Back-to-school season is quickly approaching, and along with new schedules, new school clothes and new books comes the opportunity to try some new healthy meal plans. Oftentimes. the new schedules and initial adjustment can take priority during the busy day, and that can mean lunches are usually whatever is in the fridge and cupboards at the time.
With a little planning ahead and stocking up on some of the most often-used groceries, meal planning can be nutritious as well as easy to throw together for busy days. If you plan on making your kids meals at home for them to bring to school the next day, try some of these tips and tricks to help you get you started:
Keep your most popular fruits, vegetables and snacks stocked up: Make a list of the most commonly-used grocery items like mandarin oranges, cheese sticks, nuts, berries, pretzel sticks, hummus with pita chips or yogurt sticks. Pick the ones that your kids prefer and keep a continual stock of them for handy sides to your lunches. Put these items at the top of your grocery list and check the amount you have on hand before grocery shopping, and cross them off if you have plenty.
Make a weekly plan on the weekend for the next week: Put together a list of meals that you can send with your kids and then create a grocery list from it. Keep your meal plans and grocery lists, that way after four weeks you can rotate and start over with the initial plan. This is an easy way to start over with meal planning without spending a lot of time on them. Be sure to change whatever meals need to be changed (sometimes meals are not as popular as others or repetition gets to be too boring.)
Start with fruits and vegetables: An easy way to build your to go lunches is start with one serving fruit and one serving vegetable such as one small-medium apple with ½ cup baby carrot sticks, or orange slices with ½ cup broccoli, or ½ cup green beans with ½ cup sliced pears. This is a perfect opportunity to try new fruits and vegetables. Remember, it takes usually eight to 10 times before most kids find new foods acceptable so repetition and patience will be key.
Choose lean protein: Lean protein like chicken, fish, low fat beef and low fat pork will be better choices for kids than cuts of meat with higher fat content. Look for “low fat” or “lean cut” on the packaging. Cook your meats up to 165 degrees initially, and then serve them cold (like 3 oz. sliced chicken on a green salad, or meatballs with some ketchup/spaghetti sauce, or sliced turkey in a tortilla wrap).
Finish your healthy lunch plan with whole grains and low fat dairy (or dairy substitute): Whole grains include whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat tortilla wrap, and exotic grains like quinoa, farro, spelt, and bulger. With each meal aim for ½ cup whole grain or more (two whole wheat bread slices will fit this, or ½ cup brown rice). Low fat dairy and dairy substitutes come in all kinds of single serving packages and are easy to store in lunchboxes. One to two percent milk is preferable to whole milk, and low fat chocolate milk can be a nice treat especially on a physically-active day (sports games, P.E. classes, etc.).
Try some new recipes every so often to break up the monotony: Recipes like Brazilian beans and rice, shrimp gumbo, Mediterranean salad and vegetable stir fry can help mix up your meals and help prevent meal skipping or boredom.
Have a backup plan: When life gets busy, as it does sometimes, having a backup plan can help for days when meal planning and grocery shopping are not an option. When you are cooking dinner, cook some extra (double the portions of the recipe) and portion the extra out into individual storage containers. Label them with the title and the date and store them in the freezer (good for six months). These homemade frozen dinners are a great way to grab and go while racing out the door to catch the bus. Some good freezer meals would include lasagna, chicken stir fry, casserole dishes or beans with rice. Keeping stock of favorite snacks and food items make for quick meals that can be thrown together at the last minute.
Join us for a healthy school lunch cooking demonstration at noon Monday, Sept. 11 at St. Luke’s Jerome in the Barley Room. We’ll show you some delicious recipes your family will love. To register, call 208-814-0094.