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Is the Back-to-School Routine Stressing You Out?

How is it possible that school is starting up again already?

In our area, most children are headed back this week, and some even started last week.

If you have kids or grandkids headed back to school, you may be dealing with the ongoing dilemma and stress of what to do for school lunches.  If you’re like us, you want your kids to eat something that keeps them energized and focused throughout the day (no sleeping during afternoon math class!).  Ideally, this means they are getting a good combination of vegetables, fruits, lean meat, whole grains and you know, what we all like to call REAL food!


But let's face it...this can be challenging with school lunches.


We glanced at the menu for our local schools and the lunches for the next couple weeks included things like Country Fried Steak, Chicken Nuggets, PB&J Boat with String Cheese & Cheez Its, Classic Hot Dog, French Bread Pepperoni Pizza, and Frito Chili Pie.  Now, we know some amazing people who are doing wonderful things with school lunches but, in most cases, school lunches are NOT ideal in terms of nutrition!

When our son was in middle school, whenever he ate the school lunch, he never seemed to get full.  He would end up getting a second entree or hit up the snack bar for a little something extra (maybe this is just “a thing” with teenage boys?!).  The cost of his daily lunch was almost $5.  Over the course of the school year, that’s almost $1,000!

Realizing this wasn't a good approach for our kids' health (or our bank account), we transitioned to them taking their lunches the majority of the time.  But let's be honest, it can be overwhelming to think about packing 180 lunches for each child during the year.  Plus, how do you keep it interesting?  There are only so many PB&J sandwiches a child is willing to eat!


The other challenge?  Time!

There are so many things that have to get done in the mornings…packing a lunch can easily get pushed aside because “they can always just get lunch at school.”  We were guilty of trying to make lunch for our kids too many times before we all agreed they were capable of doing it themselves!

While it took us a while to come to grips with this, kids taking responsibility for their own lunches is a fantastic way to empower them, teach them responsibility and the simple art of how to put together a well-balanced meal.

If this is a challenge you face, be positive and don’t get discouraged!



Here are some ideas that might make things a little easier:


  • Sit down with the kids and make a list of the types of lunches they would love to be able to eat at school…and then get creative to make this a reality.
  • Consider theme days to make the decisions easier.  For example, maybe Monday is sandwich day, Tuesday is stir-fry day (or maybe that should be on Fry-day?), Wednesday is Mexican day…and so on.
  • During the weekend, make a list for the upcoming week and place it on the fridge or in a visible area for easy access.
  • Have the kids pack their lunch the night before…one less thing to worry about during those hectic mornings.
  • Invest in the right types of containers…get a variety of sizes and make sure you have tight-fitting lids.
  • Invest in good re-usable ice packs, forks, spoons and a water bottle.
  • Let the kids pick out their own “lunchbox” — something “cool” they will be proud to take with them.
  • Throw in a surprise when they’re not looking.  It could be a small sweet treat, a funny note or anything else that will make them smile!


Get creative!

When you think beyond carrots and apples slices, you and your kids can make lunches interesting, delicious AND healthy:


  • Build your own taco bar.  Include corn or flour tortillas, cooked taco meat, lettuce, cheese, avocado, salsa or other favorite toppings.
  • Breakfast for lunch.  Yogurt, fruit and nuts can make for a delicious combination in the Yogurt Fruit and Nutty Salad.  You can also make a large batch of Mini Frittatas or Baked Oatmeal Cups using muffin pans, and then they are easy to throw into a lunch.  Muffins (using whole grains) and even pancakes, french toast and waffles can also be great options.
  • Salads, including salads with whole grains.  Consider Buddha Bowls - you can prepare big batches of salads using brown rice, pasta, quinoa, farro or other whole grains.  By incorporating your child’s favorite fruits and vegetables (and even meats), this can be a delicious, healthy and super-easy option.
  • Chicken or fish nuggets.  Make a healthier version of chicken or fish nuggets - your child can warm them in the microwave and enjoy a delicious alternative to the commercially produced varieties.
  • Sliders.  The possibilities are endless.  You can use chicken, pork or even leftover meatballs.  Find an interesting bread your child likes (ideally a whole grain bread) and include desired toppings.  You can keep the meat separate so your child can warm it up, and then easily assemble the sliders in the cafeteria.
  • Popcorn. A great alternative to potato chips, especially using an air-popped popper.  And then, easily jazz up popcorn to give it flavors like pizza, sweet & spicy, kettle corn or even drizzle with a little dark chocolate.
  • Roasted chickpeas.  They can be enjoyed all by themselves or included as a topping on a salad, stir fry or Buddha Bowl.
  • Add some pizzazz to nuts by roasting them and flavoring them up with a little honey, maple syrup, herbs and/or spices.  The Spiced Mixed Nuts and Birdseed Snack Mix are popular with both kids and adults!
  • Hummus with veggies.  Hummus is an ideal option…and serving great-tasting dips is a great way to get your kids to eat their veggies!  Instead of chips or crackers, enjoy it with sliced veggies like cucumbers, zucchini, carrots, bell peppers, radishes or kohlrabi!
  • Soups.  Invest in small thermos containers to help keep soup warm until lunch time.  A delicious option is to slice a grilled cheese sandwich (or quesadilla) into strips, along with some tomato soup.  Let the dipping begin!
  • Leftovers.  Leftovers from your dinners during the week always make for great lunches. Many schools even have microwaves that students can use to warm up their meals.
  • Bite-sized bliss.  Throw in a sweet treat so they won't feel like they are missing out!  There are all kinds of options including the Chocolate Chia Energy BitesPeanut Butter Cup Power Balls, Almond Butter Bites, Chunky Monkey Breakfast Cookies, Harvest Pumpkin Bars, Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, and the Snickers Inspired Stuffed Dates (just to name a few!).



By the way, these same ideas apply to adults too!

“Brown bagging” your lunch is a great way to enjoy delicious meals, improve your health…and also save A LOT of money!  If you have ever been secretly jealous of a co-worker that brings awesome-looking lunches every day, all it requires is a few minutes of planning, preparation and creativity!

Rather than thinking about school or work lunch as “something you have to do” to keep your body and mind functioning for the rest of the day, why not transform it into something that you anticipate and are excited about because of the delicious meal waiting for you?!


A few ideas that work well:


By keeping your lunches interesting and delicious, you may be surprised to hear your kids say “…but I don’t want to eat the school lunch.”  We have even heard kids say, "packing lunch the night before is so much easier than I thought...and by doing it all myself, I really like knowing exactly what I am going to eat!"

It's a great feeling to know you are keeping your kids well-nourished throughout the day, giving them the energy and focus they need to perform their best, and even saving some money in the process!


What are your favorite healthy lunch ideas?

Are there challenges you need help with?

Let's kick processed food lunches to the curb!


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