5 Strategies for Meal Prep to Make Back-to-School a Breeze

Are you a parent of children who are heading into another school season? If so, then you might be feeling overwhelmed by the preparations that need to be made for this time of year. 

There is so much to do before that school bell rings! One thing I’m really looking forward to this fall is a new well-oiled meal prep routine.

One important strategy to lighten your load this school season is your meal prep strategy. In this post we will explore five strategies for back-to-school meal prep that will save you time and energy. Plus, you’ll love that your family is eating well.

I hope it helps make things easier for you and keeps everyone happy and healthy during these busy days!

Delegate

No matter your children’s age, they can help at some level with meal prep and lunch packing. Unfortunately, this is one parenting lesson I didn’t learn early enough. So get the kiddos involved as soon as possible and make it fun! 

Kids love to participate in food prep. Whether it’s cutting up ingredients, packing sections of their bento lunch boxes or stirring muffin batter, giving them some responsibilities will help your child to eat their meals if they’ve had a role in their creation!

Kids are also more likely to try new foods – even fruits and vegetables – if they’ve helped to prepare them. I’ll never forget the time my daughter ate smoked salmon in 1st grade and loved the idea of packing her “lox in the box” for lunch.

Plan and prep ahead

It is hard for any of us to make the best food decisions when we’re tired or frazzled – even a dietitian! Having a plan A and even a plan B helps to keep meals running smoothly, no matter how the day unfolds. 

Using a meal plan as a guide can be REALLY helpful. It doesn’t mean that you have to make every meal on a meal plan but it can help to get started with preparing healthy meals the whole family can enjoy. Select three dinners and a few snacks for each week of the month. Stick with it until you have a repertoire of at least 10 dinner meals you can put into rotation – this can take up to 4-6 weeks. Dinners such as soups, stews, and roasted proteins make excellent lunch box appearances when paired with non-prep items such as fruits, vegetables, cheese, and crackers. 

My favorite dinner leftover combinations include: 

  • Shredded chicken tacos with salsa and prepared guacamole
  • Vegetable chili with cheese and crackers
  • Beef stew with rice 
  • Tofu or other protein kabobs with pasta and prepared pesto sauce
  • Broccoli Cheddar soup with whole grain toast wedges

A  helpful tip to leveraging dinner as lunch is to scale your recipes to ensure you have enough for lunch the next day. Also, pack lunches BEFORE you eat dinner to avoid adding burden to your already busy morning schedule.

Batch your work

We talk about batching work with tasks at the office, but what about in the kitchen? Same time-saving principle applies!

Here are a few ideas:

If your kiddos love smoothies for breakfast, batch your smoothie packs in cups or bags in the freezer so that breakfast is as simple as dumping the ingredients into the blender and adding their favorite milk or juice to blend. 

Cutting veggies take time so why not cut up your child’s favorite vegetables (or have your child do it with you) once or twice a week and store them in baggies that are ready to toss into the lunch box. Or store all of the sliced veggies in a container so that packing their bento lunch box is that much faster.

And if you know that you’re cooking two different dinners that call for chopped onions and celery, chop up enough veggies for both dinners. You’ll be thankful for less chopping when the time comes to cook the second recipe! 

Use a template

How else can we reduce your mental load? Follow a template whenever you can!

If your child uses a bento box to pack their lunch, assign a food group to each section. Whole grains go on the left, fruits below, a protein on the right, and so on. Discuss what “counts” for each section of their lunch and brainstorm choices that fit into each category. From there, your child can pack their lunch with less input from you.

And for dinners, have some regular meals that you can depend on to be quick and delicious, without needing too much brain power. For example, Taco Tuesdays! Use the crockpot to cook your favorite taco filling and dinner will be mostly ready when you and your crew get home hungry. A few other ideas are breakfast for dinner, pizza Fridays and getting a rotisserie chicken on Mondays. My favorite is sheet pan dinners where I roast pre-cut vegetables and protein coated with olive oil and our favorite seasonings in a 425F oven for 15-20 minutes. I have included the recipe for the Balsamic Vegetable Sheet Pan Dinner as a template below. Just vary the vegetables (remember to batch your work), protein and seasonings to make it your own.  

