By: Karin Michalk, Functional Nutritionist & Physical Therapist
Do you struggle to know what to put together for lunches, either for yourself or your children? Are you in a rut and feel stuck? Do you want to have a better plan for lunches so you don’t have to resort to prepackaged, processed, and refined foods? Check out my top tips for making lunches easier to pack and more nutritious.
#1: Pack lunches the night before.
Mornings can be hectic when you’re trying to get kids ready and off to school. Nobody wants to start the day off on the wrong note. This is the best strategy I know of to streamline the morning. Prepare for the next day as much as you can the night before. This includes setting out clean clothes, packing backpacks and bags, finding shoes, filling water bottles, and possibly even putting breakfast together. Pack what food you can into containers and in the morning the only thing left is to make finishing touches to your lunch.
#2: Teach your children to pack their lunch.
This is a life skill right? Children are also more willing to eat what they are involved in preparing. It also gives them a sense of responsibility and accomplishment when they can eat what they had a part in choosing and preparing. After your evening meal, set out lunch containers and food options and let the children pack away. Giving them a guide or template to follow will help with independence. Try this template: 1 protein/entree, 2 vegetables, 1 fruit, 1-2 snacks, and water.
#3: Utilize leftovers.
This is truly a timesaver. Many meals can be doubled or tripled or more and the leftovers can be portioned out for the next day or frozen for later. Soups can be reheated in the morning and placed in a thermos-type container and will stay warm by lunchtime. Think beyond soup when using these thermos-type insulated containers. Many other foods can be heated and stored this way. Even if your child does not have access to a microwave, many leftovers can be enjoyed cold. This may take some getting used to, but really is a practical skill to develop and helps you to rethink the possibilities of lunches.
#4: Use the Bento box method.
Bento boxes are containers with sections utilized in Asian cuisine. They make food storage and presentation fun. There is no need to purchase a bento box, however. You can separate foods using silicone muffin cups or just arrange the food in groups even if they are touching. An example of a bento-style lunch may include ham slices rolled up with thin carrot and cucumber slices, hummus as a dip, mixed nuts, and strawberries.
#5: Pack salads in jars.
Mason jars are so utilitarian. Jar salads are very popular on social media sites. The formula is simple. Place the dressing in the bottom then top with ingredients that won’t get soggy such as diced chicken, grape tomatoes, diced cucumber, hard-boiled egg, etc. Fill the top with chopped greens. When lunchtime comes around, shake the jar to mix up the ingredients. This works best when there is room at the top of the jar and the ingredients are diced or chopped into bite-sized pieces.
This is another of my go-to strategies to build a lunch. The concept is similar to what restaurants call grain bowls, although grains are not the star here. The template is simple and there are countless combinations possible. This is only limited by your imagination. Step 1: Pick a base of at least 2 cups of leafy greens. Step 2: Pick a protein ranging from high quality animal products to beans. Step 3: Add vegetables. Think variety and color here. The more the better! Step 4: Add toppings for crunch and a little extra flavor. This may be grains, nuts, seeds, berries, and a sprinkle of cheese, herbs, and spices. Step 5: Add a drizzle. The options for dressings are endless. The purpose is to add flavor, moisture, and healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil.
I hope these tips are a source of inspiration for you and help you kick off the new school year on the right foot. I’d like to hear from you what your best lunch ideas are!