Back-to-School Lunches: Tips & Tricks

As a follow-up to my school breakfast post, I want to share my strategies for healthy school lunches. As I said, we are not morning people. There is not much time to get everything ready and everyone out of the house. My philosophy: Prepping and planning are key. If it is not there, we can’t eat it, so make sure it is there. 

I want to emphasize that I don’t make these packed lunches fancy! I am about simple, quick and easy—all made possible by planning and prepping.

Prepping

My goal is to go to the grocery store every week or even two times a week, but honestly, that is not always possible. To get the most bang out of my time and wallet, I make a list on my phone. If I make the list on a piece of paper, it never fails that that piece of paper is sitting on my counter when it is time to shop. I make my list from staples needed and from my meal planning.

Planning

I strive to plan all three meals each day.  Ugh, you may be saying—yeah, its work, I’m not going to deny that. If I don’t plan, then we don’t eat or we don’t eat well. I also plan for two kid’s breakfast, a child lunch and family dinner. For myself, I make a shake daily for breakfast and leftovers for lunch—so it’s not as horrendous as you may think.

To plan the lunches, first we go through the monthly school menu and pick out what days my son wants to eat school lunch. Yes, I let him eat school lunch—even on hot dog day.  Most days he takes his lunch, I know what healthy foods he is eating at home, so to me it balances out.  I ask him what foods he would like in his lunch; I’ll listen, but typically veto many options. When kids think they have input they are more apt to eat it 🙂

I like to keep the #plategoals ( ½ of the plate is non-starchy vegetables, ¼ is whole grains/fruits/starchy vegetables and ¼ is lean protein) in mind when packing lunches. Offer variety and keep portion sizes small. Remember there is no “parent fail” if you don’t get a veggie in their lunch, however, encourage them to snack on some after school and to include them at dinner. I try to include at least two colors of plant-based foods at lunch. Not only does this boost the nutritional quality, but it also makes the meal more colorful and fun! Examples: orange carrots and frozen pineapple tidbits, plum tomatoes and green grapes, black bean dip and frozen mango chunks.

On those rare days when I have an extra minute, I try to label a container or two with little post it notes, like “magnificent mango” or “tasty hummus”—it may help the lunchbox come home empty.

Packing 

I plan, make my list, grocery shop, have it at home, prep it and send it. What do I send it in? I like containers, like these, that have the three compartments. They make it easy to have multiple items in the lunch box without colliding and smashing.  I am not a fan of the character lunch boxes; nothing against the characters, but they are just not big enough for the containers. We got a lunchbox this year that fits the containers, lays flat, and the handle on top to hold the containers flat.  If the handle is on the side, making the container on its side, it always leaks.

If your child’s school doesn’t have a refrigerator for cold lunches, then you need to make sure there is also room for an ice pack to help keep the lunch cool. If the lunch doesn’t stay cool then bacteria grows and the not so good happens—you get the idea.

Unpacking

When the lunchbox comes home, wipe it down and wash the container to use again.  Those lunchboxes can come home nasty at times and fill with lots of bacteria. Don’t forget about the box and wiping down the ice pack.

Here are some quick, simple healthy foods my kids will eat.

  • Sandwiches with
    • Bread, tortilla, flat bread, English muffin, bagel, day old Jimmy John bread and pita pockets.
    • To help mix it up I try to add fun shapes to the sandwich by using sandwich cutters or cookie cutter and sandwich kabobs.
  • Leftovers
  • Entrees
    • Bagels with cream cheese, quesadilla, nachos, ravioli and pasta.
  • Fruit
    • Applesauce, fresh fruit (apple slices, grapes, orange slices, cutie or pear), or canned fruit, canned in light syrup.
  • Vegetables
    • Salad with salad dressing in a small cup to drizzle on, raw veggies with ranch dressing or hummus to dip in, or cold roasted vegetables.
  • Grains
    • Whole-wheat crackers, pretzels, goldfish crackers, or baked chips.
  • Treats
    • One cookie, rice Krispy treat, Oreo, or tootsie roll.

I want to emphasize that I don’t make these packed lunches fancy! I am about simple, quick and easy—all made possible by planning and prepping. There is no foolproof way to make sure your kids will eat their lunch while at school, but you can at least know you are doing your part for their health. Happy Back to School!

Back-to-school Breakfasts: Tips & Tricks

Back to school they go! On top of shopping for school supplies, arranging schedules, and all that goes in to preparing our kids for the new school year, it can be challenging to put together quick, easy and healthy breakfasts and lunches. Today, I’m going to share with you my dietitian breakfast tips.

Try these quick, easy and healthy breakfast tips and tricks to make back-to-school mornings a breeze.

In my household, we are not morning people. We push getting up until the last possible moment, hit the snooze button 6 times and then say, “CRAP, we are late!”. You would think after the first week of doing this, we would start to change our habits, but unfortunately, that is not the case. This all leads me to why quick, easy and healthy breakfast tips and tricks will make back-to-school mornings a breeze.

