I hope you got to read Monday’s post, Part 1 of our back-to-school lunches series. I filled you in on my top school lunch packing must-haves. Now that you are equipped with everything you’ll need to pack a clean & green lunch, let’s get to answering some of your questions.
My friend Lyra wrote in on our Healing Cuisine Facebook page asking for ideas to jazz up her kids’ lunch experience and foods/recipes she can prepare in advance and freeze for later use. I’ve also gotten many emails from you all asking for budget saving tips and preparing whole food recipes in advance and in bulk. And I hear your pleas! Switching over to whole food and preservative free food can get expensive without a little extra planning. There are ways to stay within your monthly food budget while providing your children with real food meals throughout each day. Today I’m sharing my Top 9 Time and Money Saving Tips!
In Part 3, I will detail how to make weekly and monthly meal plans with your child. I feel that meal planning and teaching your child WHY they are to eat a balanced whole food meal is the key to helping your child value and enjoy eating this way. I’ll finish up this School Lunches Series by sharing some recipe ideas that are hopefully new to you and sound like fun for your kids. Alright, let’s get to it!
School Lunches Part 2:
Prep Now, Save Money Now And Time Later
#1) Balanced Eating: First, I want to talk a little about the perfectly balanced meal. This applies not only to lunch, but also breakfast and dinner meals. If you’ve done a meal planning consultation with me, you’ve heard me harping about the critical importance of the balance between Clean Protein, Healthy Carbs, & Good Fat in each meal of the day. Your body needs these macro-nutrients in large amounts to perform basic cellular functions. Proteins are the building blocks of cells made up of amino acids, and provides your body with the ability and energy to work, move, exercise and build/maintain muscle. Clean proteins are your grass fed and pastured meats, grass fed or grass-based protein powders, quinoa, beans, lentils, raw cheese, organic full fat yogurt, and some vegetables (like peas). Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of fuel. Healthy carbs will carry your energy level steadily between meals. When eating within the Maximized Living Nutrition Plans we want to stick to complex carbs, which are fruits and vegetables. Complete carb lists approved for the Advanced and Core Plans can be found in Chapters 3 & 4 of your book. Healthy Fats are extremely important, especially as we’re talking about kids’ lunches for school. Healthy fats are essential for cellular membrane function, hormone function, optimal brain function, provide focus…the list can go on and on. Healthy fats will also help you to stay full between meals. It is important to have a serving of each of these components with every meal for overall brain and body function. I also include a serving of water with every meal — remember you need to drink at least half your body weight (pounds) in ounces of water daily for optimal hydration. Talk to your children about drinking water throughout their school day.
#2.) Buy in bulk and freeze for later: I apply this rule mainly to fresh produce, but it also applies to meat. This is a huge way we save money every month. It’s also how we can enjoy seasonal produce all year long. When various produce items are on sale (e.g. organic peaches, avocados, organic spinach, organic berries, organic apples) buy as much as you have the room for and freeze them for use later in the year. I just did this last week with local organic peaches, kale, grapes, nectarines, and Granny Smith apples. I washed and diced everything and stored them in individual baggies in my freezer for smoothies later this fall and winter. It’s such an easy way to have a little taste of summer in the winter. It also makes for a quick breakfast on the go in the morning. Just dump, add your protein and liquid, blend and go. Individual (or double) servings already portioned out!
Also, did you know you can freeze avocados? I’ll freeze them two ways – whole/diced (for later use in smoothies) and pureed with lime juice (for later use as guacamole or in desserts). And yes, you can freeze kale and spinach. Frozen greens are best used in smoothies or soups. I destem, rinse, dry thoroughly, and chop the kale and store in either glass containers or freezer bags (whichever I have the room for). I buy our organic spinach in bulk at Costco/Sam’s Club/B.J.’s Wholesale and pop the plastic bin directly into the freezer.
|Freeze avocados in season so you can enjoy through winter.|
For this to work in favor of your food budget, you need to watch for sale ads and visit many different grocery stores, co-ops, and farmers markets to find the cheapest prices on organic fresh produce. Also watch the prices on organic frozen berries and buy up a bunch when sales hit. You can also ask your grocery store manager if they offer discounts for buying a certain number of items, like a case of frozen strawberries. Some stores offer 10%+ off for large quantity purchases but you usually have to ask. You can also contact a local farmer and see what type of a deal they would give you for any leftover produce at the end of each week. I have done this before and gotten large boxes of mixed produce (tomatoes, kale, broccoli, zucchini, squash) for half price. The farmer will be happy to make a few bucks for what otherwise they would throw out or donate.
