(BPT) – With kids heading back to the classroom, it means the start of new schedules and routines. After a relaxing summer, it may also mean added stress for parents who must now think about prepping daily school lunches and snacks.
Yet, with a little planning and organization, you can streamline the process and feel confident you’re providing balanced and enjoyable meals with nutrition your kids need, says registered dietitian and mom Amanda Blechman, Director of Health and Scientific Affairs at Danone North America.
“I encourage families to think about a basic formula for what to pack in a lunch and then explore fun lunch containers to make it easy to see that you’re checking all the boxes for colorful food groups,” said Blechman. “Setting up a simple system and getting your kids involved in the process also makes it more likely the lunch will be eaten at school.”
Blechman offers these tips to help hack the lunchbox packing process.
- Follow a formula. To help you pack a balanced lunch, follow this simple formula: protein + fiber-rich carbohydrate + fruits and vegetables + dairy. Then find different combinations your kids will enjoy. Blechman recommends keeping your pantry well-stocked so you’ll always have options if your supply in the fridge runs low. She suggests canned tuna, low sodium beef or turkey jerky, dried apricots and other dried fruits, fruit cups or applesauce without added sugar, low-sodium canned vegetables and shelf-stable milks, such as single-serve cartons of Horizon Organic low-fat milk or Silk Almondmilk. “Don’t mistake convenient for unhealthy,” says Blechman. “There are plenty of nutrient-rich, shelf-stable products that can help make lunchbox packing a breeze.”
- Set up a system for snacks. You’ll save time in the long run if you create a system for storing and organizing foods for lunches and snacks, says Blechman. She recommends adding bins or boxes in the refrigerator and pantry with options that are in easy reach for your kids. When it’s time to pack, kids can help select what they’d like that day and you can see when you’re running low in anything. Some of her favorites include Horizon Organic string cheese, mini guacamole cups, multigrain pita chips, nut-free granola bars and dried seaweed snacks. Be sure to check nutrition labels so you know what you’re buying, Blechman advises.
- Think outside the sandwich. Go beyond the classic PB&J and turkey sandwich. Other protein-rich options include turkey jerky, which Blechman combines with whole-grain crackers, pea snacks, and Horizon Organic Growing Years low-fat yogurt pouches that contain DHA omega-3s, choline and prebiotics. Or use a wrap to make pinwheel sandwiches. Try combining canned tuna with mayonnaise or Greek yogurt and everything bagel seasoning. Spread on a spinach wrap, roll up and cut into small pinwheels. Round out the meal with canned mandarin oranges or a fresh clementine, baby corn spears and animal crackers.
- Freeze strategically. Put a water bottle in the freezer the night before and add to your lunchbox in the morning to serve as an ice pack. It will be thawed by lunch time. Or add frozen berries to a carton of yogurt to keep it chilled. Instead of juice boxes, buy shelf-stable cartons of milk that provide essential nutrients like calcium, vitamin D and high-quality protein that’s missing from juice. These nutrients are especially important for growing children and most kids don’t get enough of either! Other nutrient-dense dairy options include yogurt pouches, string cheese, cubes of cheddar and slices of provolone to add to sandwiches. Make a few sandwiches on the weekend and freeze for each lunch meal prep.