I know you are wiggling in your chair right now trying to figure out what I feed my kids. Let me preface by stating I can’t make this happen without PLANNING and having the food available. If the food isn’t there, we can’t eat it! Here are some things I like to keep on hand for breakfast and 6 of our go-to breakfasts.


CLICK HERE TO PRINT OFF ALL 6 RECIPES!


  • Fruit: fresh, frozen and canned
  • Whole Grains: quick oats, 100% whole wheat break, English muffins
  • Eggs & Dairy: eggs, milk (cow’s milk, almond milk or soy milk), light/non-fat greek yogurt, low fat cottage cheese
  • Vegetables: salsa, tomatoes, frozen peppers and onions

Banana Pops

Ingredients

  • popsicle sticks
  • bananas
  • Greek yogurt
    • Substitute: peanut butter or chocolate hazelnut spread
  • unsweetened cereal
  • optional: mini chocolate chips or coconut shreds or raisins

Instructions

  1. Peel the banana, cut in half and insert popsicle stick.
  2. Dip the banana in yogurt, or coat with a knife.
  3. Roll in cereal and optional items.
  4. Place on parchment or wax lined cookie sheet and freeze. Keep in the freezer until ready to eat.

‘Pop Tart’ Toast

Ingredients

  • 2 slices whole wheat bread
  • 1 tsp. butter or peanut butter
    • Substitute: chocolate hazelnut spread or cream cheese
  • 1 Tbsp. jelly/jam

Instructions

  1. Lightly butter/peanut butter both pieces of bread.
  2. Spread the jam/jelly onto one slice of the bread leaving about a ½ inch border. Then top with the remaining slice of bread.
  3. Cut the crust off the bread and seal the 2 slices of bread together using the tines of a fork. Put in the toaster and then the ‘pop tart’ is ready.
  4. You can also add fresh fruit for more flavor and nutritional quality.

Tortilla Wrap

Ingredients

  • 1 egg (can be whole egg, egg substitute or egg white)
  • Fillings: cheese, avocado, tomato, salsa, jalapeno, etc.
  • 1 whole-wheat tortilla

Instructions

  1. Scramble an egg.
  2. Mix in cheese, avocado, tomato, salsa, jalapeno—really whatever you like mixed with a scrambled egg.
  3. Place this inside a tortilla, wrap as a burrito and eat.
  4. Freeze up to one month. Microwave to thaw and cook.

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

These are a treat in our household, and what is fabulous is the kids don’t even know there is a vegetable in it.  

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1-3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.
  3. In a bowl, mix together eggs, oil and buttermilk.
  4. Add in all of the dry ingredients, including spices. Mix thoroughly.
  5. Stir in zucchini.
  6. Fill the prepared muffin tin liners about 3/4 of the way.
  7. Bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the center muffin comes out mostly clean. Let cool.
  8. Divide into freezer Ziploc bags and freeze or leave some in fridge for the next few days.
  9. Serve a fruit or yogurt.

Egg and Cheese Mini Muffins

Ingredients

  • 6 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/3 cup grated cheddar cheese

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Spray miniature muffin pan thoroughly with cooking spray or grease with butter.
  3. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, and pepper.
  4. Pour egg mixture into prepared pan, filling cups about 2/3 full.
  5. Sprinkle cheese evenly among the cups.
  6. Bake for approximately 8-10 minutes, or until eggs set.
  7. Allow to cool in pan for a few minutes before removing to a wire rack. When completely cooled, muffins can be wrapped in plastic and frozen.
  8. When ready to eat, simply microwave each mini muffin for 15-30 seconds, or until heated through.
  9. Serve these with fruit.

Freezer Ready French Toast Sticks

Ingredients

  • 1 loaf bread
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • butter

Instructions

  1. Slice each slice of bread into 3 sticks.
  2. Mix the eggs, milk, vanilla and cinnamon.
  3. Heat griddle to a medium-low temperature and heat butter on top of griddle.
  4. Put slices of bread into the egg mixture and place onto the griddle until griddle is full.
  5. Cook on each side until browned.
  6. Remove and set on a plate. Repeat cooking steps until all are done.
  7. To freeze: Lay cooked sticks on a greased cookie sheet. Freeze for at least a couple of hours. Then put in a freezer bag. Microwave for about 10-15 seconds when ready to eat. I don’t typically serve with syrup when in the car, as it can make a big sticky mess.

Food storage tips

Food

We have a 30-minute drive to town so we are typically eating our breakfast in the car. Rubbermaid TakeAlongs square food divided storage containers makes it great to have multiple items at breakfast without meshing and getting all over the car.

Beverages

Having a spill-proof cup is necessary for breakfast on the go in the car. Our go-to beverage for breakfast is milk or Carnation Instant Breakfast Light Start mixed with milk.

9 Tips for Packing a School Lunch

I’m starting to shed tears thinking about school starting back up again. I’m sending my first born off to kindergarten this year. I cry anytime I think about it, and believe it or not, I’m shedding some tears while writing this post. 