#3.) Plan Lunch Menus 1 Month Ahead: I can’t stress enough how important and helpful it is to plan out your kids’ school lunches in advance. This is my step for success! If a month seems daunting, start with a week’s worth of planning at a time. You will save the most time and money doing it a month at a time though, because you can take the most advantage of using produce/meat/yogurt/etc while on sale that you bought in bulk. Design the rest of the months meals using those bulk ingredients.
Part 3 of this School Lunch Series will be outlining how to meal plan school lunches with your child. I recommend involving your child(ren) in the process. This opens the door for talking about healthy vs. unhealthy foods, portion control, hydration, etc. Depending on their age, you may choose to do all the planning yourself and gauge them for feedback each day or week. It’s totally up to you! But the more you involve your child, the more likely they will be to eat their lunch (and enjoy it!). Have your child pick out their favorite main dishes, side dishes, desserts and snacks. Then you can put together a menu together for each week.
#4.) Nut-free School? No sweat. There are other whole food and grain-free options for baking other than almond flour: garbanzo bean flour, garbanzo-fava flour, quinoa flour, buckwheat flour, coconut flour, or brown rice flour. While using higher carb load flours like garbanzo and brown rice are not ideal long-term, these are much healthier nut-free alternatives to wheat/white flours that are higher in sugar and contain gluten. And if your child loves their PB&J, most peanut-free schools will allow sunflower or coconut butter. Spread that between sprouted grain Ezekiel bread with some organic unsweetened jam and you’re all set!
#5.) Freeze meals in 8 oz – quart size jars: Depending on the number of children in your family that attend school, use the appropriate jar size to freeze soups, casseroles, even oatmeal for later in the month. (Leave 1/4 inch of room at the top for expansion.) When making dinner, double the recipe. Make two pots of soup or two trays of casserole. Serve one for dinner, then jar up the rest and freeze. An 8 oz jar is about the perfect size for 1 lunch serving. A larger quart size jar is enough to feed 3-4 kids. The morning before you plan to send the jarred food for lunch, pull it out from the freezer and thaw in the fridge overnight. In the morning, warm the Thermos container with boiling hot water while you heat up the soup/casserole from the jar to a piping hot temperature (a simmering temperature will be best to maximize heat temperature in the Thermos). Add the hot soup/casserole/oatmeal/whatever to the Thermos container and finish packing the side dishes. Warming the Thermos in advance of adding the hot food is key to keeping the contents hot for 4-5 hours until lunch time.
#7.) Freeze individual portions of baked goods: I like to make muffins, cupcakes, protein bars, quick breads, cookies, and cakes in advance, slice them up into individual serving sizes, then freeze for later. They’ll last months in the freezer! Layer slices of bread, cake, or cookies between parchment paper to prevent sticking. You can even do this with my Almond Flour Tortillas! Baked eggs freeze really well, too! You can bake egg omelets/quiches/casserole/frittata in muffin tins then freeze. The day before you are ready to include a frozen baked good in the lunch, pull from the freezer and thaw in the fridge overnight. It’ll be thawed by morning. My favorite recipes to bake then freeze: Vegetable Frittata, Blueberry Bread, Zucchini Bread, Cranberry Nut Bread, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Gooey Brownies, Dark Chocolate Chip Orange Bread, Strawberry Cream Pie.
#8.) Prepare lunch components 1 week in advance: There are parts of the weekly lunch menu that you should be able to make in advance. On Sunday, get those components prepared and portioned out for grab-n-go later in the week. Some examples: wash and chop fresh produce, hard boil eggs, boil brown rice pasta, prepare freezer smoothies and/or homemade push pops, mix up a blend of trail mix, poach/bake chicken or turkey breasts, double a soup/stew/casserole recipe.
#9.) Get lunch packed the night before: If you’re like me, you’ll appreciate a few extra minutes of sleep in the morning. The less lunch worrying and packing you have to do in the morning, the easier your mornings will be. The night before, pack as much of the next day’s lunch as you can. Get everything portioned out into their containers/bags. Lay out the lunchbox(es) on the counter with the napkin, silverware, water bottle, etc. Make sure the ice packs made it back into the freezer. And reference your menu plan to make sure you pulled out all the food from the freezer that needs to thaw for tomorrow’s lunch. In the morning, packing everything up will be a breeze. Heat up any food that needs to on the stove or in the oven, and that should be all the work you’ll need to do! Everything else should be packed and ready to pop in the lunchbox!