If there's something that makes me happy during the school year mornings is knowing that I have the kids' lunches ready to go and filled with good and healthy food! I need my time in the morning...to wake up, have my breakfast and drink my coffee without rushing or running around getting everyone and everything ready in time for school.
I always wake up way earlier than I really need just to make sure that I get some morning time for myself. I don't do chaos - I hate hectic mornings which usually give me a headache and a bad day, overall. I rather wake up earlier and be able to have a scheduled routine with everything prepared. This doesn't mean that the lunchbox is completely packed and ready to go, it may only need some finishing touches, I'd say 5-10 minutes to get them filled and complete to go into the lunch bags and then everyone gets breakfast before heading out the door.
The only way to make this happen is to meal prep on Sunday. We can go around this issue and try to figure out other ways to make it work but it really is the only way to do it...honestly, I'd rather take a couple of hours on Sunday than put that stress on me on the weekdays.
It's more than worth it!
My husband usually takes his lunch to work too, so I have three lunches to make for the day. As for me I always make sure to cook something extra and loads of veggies that I can always pair with some cooked protein from the previous night's dinner or I can just have a vegan bowl which has been happening a lot lately!
Basics on lunchbox meals
I've always made a single meal for all of us, since the kids started eating "regular food". Cooking two different meals just didn't seem right, or possible, and I believe it is the best way to expose children to different foods and ingredients. They won't like everything we give them but they will start to get used to a diversified diet and that will help them to keep being curious about food.
I never get angry at them if they don't like something, which rarely happens. My 10 year old son loves to eat so there's no problem there! My 7 year old daughter is a bit different...she usually doesn't like spicy food, a lot of fresh herbs on her food or new things, in general. I usually have a couple of veggie options for lunch/dinner so there's always something for everyone.
This might seem a lot of work, having two veggie options at every meal but with meal prep Sunday things get way more easy and manageable. As you know, since I did my whole30 I've maintained the habit of meal prepping which allows for a smoother meal routine.
The basics for lunchbox meal prep are basically the same as for the regular meal prep:
1. First go over your fridge and pantry to make sure that you don't have fresh produce that might be about to go bad, in order to incorporate it on your meal prep. I usually do this on Friday night or Saturday morning and I use whatever I got leftover from the week to cook our weekend meals.
2. The second thing will be making a list of your kids' favorites - write down a list of proteins, veggies, fruit, grains and snacks. After this first time all you have to do at the beginning of each week is go back to this list and match some perfect pairings to have the weekly lunchbox menu done. After that week try to switch the meals to a different day of the following week and change the sides so that you can always give them something different. Kids get bored easily!
3. After having that list done go back to your pantry to check what you've got and what you'll be needing to shop for the week. Make your shopping list and remember to stick to it when you're at the grocery store! A great trick to save you time is to try and make some family meals from a meal that they like, this way you can prep their lunch and a weeknight family meal at the same time just by doubling the recipe!
4. Check what lunchboxes are still good from the previous year or if someone needs a upgrade! Older kids need more food and younger kids might eat a bit less so try to consider that when choosing your lunchbox. This year I took the leap and got my 10 year old son a PlanetBox Rover lunchbox - I can't wait for him to start using it! I've heard wonders about this product and I can't wait to try it out. They are expensive but very durable and spacious. I'll leave the links for the lunchboxes so you can choose which one will suit your needs the best.
I always find Amazon to be the best site to look through and compare different products because it also allows you to read the reviews written by other people that have already bought the item you're thinking of buying. That is an extremely tool for me and I always find the information that I'm looking for! The Rover PlanetBox can be found here:
For my 7 year old daughter I have the Yumbox that she totally adores! The different compartments with the drawings and writings are perfect for kids and make them even more excited about lunchtime! Find it on Amazon:
For me and my husband I have a BentoGo which works perfectly for carrying the meal and the fruit/salad in the adjacent compartment: the size is good and the lunchbox is pretty functional and pretty. The fact that the fork, spoon and knife fit inside the containers is also pretty neat and useful.
5. Check if you have adequate containers to do your meal prep. The amount and the type of container is also important - I've decided to switch to glass storage containers since I've become interested in a greener way of life. Also, besides the good option of ditching the plastic I was shocked about the amount of bacteria and other harmful stuff that can get stuck in plastic containers! No wonder we can't wash them properly...even when we think we do there's always something left there due to the porosity of the plastic itself! So, just check if you need to buy some containers and head on to the next step!
6. Do your shopping trip, preferably alone! This way you can be sure to get JUST what was on your list and not another toy, snack or candy that wasn't there...we've all been there, haven't we?! Don't forget to also shop for snacks - I'll be also making a post about healthy school snack options. It's extremely important in what regards snacks to make sure that your kids' school has a "safe school snack list" to make sure that you don't send anything that they might not be able to eat.
