The first few weeks of back-to-school are always hectic, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed if you’re trying to make your kids’ lunches each morning in addition to feeding them a nutritious breakfast, then getting everyone dressed, packed and onto the bus. Why not take this time-consuming task off your morning to-do list by making your family’s lunches ahead of time? You’ll be amazed at how much smoother mornings are when everyone’s meals are ready to grab and go.
We know that make-ahead meals will only work if they’re both healthy and kid-friendly, so we’ve put together a list of eight delicious and nutritious homemade school lunch ideas, as well as tips for faster, easier meal prep.
1. Sandwiches with Condiments on the Side
If you’ve ever tried making sandwiches ahead of time, you know the problem is that condiments soak into the bread, making it mushy-and no one wants a mushy sandwich!
You can easily solve this lunchtime issue by leaving off the juicy stuff when you prep. If you’re making turkey sandwiches, for instance, put the bread, meat, cheese and lettuce together, then simply toss a few packets of mayonnaise or mustard (which you can get at large grocery stores or online) into the bag. This way, the bread won’t get mushy, and your kids can control how much of the condiment goes onto their sandwich. It’s a win-win!
2. Lunchtime Kabobs
Another creative and fun way to meal-prep is with kabob sticks. You can go traditional with Lunch on a Stick, using leftover meat and veggies, or you can think outside the box and include your kids’ favorite foods, like hot dog slices, tortellini, cheese or sandwich meats. Simply cut your chosen ingredients into slices or rough squares, then slide them onto wooden skewers. It’s so easy you’ll want to “stick” to this trick all year!
This idea is perfect if you own a large skillet that can fit multiple tortillas. To quickly make delicious chicken quesadillas, roughly chop up a rotisserie chicken, a few tomatoes and some chives. Put a few tortillas on your skillet, then top them with the meat, tomatoes, shredded cheese, chives and maybe some bacon-yum! (Here’s the best way to cook bacon.) Of course, you can put just about anything in a quesadilla, from beans to turkey to cheese to hummus.
After filling, fold the tortillas in half, and cook them until the cheese is melted. Once they’ve cooled a bit, slice up the quesadillas and pack them with a small container of salsa, sour cream or guacamole. This recipe is so good (and easy) you might end up taking it for your lunch, too.
4. Hearty Soup
If you’re meal prepping for the week, there’s no easier entree than a hearty soup. We love to use our slow cooker to make big batches-here are some favorite recipes. When your soup is ready, just ladle it into individual containers, throw a dinner roll into each bag, and just like that, lunch is served. Freeze any soup you won’t be able to finish within the week.
You can get started on meal planning this weekend if you follow these easy tips.
5. Muffin Cup Meals
If you have a bit of time to cook on Sunday, make some meals in muffin cups. You’d be surprised what you can make, from meat loaves to pizzas. Pack with some fruit and bread for a balanced and easy-to-pack lunch.
6. Mixed Plate
Not every lunch has to be a single item. Try making a protein and fruit plate, like one you’d grab at Starbucks. Pack sliced cheese, mixed fruits, a big handful of nuts, pretzels or chips, and a few pieces of chocolate or a cookie. These low-maintenance lunches are easy to modify for fussy eaters. (We have 16 more tips on picky eating from a mom who’s been there.)
7. Fruit Parfaits
Another kid-approved lunch that’s oh-so-easy to prep is fruit parfaits. All you have to do is layer some blueberries, raspberries, blackberries or cut strawberries in a mason jar with granola. Pack the jar and a single-serve container of their favorite yogurt into each of your kids’ lunch boxes with a spoon, and voila! Lunch to-go.
8. Pasta Salad
There are two great things about pasta salad: first, it can feed an army, and second, it gets more flavorful the longer it sits.
This recipe for Pasta Salad in a Jar is the perfect lunch box food, and you can speed up prep by using a food processor to chop the ingredients. Just toss in the onion, artichoke hearts or peppers and give them a few pulses, then you’re ready to mix everything together.
If you get into the habit of making lunches in advance, you’ll never want to go back to the old way. Plus, when you send your kids to school with fun, healthy meals every day, you’ll be setting them up to have their best year yet. What’s not to love?