The end of August used to bring up a lot of feelings for me when I was teaching. A whole lot of, "Holy cow, where did the summer go?" or "Dang, I never got ___ done this summer." or "Do I really HAVE to go back to work?" Just seeing a back to school add on tv (I swear they start those in June!) would send me down a spiral of anxiety.
Clearly I wasn't meant to be an elementary school teacher.
But what I would get excited about was finding new recipes that would be good for meal prep! I think I WAS meant to teach people how to meal prep.
I have tons of experience prepping lunch for the week for the school setting. I haven't packed kid lunches, but as a former educator, I've got a pretty good perspective on how to make your child's school lunch efficient, healthy, and something they will actually eat. I also have a few healthy recipes that are perfect for a no microwave, no refrigeration situation. Additionally, many of these recommendations are things you can do once and be set for the week. No scrambling each morning to throw something together.
Here they are- 4 tips for school lunches and 4 meal preps you can do!
Tip 1: Pack Ready-to-Eat Food
This tip is especially good for the little kids, like K-3. If they are bringing something that is packaged and is hard to open, it can take a chunk of time out of their lunch. When I would help in the lunchroom (a ratio of about 3 adults to 150-200 kids) I would often find students with 2 minutes left of lunch that hadn't eaten anything because they were waiting for an adult to come and open a package of something for them. This was then occasionally followed by a discussion with frustrated parents because their child wasn't eating at school.
What to do: If you want something that is packaged in your child's lunch, either toss it into an easy-to-open container or have them practice opening it at home. This goes for yogurt containers, fruit that needs peeling, cracker packages, and even juice boxes.
Tip 2: Ask Your Child What They Want
It is shocking how much food kids throw away during lunch. It can be for so many reasons- it's a time to talk with their friends and they forget to eat, there is too much for them to eat in the short amount of time they have for lunch, or they go for the "treat" in their lunch and don't really want to eat anything else.I saw it so often, this perfectly packed, homemade lunch that a well intentioned parent put together literally thrown away, brown bag and all.
What to do: Ask your kids what they want. If they have input they will be much more likely to actually eat what you pack. Take it one step further and have them help you pack it. If all they want are cookies and chips, find a nutrient dense cookie recipe they like ( my No Guilt-No Bake cookies perhaps?) and pair it with some real-food crackers + hummus + a couple veggies. Done.
Tip 3: They Don't Need Much
Lunches seem to get a bit full. Honestly, in my experience, lunch is about 15-20 minutes. They might have a 30 minute lunch period (if they are lucky), but 5 of that is walking to the lunch room and getting settled, 3 of that is cleaning and lining up, and a BIG chunk is talking with friends. Kids use their lunchtime to socialize, as we do as adults, and it is great! But they get busy talking and forget about eating and end up running out of time.
What to do: Keep it simple. Again, ask them what one or two things they want, pack that, and add in a fruit (already peeled, if necessary) or veggie you know they like. If they are getting a good breakfast, a snack when they get home from school, and a hearty dinner, a smaller lunch will be enough. Again, many of them don't eat the bigger lunches anyway.
Tip 4: Try to Get in a Balanced Macronutrient Load
If you want your kiddo to have sustained energy and a clear mind to absorb all of the great tutelage he/she is about to encounter, try to get a good balance of carbs-protein-fat-veggies in their lunchbox. A balanced macronutrient lunchbox will avoid energy crashes, brain fog, lethargy, and crazy energy surges.
What to do: Read my lunchbox meal prep ideas below!
4 School Lunch Meal Preps
Ok, now that you have gotten a little nutritionist/former teacher perspective, here are some lunchbox meal prepping ideas for you and your little guys to tryout!
1. PB&J Reboot Meal Prep~
Sprouted wrap (Food For Life makes a great one) + almond butter + a drizzle of honey + blueberries/berry of choice- Make this the morning of or have your child do it!
Hard boiled egg (peeled) + favorite veggies- Can boil eggs at the beginning of the week and peel each morning. Wash and chop veggies at the beginning of the week, grabbing what they want the morning of.
2. Quick Smashed Chickpea Salad Meal Prep~
Smashed chickpea salad + sprouted wrap/large pieces of greens/real-food crackers- Make this at the beginning of the week and add it to the lunchbox each morning or portion out into small containers for the week.
Apple + cheese or nut/seed butter- Rinse apples for the week and portion cheese/nut butters for the week in small containers.
3. Chicken Wrap Meal Prep~
Roasted chicken, shredded + shredded carrots/cabbage slaw + avocado on a sprouted wrap- Roast the chicken at the beginning of the week and pull off chunks the morning of. Make the slaw at the beginning of the week. Cut avocado a day or two before. The morning of, wrap ingredients together and place in lunchbox with a small icepack. So good, you may want it for your own lunch!
Favorite veggies + dark chocolate chunks or No Guilt- No Bake Cookie- Can make and portion at the beginning of the week.
4. Cowboy Caviar Meal Prep~
Cowboy caviar + real-food tortilla chips- Make cowboy caviar at the beginning of the week and portion out. Keep tortilla chips in their own portioned containers.
Favorite fruit and veggies, ready to eat
What is your favorite meal to pack in your child's lunch? What do they enjoy eating the most? Share below!
Wishing you all a happy and easy back to school!