7. Now that you have everything you need to make your lunches for the week, just get prepping! Wash and cut the fruit and veggies yourself because buying them pre-cut is way more expensive and, most of the times, you don't even know how long the produce has been in that container...also, less plastic, less waste!
I've placed below two pictures from my fruit and veggies meal prep. Having this items already washed and ready to place in the lunchboxes is a life saving hack! I can't stress enough how this is the foundation of a smooth week in what comes to packing lunches for kids and adults! To be able to take and go anything from these containers makes a huge difference and it shows us that preparation leads to a healthy lifestyle and good choices. EVERY, SINGLE, DAY.
This veggies are some of the staples at our house. Both the kids love them so we always go around rotating them throughout the week. Whatever I see that's being leftover I usually try to incorporate in our dinner meals to make sure that nothing goes to waste. The only thing missing is the cherry tomatoes that I forget to buy on Sunday and had to rush and pick up on Monday morning.
For example, this week I saw that the carrots weren't getting as much love as the other veggies so I decided to throw them in the soup pot and make a creamy carrot soup with lentils, turmeric and spinach, which is a leafy veggie that I always have frozen to use in a situation like this. Who doesn't like a creamy, rich and delicious soup?!
It's always a matter of choosing your family's favorites and try to incorporate them in the daily meals in a fun and different way. As I've already mentioned kids get bored really fast!
So, put up a list and just start trying out the meal prep game, I assure you it will be something that will stick with you for good!
I've also written this blog post about meal prep when I was doing my whole30, so be sure to check it out too because it has really great tips for a weekly meal prep for the whole family. I assure you that, at first, it may seem a bit daunting, it also did feel that way to me, but now I can not live without it and it's what makes me feel in control of my family's meals and good choices!
A week of healthy school lunches
Now that you have the basics for planning your kids' school lunches lets get to work and build those satisfying and healthy meals that will nourish them and put a smile on their face whenever the time comes for them to open the lunchbox at the school cafeteria!
We must remember something here. It's the beginning of the school year and we're all excited for school to start - kids are eager to get together with their friends, learn new things or get to know a new school and a new daily routine and the parents are off to their regular dairy routines too. At first we're all going to be able to get those sandwiches really pretty with those cutter we just bought from Amazon but by December we may feel like this is too much and that's OK! Just keep prepping and making sure that what's in the lunchbox is healthy and it's something that the kids like, none of us is perfect and a regular sandwich is totally fine! Don't put too much stress on you or everything will become harder and stressful. All you need is some time over to weekend to plan and, knowing the time you have available to get the lunches finished in the morning, just use what you have and the time you have to make it work.
These are some ideas from lunches that my kids like. Some of them have something that my daughter likes the most and some of them are my son's favorites. I hope they inspire you to build your own weekly lunchbox menus and, if you need any help, feel free to email me with your questions and I'll make sure to try to get back to you as soon as possible.
Lunchbox 1 - Ham wrap and fresh veggies and fruit
Take the fresh fruit and veggies from your pre-cut essentials that you have from Sunday meal prep and add some chopped walnuts (or any other nut that your kid may like) for healthy fat and all you have to do is make the wrap which you can prepare the night before and keep it in the fridge until putting it on the lunchbox in the morning!
I chose cherries and green seedless grapes to have some more color which is something that always gets the kids' attention. Trying to make things appealing really does pay off and encourages them to eat what they think is pretty and exciting!
I smeared some avocado mayo on a wrap and added some romaine lettuce leaves, carrots sticks and 3 slices of oven roasted ham. Rolled it up, holding everything very tightly and sliced it so I could fit everything in the lunchbox. If you prepare the wrap the night before, keep it in a sealed container and you just need to slice it in the morning.
I think these lunchbox cards are just adorable! There are a lot of printable options too, if you look them up online. It's something that I love to send to school everyday so that the kids feel like their lunch really is important to me and that I care that they like what I prepare for them. The kit I got is super cute, gender neutral and has a super price as of now - get it while you can!
That's it! Easy and peasy - one lunch down, four more to go!
Tuesday - Grilled shrimp with sticky rice balls
Don't go thinking around that I cooked the shrimps specially for the lunchbox! That would be going overboard, indeed!
We had them grilled the night before and I added some extra so I could have some leftover for the kids' lunches! That's something that I always think about - what protein can I cook extra the night before to incorporate in the lunchboxes for the next day. That's way prepping is SO important!
The fruit and veggies are from the meal prep containers that are sitting in the fridge just waiting for me to pick them up when I'm assembling the lunches. This time I chose fresh cucumber slices, carrot sticks, black olives, diced pineapple and blueberries.
