With a full-time job and two young boys (Julian, 2, and Kai, 4 months), I’ve basically abandoned nearly all domestic chores except one: preparing nutritious meals, especially our kids’ lunches. (I am a nutritionist, after all.)
Every night after Jules and Kai are finally in bed—around 8:30—my husband and I madly scramble to prepare lunches for the next day. We wash breast-pump parts, clean and refill bottles for Kai. For Julian’s lunch we peel and thinly slice carrots, halve grapes and stuff whole-wheat tortillas with low-fat cheese and chopped broccoli to make quesadillas. Find ideas for 20 more healthy kids’ lunches, including Pizza Roll-Up (pictured), here.
If this sounds like your night, you may be asking the same question I am: Is there any way I can streamline my routine? I recently went online to ask other busy moms how they were getting healthy lunches packed fast. I found a variety of approaches and products. Now I’m not above taking shortcuts (see #4 below), but boy am I surprised at some of the products for kids that are out there, including premade frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches trimmed of their crusts. These things aren’t unhealthy—some even come on whole-wheat bread—but come on, people: how long does it really take to spread two slices of bread with peanut butter, jelly, smash them together and slice it half? Answer: About 30 seconds.
All this digging helped me realize that I do know how to make school-lunch packing more efficient. I just need to sit down and plot out a plan. Here it is:
1. Make use of leftovers. Julian loves Saag Tofu, which provides nutritious spinach, chock-full of folate and fiber, and gets its creamy goodness from low-fat yogurt. After dinner I pack the leftovers in a glass container so I can reheat it the next morning then pack them in an insulated thermos to send to school. Find other kid-friendly dinner recipes here.
2. Make use of the freezer. Do you have more leftovers than you need for tomorrow’s lunch? Pack the overflow into single kid-size portions and freeze them for next week—or the following week. Cook and freeze these healthy make-ahead meals.
3. Make two-for-ones. Rather than preparing a quesadilla by folding over one tortilla flap and cutting it into strips for one day’s lunch, I press two big rounds together and pack them for tomorrow and the day after. Slice up a whole melon and you have fruit for a few days (and your lunch too!).
4. Make use of “convenience foods” that make sense for you. Do I buy pre-made PB&J? No. But I do pick up single-serving kid-size low-fat yogurts and unsweetened applesauce for snacks. Get more creative snack ideas for kids here. Would buying a family-size yogurt or big jar of applesauce and portioning it out save money and packaging? Yes. But I appreciate how easy it is to pop these yogurts or applesauce in Julian’s bag, saving me time when packing and time washing containers later. Plus, he likes to peel off the foil top himself.
What are your time-saving solutions to packing a healthy kids’ lunch? Tell us what you think below.