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Tips and tricks for stress-free and nutritious lunches!

With all the hustle and bustle of a new school year, the last thing that parents need is added stress around meal preparation. The task of making school lunches each morning can be daunting and stressful especially when you're bleary eyed and trying to herd kids out the door. And for those who are more creative, it's easy to get caught up in fun extras for the kids but then get burn out before Thanksgiving vacation arrives.

Here are a few tips and tricks to provide nutritious, stress-free lunches throughout the school year and throw in some extra creativity when you're feeling inspired or have a little spare time.

Spend a bit of time planning

Instead of limiting meal planning to just dinner, be sure to include lunch as well Instead of limiting meal planning to just dinner, be sure to include lunch as well. Spending a bit of time thinking through the week and writing it down will allow variety in lunches and ensure that you have a variety of ingredients on hand. I am a diligent meal planner. I should say dinner planner. I used to just write "lunch stuff" on my grocery list and wonder why I was always putting the same three things in my kids' lunches. Now I take an extra few minutes and make sure that along with my ingredients for dinner I have also taken account of each day's lunch plan. I take my list to the store and then I'm set for the week. The list of meals stays on my refrigerator door for quick reference.

Use time saving tricks

If you can find an hour or two to spare during the week, making some food ahead of time saves a lot of headache in the mornings before school. My favorite is baking high protein treats to supplement their lunches.

Bump up breakfast production and use the extras to add to lunches I've found that grilling an extra package of chicken during regular dinner preparation provide an easy healthy lunch entree. You can make a quick chicken salad with grapes in lettuce boats, or just cube it up with chunks of cheese for a fast alternative to the same old pb&j. The same works in the morning. Bump up breakfast production and use the extras to add to lunches. Just cook a little extra sausage or make a bigger breakfast smoothie to freeze as a great lunch box addition.

Boiling a dozen eggs is another easy make-ahead strategy. Turn them into a quick egg salad, deviled eggs or just peel the shell and they're ready for the lunch box.

Involve your kids

Involve your kids I've found that kids are more likely to eat food that they helped prepare. As parents, we tend to make so many decisions for our family it is nice to give them the opportunity for a bit of control over a few small things. Sitting down with your kids and the grocery list and asking what they would like to see in their lunch is a simple approach.

If you are willing to give up a bit more control, provide a designated lunch shelf or drawer in your refrigerator and cupboards. While making breakfast, or the night before, have your child make their own lunch. This also opens up great dialogue with your child about what makes a healthy lunch and why it is important to fuel their bodies throughout the day. Many kids thrive with new found responsibility and a side benefit is that they eat their whole lunch.

Have the right tools on hand

I hate to waste food and I'm also a visually oriented person so I fell in love with the bento-style lunchbox systems.

Bento box You've probably seen them. They have separate sections for each food and don't require any extra wrapping (e.g. sandwich bags or saran wrap). For me, there is something reassuring about opening up the tray and knowing that if I fill each section with a healthy item, I have done my job of providing variety and nutrition. It provides the added bonus of not having to search for individual containers and their matching lids each day.

Whatever your system, be kind to yourself and make sure it is one that you can maintain with relative ease through the whole year. A drawer full of stickers or drawing pictures allows you to provide some fun additions and let your kids know you are thinking of them, but not necessary 100% of the time.

Keeping your cool in the morning versus being stressed-out is the greatest gift you can give your child and yourself. Take a breath and enjoy the benefits of planning ahead!


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