The sticky rice balls were a new experiment and it worked out really well and both the kids loved them! I prepared the sushi rice according to the instructions on the package and then transferred the cooked rice to a glass bowl. When the rice was still warm but manageable by hand I used a table spoon measure to scoop out a rice ball and, with my hands slightly wet I molded the rice just a little bit. I placed the balls on a tray and after finishing them all I placed them in an air tight container and kept them in the fridge. These sticky rice balls are perfect for lunchbox lunches because the kids can just hold them by hand and eat them with no need for forks or any other utensil. Also, they are really cute!
I sprinkled some sesame seeds on some of the balls and I'll be sure to look for black sesame seeds for some color, that should be fun! The little toothpicks are perfect for holding small foods and I'm sure I wouldn't mind having some for myself. Even though I'm an adult I sometimes find myself looking for those cute animal picks to have some blueberries too!
Wednesday - Meatballs with pasta, green beans and mushrooms
The other day I decided to make some meatballs using the Mighty Spark Food ground bruschetta mix. I love this brand because it has the most delicious and creative meat products I've ever seen and I haven't tried one that I haven't liked!
With 2 lbs of ground meat I did a batch of meatballs which I separated in two portions - I froze one of the portions for quick weeknight dinners and I cooked the rest of the meatballs to have during this week. I was even able to get two hamburger patties out of this amount of meat and I decided to freeze them in my Tupperware container that I used for my "Salmon cakes two ways" that you can find here.
For this lunch I sauteed some mushrooms in olive oil and seasoned them with salt, pepper and fresh thyme. I had some leftover cooked pasta and I added some cooked green beans - to make sure that the pasta wouldn't become sticky in the container I decided to give it a toss in a pan adding just a bit of olive oil.
After everything was cooked it was just a matter of assembling everything in the little lunchbox compartments. I also added some tomato sauce as a dip for the meatballs, fresh carrots and some black olives. Honeydew melon was already cut up so I just added that too.
Thursday - Black eyed pea tuna salad with a hard boiled egg
My son LOVES this salad! Although this is my daughter's lunchbox I'm using some favorites from both of them so I can give you a better notion about the meals we eat as a family. It's such a simple recipe and it keeps pretty well in the fridge for 3-4 days, just make sure to season it when you're serving it and not before.
I used one can of tuna and that was enough for four portions of salad, which is pretty good! In a large bowl I added the tuna, a can of black eyed peas, some freshly chopped parsley and diced peppers (I used a mix of orange and red to keep it colorful).
At the time of serving or putting the salad in the lunchbox add a bit of olive oil and salt. I added extra protein with a hard boiled egg and also kept the salad theme with some romaine lettuce leaves, cherry tomatoes, black olives and fresh cucumber. I used a cutter to get that fish shape and it just took me a couple of minutes, using the already sliced cucumber that I had in the fridge.
For fruit today we chose two clementines.
Friday - Peanut butter and jelly sandwich with veggie chips
The last lunch of the week was more a mainstream one! The kids weren't used to having sandwiches for lunch back in Portugal but now they like to have them for lunch, once in a while. Today I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with some whole grain seeded bread and used a puzzle shaped cutter to cut out little pieces of the sandwich. I really have to get the accessory sandwich tray for this yumbox because it is way more spacious to fit a whole sandwich than this one!
I added some veggies chips from this brand that we like. I always look at the ingredient list and try to choose a snack option that represents "the less of two evils"! I limit the processed food my kids have in a week but they need to have some chips that they can have and as long as we take note of what is eaten and in what amounts, I think it is perfectly fine. A balanced diet is the final goal, not total deprivation!
I'll be working on a blog post about snacks that I buy for my family and what options you have if you're looking to get your kids on a healthier lifestyle. It's good to have, at least 4-5 options from which they can choose what to have in their lunch.
For veggies today I added fresh celery sticks with ranch dressing. That's another important issue - choosing dressings that are made with all natural ingredients and no added sugar, so that we and our children can enjoy them without not only the guilt but also the unhealthy consequences. I like the Tessamaes "Organic Creamy Ranch" which I buy maybe 2 bottles a year. We don't use much as you can tell but the kids like to dip their veggies on it, once in a while.
For fruit we had green seedless grapes and also some mixed nuts.
I hope you liked my suggestions and that this post was an inspiration to get some freshness and healthy ideas in your kids' lunches and yours too! I would love to get some feedback from all you moms and dads out there that struggle with packing lunches for school:
What information do you need to get your packing routine smoother?
Would you like to see more of our weekly menus?
What about a shopping list with all the ingredients needed for this or other week of school lunches?
Let me know about your ideas and questions in the comments below or send me an email with all this questions! I can't wait to read them and find out all about your needs so I can try to help you through some very simple and easy tips that we can all do in our homes to make our children eat better but without too much stress!