Back to school means back to packing lunches. Time's already at a premium in the a.m. between serving breakfast, signing off on homework and packing backpacks.
The added task of filling lunchboxes with quick-to-fix nutritious foods that kids like is quite a challenge. Make the morning rush more manageable with these time-saving, tasty tips.
Make a plan. Sit down with your kids and plan a week's worth of lunches. Make a list of options for different categories: sandwiches or entrées; vegetables; fruits; and dessert/snacks (if desired). Let the kids design their own lunches by choosing one item from each column. They can buy beverages such as low-fat milk, 100% juice or water at school.
Set up a system. Being organized is the key to simplifying the lunch-packing process. Set up separate refrigerator drawers, containers or baskets filled with the fixins'.
For sandwiches, store lean lunchmeat, pre-sliced reduced-fat cheese or cheese sticks, peanut butter and jelly, and condiments together in the fridge.
Put veggies such as baby carrots, red peppers, snow peas and to-go packages of carrots and dip or celery and peanut butter in one basket and fruits in another. Since kids tend to eat more fruits and veggies when they're cut up, slice and dice the evening before or buy pre-cut items.
Keep whole-grain breads, rolls, tortillas and crackers in a basket on the counter.
Group together parent-approved snack and dessert items such as whole-grain pretzels, canned fruit cups packed in natural juice, single-serve cans of 100% fruit and vegetable juice, and "treats" such as cookies and chips. Stick with one small lunchbox treat per day.
Get out of the sandwich rut. Send a thermos of hot and hearty soup, stew or chili. Prepare batches on the weekend and freeze some for another week, too.
Enlist kids' help. As they get older, they can pack their own lunches, which encourages them to eat it, not toss or trade it.
Try these out-of-the-ordinary lunch ideas. With a little organization, they take just minutes to put together:
It's a Wrap. Layer sliced turkey, reduced-fat cheese and baby spinach leaves on a whole-grain flatbread spread with sweet honey mustard. Roll and wrap in foil. Add a package of baby carrots and dip and a bunch of grapes.
Mexican Fiesta. Spread a whole-grain tortilla with fat-free refried beans. Sprinkle with shredded reduced-fat Mexican cheese blend and fold like a burrito. Accompany with jicama sticks and a container of frozen mango chunks (they'll defrost by lunchtime).
Petite Pitas. Stuff two mini whole-grain pitas with chicken or tuna salad made with reduced-fat mayo and minced red and green pepper. Send with snow peas, orange smiles (cut-up wedges), and a handful of "clear out the cupboard concoction:" Mix the last bits of any cereal, pretzels, dried fruit and nuts with a sprinkle of chocolate chips.
Tortilla Pizza. Make a pizza version of a quesadilla: heat a small whole-grain tortilla spread with tomato sauce and sprinkled with reduced-fat mozzarella cheese and diced veggies. Top with another tortilla, flip, and cook until browned. When cool, slice into triangles like a pizza. Pack it along with red pepper strips and a fruit cup.