We did everything to prepare for the first day of school: final registration, school physical and immunization, dental visit, eye exam, purchased backpack, school supplies, gym shoes, new school clothes…but then my son comes to me and asks me about his lunchbox. Light bulb! I am going to have to start packing a lunch.  Now don’t get me wrong, he can learn to eat a few school lunches, but I’m still going to be packing quite a few lunches to make sure he is nutritionally sound at lunch.  I have put my dietitian mommy hat on and put together 9 tips to help pack a nutritious school lunch.

I have put my dietitian mommy hat on and put together 9 tips to help pack a nutritious school lunch.

 1) Get your kids involved by asking them about their favorite foods they would like to see in their lunch. I know you may get some off the wall ideas and candy cannot be an entrée, but a treat every once in a while won’t hurt.

2) Have your kids  help you pack their lunch the night before. The more you get them involved, the more likely they will eat the food! Bonus, you have one less item on your morning to-do list.

3) Think of quick, healthy foods like fruit smoothies, whole grain crackers and string cheese. If Here’s a little trick to make smoothies last, make enough smoothies for a couple days –then just drop in ice cubes in the thermos the next morning.

4) Remember the #plategoals (Half the plate is non-starchy vegetables, ¼ is whole grains/fruits/starchy vegetables and ¼ is lean protein). Use this as an opportunity to teach your children about the food groups and fruits and vegetables.  There is no parent fail if you don’t get a veggie in their lunch, however, encourage them to snack on some after school and to include them at dinner.

plategoals

5) Try to include at least 2 colors of plant-based foods at lunch. For example: orange carrots and frozen pineapple tidbits, plum tomatoes and green grapes, black bean dip and frozen mango chunks. Not only does this boost the nutritional quality, but it also makes the meal more colorful and fun!

6) Invest in a fun new lunch box, an ice pack, and some food containers your kids help pick out. I’ve learned that younger kids often times have to see the food through the container to be interested in opening it, so clear lunch food containers may increase the odds of it being opened and eaten. Big on the market are Bento boxes.

7) If you have an extra minute, which I know we don’t usually, try and label a container or two with little post it notes, like “magnificent mango” or “tasty hummus” –it may help the lunchbox come home empty.

8) Offer variety, but remember to keep portion sizes small. Try 5 pieces of sliced apples sprinkled with cinnamon, a small turkey and cheese wrap and a small square of black bean brownie with an 8oz carton of milk. With small different options, you are increasing the chances your child will get a balanced meal at lunch.

9) Add fun shapes to the sandwich by using sandwich cutters or even a cookie cutter. Shaping foods make meals more appealing, and doesn’t take much time.

There is no fool proof way to make sure your kids will eat their lunch while at school, but you can at least know you are doing your part for their health. Happy Back to School!!

Megan Klemm

 

 
 

Starch Free Back To School Lunch Options

“Back to school…back to school…” Anyone else remember this song from Billy Madison? It’s finally that time of year again. School supply shopping is at its peak, new backpacks and wardrobes are picked out and the everyday decision of what to pack for your child’s lunch returns. kid_school_03B41076Too often, our children’s lunches are overflowing with starches and processed carbohydrates (bread, pretzels, chips, crackers, cereal bars and sweets). Excessive consumption of processed carbs can cause insulin and glucose spikes in the blood stream as well as provide a continuous craving for carbohydrates. This school year, try experimenting with some lower processed meal options. Below are a few ideas to help your child consume a well-balanced, bread-less meal.

  1. ½-1 cup cottage cheese + red and yellow bell pepper and cucumber slices + unsweetened applesauce and grapes.
  2. ½ cup hummus + carrot, celery and sugar snap peas + 2 deviled eggs + fresh berries
  3. ½ cup chicken salad + 1 oz nut thins + apple slices + 2 tbsp peanut butter
  4. 6 oz Greek yogurt + blueberries and fresh peach slices + walnuts + cheese stick + broccoli and cauliflower florets with ranch dressing dip
  5. Turkey, cheese, chopped tomato + (mayo made with olive oil or mustard) roll-ups + spinach salad + 2 cuties
  6. 2 egg muffins  + banana + 2 tbsp almond butteregg muffins
  7.  1/2 – 3/4 cup taco seasoned ground turkey + fresh spinach + sautéed peppers and onions + pinch of shredded cheese + mango slices (pack a small bowl so turkey taco ingredients can be combined together)
  8. 1 chicken or turkey sausage + sweet potato salad  + 1 kiwi
  9. 1 gluten-free protein bar (Quest Bar or Larabar for example)+ mini fruit kabobs (pineapple, blueberry and strawberry slices) + mini caprese kabob (tomato + basil + hard mozzarella)
  10. Lettuce boats (big leaf lettuce topped with diced chicken, diced avocado, tomato and shredded cheese) + apple sandwich (slice apples with almond butter spread in between and sprinkled with a few chocolate chips)