Now that school is right around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about one of the most dreaded tasks for parents – packing lunches! It’s always a balancing act – packing balanced, healthy lunches that your kids will actually eat, your own busy schedule and your budget. As a dietitian and a mom, I’m regularly asked by clients for lunch packing tips!
The struggle is real, even for me!
Here are some of my favorite tips for packing easy, delicious, and budget-friendly lunches that kids will actually eat.
First off, you’ve got to check out Flipp.
To make great lunches, you’ve got to be prepared! That means hitting the grocery store for all the food you need.
What better way to organize yourself and save money than to use Flipp? With coupons, price matching, a personalized grocery list, and more, you’ll be on your way to being lunch-savvy in no time!
Protein is paramount!
Aside from helping to build strong muscles, protein also helps kids focus and stay mentally sharp for anything their busy day throws at them. Protein keeps kids full for longer, so they’ll be satisfied all afternoon long.
Some easy, cost-effective protein choices include chicken, ham, tofu, beans, tuna, and eggs. Even Greek yogurt is a great source of protein!
If your kids love chickpeas, my smashed chickpeas with avocado and lemon are the perfect protein-packed lunch, either stuffed into a sandwich or on their own with a side of veggies!
Get kids invested.
Kids tend to eat more when they’re involved in the planning and preparation of meals. Why not bring the kids with you to grocery shop? They can choose the fruit and vegetables they’d like to bring in their lunches. At home, organize a lunch shelf with pre-prepared items in your pantry and refrigerator and get the kids to help make their lunches. The only rule? Each lunch should have at least four of the five food groups: fruit, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy.
Lunch doesn’t necessarily need to be an entrée with side dishes. Bento-style lunches are fun for kids to eat and can be just as nutritious as a traditional-style lunch. Items such as hummus and crackers or vegetables, hard boiled eggs, cheese, seeds (nuts if your school doesn’t prohibit them), and rolled or sliced meats are perfect for little fingers to pick up and enjoy.
Be creative with leftovers!
Leftovers are one of the easiest options for lunches. Leftover sweet potato and black beans can be put into a soft tortilla with cheddar cheese and bam: a burrito! Leftover pasta? Add a can of tuna in olive oil, some Parmesan cheese, and a few green peas to make my kids’ all-time favorite meal, served hot or cold. Got some extra macaroni and cheese? Heat it with broccoli and put it into a thermos. Rice hanging around the fridge? Fry it up quickly with a beaten egg, some sesame oil, and frozen vegetables. Easy!
Always remember – food safety is key. Keep hot foods hot by filling your empty thermos with boiling water. Let sit for 5-10 minutes, then pour the water out and wipe the thermos dry. Now it’s ready to fill with hot food.
Keep cold foods cold by making sure you pack them with enough freezer packs. Foods like yogurt and some fruits – like grapes – can be packed frozen, and they can help make the rest of the lunch cold, too!
What are your favorite back to school lunches to make?
Abby Langer RD is a communications and consulting dietitian based in Toronto, Canada. Abby has been a dietitian since 1999, and has recently moved into the media and culinary areas of the profession. She is a regular HuffPost blogger and has been featured in radio, print, and television media in both the US and Canada.
Abby also loves to develop recipes and most of all, she loves to eat! She’s an avid kettlebell-lifter and runner, and is always up for trying fun new foods and experiences.
Abby lives at home in Toronto with her husband, her two sweet daughters, and her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Sammy. Abby can be found on Twitter @langernutrition, and Instagram at langernutrition. Her website is www.abbylangernutrition.com.