My food philosophy is to be prepared and keep school lunches simple, balanced and realistic. If you have a creative flair and want to make your food Pinterest worthy great; but as a mom of three my goal on many school days is to get the job done. Sometimes that’s minutes before we need to leave!
If you’ve read my last two posts on school lunches (I consider them must reads for parents of young school age children) you might be considering a Bento Box or already purchased one for your kid(s).
To save your sanity when it comes to packing lunches the key is to set aside some time to do food prep. If you take time to plan ahead and prepare your fridge, cupboards and freezer you can make lunches quick, simple and easy for those times when you intend to pack lunch the night before (me every night!) and put it off until the morning. Let’s call it Pick & Pack, a stress-free version of the Scramble & Toss Together!
Raw Veggie Bucket
We have three voracious veggie monsters (my kids!) who are constantly exposed to vegetables in many ways. I use vegetables to make crafts, we grow them in our backyard urban garden, our kids help to select options at the grocery store and I serve vegetables at meals and snacks either cooked or raw. The biggest success has been when we started our veggie bucket and brought it out at each meal. When washing and cutting up veg for dinner, I often cut extra then toss them into a plastic container that we keep in the fridge. Our favourites include cucumbers, sweet bell peppers, green beans, snap/snow peas, carrot sticks, baby carrots, celery, broccoli florets or halved cherry tomatoes. When pre-cut and stored in the fridge these are ready for snacks, as a quick side for meals or when packing lunches.
Serving Ideas: Add a favourite side like hummus, ranch or caesar dressing for dipping. For a change try serving the same vegetables cut in different ways. Try cucumbers and carrots in both circles and sticks or peppers can be in sticks, rings or baby peppers can be offered whole.
Fun Tip: Try a crinkle cutter to cut veggies in a new fun way.
Frozen Fruit & Vegetables
Stocking your freezer with frozen fruit is great for those times when you run out of fresh fruit, something is out of season or you haven’t had time to get to the store. These can include Raspberries, Blueberries, Mango and Pineapple. Mango and Pineapple are our favourites for school lunches because they are at the perfect ripeness when frozen, come pre-cut, are great sources of vitamin C and fibre and offer a unique fresh flavour. They are a great change in routine over apples, oranges or bananas.
Serving Ideas: Add frozen fruit to a Bento Box or lunch container in the morning and they will be defrosted and ready to eat at lunch.
Fun Tip: For a frozen veggie option try frozen peas, one of my son’s favourites. Add them to the lunch box in the morning and they are ready to eat at lunch.
Stock your pantry with unsweetened fruit sauces, fruit packaged in fruit juice, unsweetened dried fruit, freeze-dried fruit, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, whole grain crackers and seed butters (WowButter or SunButter) for quick to grab options that are easy to Pick & Pack. Our favourite unsweetened dried fruits are blueberries, cherries, cranberries, raisins, pitted dates and apricots. Fruit cups and dried fruit are a great shelf-stable option when provided occasionally and in small portions since they are a more concentrated source of sugar.
Serving Ideas: Add a tablespoon of dried fruit or seeds to the dip/treat well in your bento box or add them to some plain greek yogurt swirled with some unsweetened applesauce.
Fun Tip: As a fast lunch option provide your child with all the ingredients (deconstructed) to make their own yogurt parfait at lunch time. By using greek yogurt, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and maybe adding some sprinkles (chia seeds and hemp hearts) you will be providing some extra fibre, protein and healthy fat to fill their bellies.
Easy to Grab Lunch Ideas
If you’ve gotten this far in the post here is the real treasure!
You can also read my post from earlier in 2017, Quick School Lunch Prep Ideas for Kids where I got together with a fellow mom and we each picked 2-3 recipes and split what we made to have more variety ready for lunches.
I always try to keep a couple homemade batch cooked main lunch options in the freezer for those days when you’re rushed, there are no leftovers and you need to do groceries.
These were our three favourites from the past school year.
- Bake as directed, cool and slice and put into a container or freezer bag.
- Serving Ideas: Add to lunchbox frozen and it will be ready to eat for lunch with some extra pizza sauce for dipping.
- Fun Tip: Substitute lean ham for pepperoni and serve with mustard or ranch for dipping.
- On a weekend morning make a double batch of waffles or pancakes for breakfast. Let the extras cool completely then freeze in a large freezer bag. Ready for weekday breakfast and lunches.
- Serving Ideas: Defrost and cut into strips and put into lunch box with greek yogurt or apple sauce for dipping. Drizzle a little maple syrup on the yogurt or applesauce and top chia seeds, hemp hearts, sunflower seeds and/or pumpkin seeds for some extra protein, fat and fibre.
- Fun Tip: In a blender, puree 2 medium roasted beets or 1 cup of packed spinach with the wet ingredients and add to pancake or waffle batter to make some fun coloured options. *Have your kids help add the vegetables to the blender, this helps increase exposure which leads to acceptance of new vegetables.
- If you want a non-sandwich lunch option or ran out of bread/wraps for lunches having these little or big savory muffins in the freezer are great to make muffin sandwiches.
- Serving Idea: Defrost muffin, cut in half, then top with a spread and some veggies.
- Spreads/Protein: Hummus, mayo, cream cheese, brick cheese, sliced hardboiled egg
- Veggies: mini cucumber, sliced cherry tomato, zucchini, carrot, basil leaf, spinach or lettuce.
- Fun Option: Use a circle cookie cutter to cut veggies, cheese and meat into the perfect sized slices.