Back-to-school season is unquestionably chaotic. There’s the school supply shopping, new (warmer) work wardrobe requirements, extra early wake-up calls, and a laundry list of new activities to worry about. Lest we forget about the meal prep! But packing lunches for little ones—and for you—doesn’t have to add to your seasonal stress level. According to Mary Ellen Phipps, MPH, RDN, LDN, founder of Milk & Honey Nutrition (and proud mom to two little girls), picking out and preparing healthy foods to pack is actually pretty easy. Here are her expert tips for making sure everyone is well-fed in the most frantic season of all, le fall.
Keep things simple.
Nutritionally, that is. “Whether it's lunch for myself or my kids, I always prioritize fiber, protein, and good fats. These three things are what help keep blood sugar levels stable, energy levels up and tummies full.” When you bite off more than you can chew (literally), you set yourself up for permanent pizza day. No need!
Prep ahead of time.
During the week, try to make your own lunches as easy as possible to keep up with your kids’ busy schedules. Phipps recommends prepping as many fruits and veggies as possible on the weekend by washing and chopping things for the week ahead. “I'll cut up cucumbers and bell peppers, and wash carrots and blueberries. Each day, I pack up a lunchbox for myself with the fruits and veggies I've prepped along with some cheese, hard boiled eggs, walnuts and a mustard dip.”
Feed yourself, too.
“As a busy mom, it's easy to forget about your own lunch while you're focusing on the kids. I like to prep my own lunches at the same time I prep my kids’ lunch so we make sure everyone is well fed,” Phipps says. When packing lunches, try to have one fruit, one veggie, one whole grain and one to two protein sources at each meal. All of these are great for staying full and satisfied, but the added benefit of vitamins and minerals from fruits and veggies is important, too.
When in doubt, make turkey sandwiches.
Seriously, simple as that. When done the right way, they can offer whole grains, protein and lots of flavor. “I always choose nitrate-free lunch meats when we eat them. And to save time, I prep all of the components ahead of time and have them ready to assemble in the morning. My kids love a bit of mayo or mustard with turkey, cheese, and cucumbers. I also love making chicken salad to use the next day as a dip for crackers and veggies. Two lunches for the week – done!”
It’s so important to hydrate during the day—for little ones and busy parents, in particular. “If you get bored with plain water, try making a batch of unsweetened iced tea to drink over the course of the week,” Phipps suggests.
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