Preparing meals and packed lunches is a major stressor for parents at the beginning of the school year. It’s a constant challenge to satisfy everyone in the family’s tastes by coming up with healthy meals that aren’t too complicated to make. There aren’t always enough hours in the day, and with daycare, school and work combined, it's hard to find time for day-to-day activities. Familiprix and Vie de Parents have teamed up to give you some great lunch ideas.
How do you make healthy lunches without it becoming a constant headache? It’s easy to eat well at lunch, both at school and in the office, without putting too much pressure on yourself. All it takes is a little planning.
Do it the night before
The morning rush is not always enjoyable. We know the tune - every minute counts. But how do you get it all done when there’s more than just lunches to prepare?
"Depending on your family’s realities, begin your preparation the day before. Cook the lunches, prepare the lunch containers, get tomorrow’s clothing ready, and program the coffee machine. Why not even set the table?" says Geneviève Harvey-Miville, specialized educator and family coach.
- Children's lunches require a lot of snacks. The day before, slip all the “pantry” type snacks into their lunch bags, such as fruit purées, muffins, crackers, tender bars, apples and other options.
- Prepare vegetables in small portions: baby carrots, peppers, celery, cauliflower, and cucumbers (with their skin). Vary the choices as much as possible (according to your little ones’ tastes and/or by colour). Cut and wrap cubes of cheese; kids love them!
- If you started cooking again, put individual portions into containers and store them in the fridge or freezer for the week. This is a good fallback when you’re short on time, and since it’s home cooked, it’s definitely good.
- In the morning, add the yogurt, the hummus or the spread to accompany the vegetables, cheese, fruits (like apples, pears, bananas, mini-tomatoes or grapes), the ice pack for the cold meal—and, of course, the sandwich or hot meal (in a thermos or to be reheated).
- In the evening, make duplicate meals or extra portions. Divide them into individual containers. You will have homemade meals ready to go into the lunch boxes!
- Remember to allow yourself a little preparation time on weekends to cook the protein bases that will be used in salads or sandwiches, such as chicken, fish and hard-boiled eggs. Rice or quinoa can also be cooked ahead of time, making a nice addition to salads.
- Add vegetable protein to the menu. Think tofu, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans and other legumes that are easy to add to salads and sandwiches. Fortified soy milk, almond milk, walnuts, peanuts (peanut butter), sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are part of a balanced diet for both adults and children.
*For products containing nuts, always check the school’s food policy.
- Do you know about the frozen juice thing? Instead of using an ice pack, try using a small, individual frozen juice instead. The drink will still be cool at snack time or noon hour.
- Other cool tip: why not use frozen smoothie cubes made in advance (French only)? Do like nutritionist Hubert Cormier, and put plain or vanilla yogurt and fruit purée into ice cube trays and freeze it. You just have to remove the cubes in the morning and place them into small containers for the lunchboxes.
Get your children involved
- The meal and lunch routine will take over everything. If possible, older children should be asked to clean out their lunchboxes. Then they can pack some of their favourite "pantry" snacks in their lunch container to get ahead of the game. In the morning, their mission will be to include their water bottle, a juice box, some vegetables, their sandwich or meal, and cold snacks.
- The day before, if you’re the one doing the preparation, ask your children for help. They can cut the vegetables and cheese, and wash the fruit. This is a good time to check what they want for lunch the next day while teaching them independence and resourcefulness.
- Here’s a little #viedeparents advice: When you have pieces of paper to put in the recycling, pieces of cut boxes or any other craft scraps to throw away, consider making fun little pieces, like little squares, stars or even heart shapes. Then write little expressions on them, such as "I love you,” "Bon appétit,” "I’m thinking of you" or "I’m proud of you". You’ll be making a loving parental gesture while reusing waste materials, therefore, a great environmental deed. You can store them in a small plastic bag in the utensil drawer. All you have to do is add them to your lunches. Psst! If your children don’t know how to read yet, a simple heart or a pretty shape with a small drawing on it is just as fun. As they say, it's the thought that counts.
Have fun with your lunch preparations!