Meal Prep for Healthy School Lunches

Meal Prep for Healthy School Lunches

School Lunch Ideas that Save Time and Boost Nutrition

Any parent who’s ever made lunch for a picky eater knows childhood nutrition is a challenge. But don’t give in to mealtime meltdowns and endless lunches of chicken nuggets and cheesy pasta — we have some healthy approaches to school lunches that are as delicious as they are nutritious. But, first, why all the fuss about kids and nutrition?

Why Should Kids Eat Healthy?

Back in the 1950s, a chubby baby was thought to be a healthy baby. But today’s rising rates of childhood obesity have reshaped the way we think about childhood nutrition. The Center for Disease Control estimates 20% of American children are affected by childhood obesity, which has been linked to serious health problems later in life, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.

Preparing nourishing foods for children is about more than maintaining a healthy weight; it’s about giving them a foundation of healthy eating habits they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives. Nutritionists recommend children eat:

  • a variety of fruits and vegetables
  • whole grains
  • fat-free and low-fat dairy products
  • a variety of protein foods
  • healthy oils

A healthy, nutritious diet has other benefits, too, like boosting your child’s mood, improving cognitive function, and stabilizing energy levels.

Seems like a no-brainer, right? Yet, if you’re anything like us, you probably choose cake over kale all the time. The top reasons people cite for not eating healthy? Lack of time, lack of knowledge, and lack of money. Don’t be discouraged —we’ve got some tips that will make healthy eating a habit for you and your kids.

Getting Kids to Eat Healthy

Set an example:

You are your kids’ biggest role model; they look up to you (yes, even the teenagers). When they see you making healthy choices, they’re more likely to pick nutritious foods, too.

Highlight whole foods:

Keep packaged and processed foods to a minimum. Instead, use whole foods — foods close to or in their natural state, like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes — which are rich in nutrients, good fat, and fiber.

Hide the healthy:

Sneak fruits and veggies into your children’s diet—add them to smoothies, bake them in muffins, mix them in mac and cheese. And don’t give up — studies show it takes as many as 10-15 attempts before children will try a new food.

Make healthy snacks available:

Store healthy snack bars, yogurt tubes, and pre-cut veggies in these kid-friendly storage boxes and airtight bins from mDesign. Storing healthy snacks at eye level in the pantry and fridge makes it easier for kids to make better choices.

Get your kids involved:

Include your kids in all facets of meal preparation: planning, shopping, and cooking. Planning and shopping for meals are great ways to introduce new foods and learn about reading food labels. Cooking at home makes a big difference in children’s nutrition because home-cooked meals are healthier than restaurant and takeout food, which tend to have much more added sugar and unhealthy fat.

Mom and young boy son baking in kitchen and breaking eggs into mixing bowl

Organizing For Heathy Eating

Meal prepping healthy lunch options saves you time and gives you more control over what your kids eat. But meal prep isn’t exactly new. Remember the lunches your mom packed for you the week after Thanksgiving? Turkey, then turkey sandwiches, then turkey salad sandwiches. Mom was doing what meal preppers do—making the most of the food in the fridge by strategically using ingredients.

Social media has made sharing meal prep hacks wildly popular (On Instagram #mealprep has been used more than 13 million times!). Meal prep can be intimidating because, online, it looks like you need a massive fridge and a thousand matching plastic food storage containers. In reality, meal prep is simply the act of making a week’s worth of pre-portioned meals.

You don’t have to commit to prepping three meals a day, seven days a week, for the whole family, forever. Start with your kids’ lunches and discover what a timesaver meal prep can be. Remember:

Two black steel mesh pantry baskets with wood handles on a wooden countertop containing green apples and yellow pear fruit

Be Flexible:

Pick a core dish for each day and prep easy sides (think granola bars or grapes) to complete the meal. Organize your non-perishable sides by storing them in baskets, like mDesign’s Wire Pantry Storage Basket. The baskets’ open construction lets you see what you’ve got stocked and the built-in handles make moving from the pantry to the kitchen counter a cinch.

Store fresh fruit in these stylish, farmhouse-inspired baskets. They come in two sizes, perfect for mixing and matching so you can customize your storage options.

Be Strategic:

Get more meal for your money by prepping ingredients that can be used in multiple meals, like tuna salad or hummus.

Be in Charge:

Enlist your kids. Once you’ve planned the week and prepped the foods, let them assemble their own lunch.

Young boy child holds top bun of bread to assemble sub sandwich

Check out these easy recipes!

They’re super quick and they taste so good, your kids won’t mind how healthy they are.

Banana Peanut Butter Roll Ups
  • 1 (8-inch) whole grain tortilla
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter or peanut-free substitute
  • 1 banana
  • 4 strawberries
  • 1/4 cup pretzels
  • 1 Mineola orange, peeled and halved
  • 2 celery stalks, cut into sticks
  1. Spread tortilla with peanut butter.
  2. Place banana in center of tortilla. Bring the bottom edge of the tortilla tightly over the banana, folding in the sides. Continue rolling until the top of the tortilla is reached.
  3. Cut in thirds.
  4. Add a boiled egg for extra protein.
  5. Place bananas roll up, strawberries, pretzels, orange slices and celery into meal prep containers.

source: Damn Delicious

Yummy Carrot Hummus
  • 1 cup grated or shredded carrot
  • 1 14.5 ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons tahini (use Greek yogurt for a nut-free alternative)
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  1. Add the carrot to a bowl. Bring a pot or kettle of water to a boil, pour over carrot, and let sit for about 5 minutes to soften. Drain well, reserving about 1/3 cup of the liquid.
  2. Add all ingredients except the water to the bowl of a food processor. Process, adding a little reserved water at a time to help create a smooth consistency. You may need to stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice.
  3. Serve immediately or store in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
  4. It’s delicious with whole grain crackers or pitas or as a sandwich spread.

source: Yummy Toddler Food

Once the day’s lunch is assembled, pack it in an insulated lunch bag, like mDesign’s Lunch Tote. With comfort-grip handles and easy-pull zippers, it’s ideal for keeping lunches palatable.

Enjoy the new school year knowing you’ve got lunch under control and your kids are getting an A+ in nutrition. Click here for more easy meals.

Lisa Langford is a Senior Copywriter at mDesign

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Posted: Jul 15, 2021