Adjust your expectations

When your circumstances change, so too does your patience and bandwidth. This is completely normal! In this back-to-school season, remember to be gentle with yourself. If you have more activities to attend and more to-dos each day, it is reasonable to look for ways to simplify and delegate. You do not have to do everything yourself, or create meals in the same way as when you have more time. You can have a happy and healthy family, even with a few shortcuts.

Key takeaways:

Change always comes with a bit of stress, and back-to-school is full of changes! Be patient  with yourself and your family as you establish new routines. Consider what steps you need to take to ensure that you’re eating the meals that help you to thrive. Plan ahead and don’t forget to make that plan B!


How to Build a Foundation of Self-Care for Kids

Guest blog by Ana Willis, http://fitkids.info 

As parents, it’s up to us to teach our children how to care for themselves. We can never start building a foundation of self-care too early. Children today are under exponential stress, and giving them permission to take care of their own personal physical and emotional needs will help them stay healthy into adulthood.

Model Healthy Behaviors

It is simply not enough to tell your kids they have to do things like sleep and eat well. If you want to truly have an impact, you have to model healthy behaviors yourself. This is especially important if you work remotely, like many parents across the country, and also have children at home. Working at home with kids is difficult in the best of times. We are not living in the best of times! The pandemic has put a great deal of stress and strain on working parents to the point where it’s taking a toll on their physical and mental health.

As a remote working parent, you have to find ways to reduce stress on yourself. Start by asking your employer for a flexible schedule. You will then want to set rules with your family, especially with kids, so that they are not continually interrupting you while you are trying to focus on making a living. Make a schedule, and then ensure everyone in your family understands when you are and are not available.

Other ways to model healthy behaviors are to make sure that you get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and eat the right balance of food so that your body has ample stores of the vitamins and minerals it needs to function at its peak. It can also help to take care of your outward appearance. Make a point to shower each morning and get yourself dressed as though you are going into the office. This will help keep you on a schedule and instill in your children that it’s wise to transition from “home” mode into work or school mode.

Make Fitness Fun

You don’t need statistics to tell you that kids today don’t exercise nearly as much as they did in the days before high-definition video games and the internet. Children as young as 11 are living sedentary lives, according to Cleveland Clinic. This is an alarming issue as lack of activity can result in a host of health problems, including obesity and heart disease.

Fortunately, there are many fun and exciting ways to get the kids off the couch, even during the digital age. You can even use their electronics to encourage fitness. One great example is the game Beat Saber, which is available on the Oculus VR system. This game is just one of many active games that can help children keep their bodies moving while burning a similar number of calories as they would if they were outdoors playing tennis. 

You can also eliminate tech time for a few hours each day, and go outside with your children. Build a fort, toss a football, or simply go for a walk around the neighborhood. Your activities don’t have to be extreme or regimented to be beneficial. Keeping your own self up and moving will ensure that your children do so throughout their lifetime!

Empower kids to take charge

Modeling self-care behaviors and encouraging exercise are an excellent start. But, self-care is more than just this. Self-care is a broad term that refers to everything we can do to keep ourselves mentally and physically well every day.

An important part of our self-care efforts is teaching our children how to make healthy food decisions. Even the youngest members of your family can do so, but they do need your help. Get in the kitchen with them, and let them whip up their own healthy snacks after school. Smoothies, fruit trays, and peanut butter and apple pitas are all options that children in the ten and under crowd can make for themselves.

Self-care also means paying attention to how we feel about how other people treat us. Kids today are exposed to so much negativity in the real world and the media alike. It can be difficult for them to distinguish healthy relationships from those that take a toll on their mental health. Unfortunately, children are not immune from having toxic friendships, which are often emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive. Talk to your children about what types of behaviors are acceptable and which are not. And, if you have friendships that make you question your own worth, it’s time to cut ties to these.

The hope here is that kids will learn how to recognize what makes them feel good. Whether this is eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, or even playing games that incorporate their favorite music, self-care is crucial to build them up. As a parent, you can model healthy behaviors by taking care of yourself and giving your children opportunities to do the same.