of the sliced peppers in a container so that packing their bento lunch box is that much faster.
And if you know that you’re cooking two different dinners that call for chopped onions and celery, chop up enough veggies for both dinners. You’ll be thankful for less chopping when the time comes to cook the second meal!
Use a Template
How else can we reduce your mental load? Follow a template whenever you can!
If your child uses a bento box to pack their lunch, assign a food group to each section. Whole grains go on the left, fruits below, a protein on the right, and so on. Discuss what “counts” for each section of their lunch and brainstorm choices that fit into each category. From there, your child can pack their lunch with less input from you.
And for dinners, have some regular meals that you can depend on to be quick and delicious, without needing too much brain power. For example, Taco Tuesdays! Use the crockpot to cook your favorite taco filling and dinner will be mostly ready when you and your crew get home hungry. A few other ideas are breakfast for dinner, pizza Fridays and getting a rotisserie chicken on Mondays.
A few of my family favorite throw together recipes are:
Adjust Your Back to School Expectations
When your circumstances change, so too does your patience and bandwidth. This is completely normal! Remember to be gentle with yourself. If you have more activities to attend and more to-dos each day, it is reasonable to look for ways to simplify. You do not have to do everything yourself, or create meals in the same way as you do when you have more time. You can have a happy and healthy family, even with a few shortcuts.
Change always comes with a bit of stress, and back-to-school is full of changes! Be patient with yourself and your family as you establish new routines. Consider what steps you need to take to ensure that you’re eating the meals that help you to thrive. Plan ahead and don’t forget to make that plan B!
If planning healthy meals for your family in the midst of all the back-to-school craziness, our new meal planning service might be able to help! Click here to schedule your free phone call to see if it’s right for you and your family. We can’t wait to hear from you!
P.S. For some afterschool snacks that your kids can make themselves, check out Chef Jack’s tips!