I’m always on the hunt for healthy, low-calorie, filling, tasty, creative, and efficient ideas for school lunches. Above all, my lunch has to be ‘grab and go’ style, because it’s the last thing on my mind at 5:15 in the morning when I wake up for work. When I’m really tired, I know I gravitate towards more unhealthy choices, so I do my best to prevent this. I’ve found that the key to packing great lunches for my work week is to plan and prepare everything over the weekend. Some might say it looks like a lot of work, but it actually saves me time in the long run as well as gives me peace of mind throughout the week.
Usually on Sunday, I’ll make my grocery list and do all of my cooking. One of my favorite lunch options, especially in colder weather, is soup. It’s warm, filling, and – if you choose more broth-based soups – low calorie. I make my soup even healthier by what I call Hacking My Soup!
I typically start with a Bear Creek soup mix (Tortilla and Minestrone are my favorite):
I only make half of the soup mix for one week’s worth of lunches. I add 1/2 to 3/4 pounds of cubed chicken, then every single vegetable left in my fridge and freezer. I divide the soup into five 2-cup pyrex glass containers, which go in the fridge, ready to grab-and-go. I’ve been told by friends that they think eating the same thing for 5 days in a row would get pretty boring. My response is that it’s only 5 days (I do a new recipe every week), 5 days isn’t that long when you like what you’re eating, and that I’d rather eat the same thing than have to worry about making a lunch every day! Plus, you probably eat the same thing for breakfast every morning, so what’s the difference really?
I also pre-wash (and bag) all of my fruit for the week – a great mid-morning snack. Lunch this year is at 12:30, and that’s a loooong stretch from my 6am breakfast! I wash the fruit in 50/50 vinegar/water rinse, then a pure water rinse. Not only does the vinegar kill all of the bacteria, but I find that my fruits last at least twice as long (especially the berries). I absolutely live off of berries until late in the season when they become too expensive, then I switch to apples and bananas. You may have seen my previous post on dehydrating fruit, which is a great option for preserving some seasonal favorites.
Another thing I like to do is to have a plastic tote filled with individual snacks, ready to grab. Everything is all in one spot, individually packed.
My favorite grab-and-go snacks are:
*real fruit roll ups
*100 calorie packs of just about anything
*individually wrapped prunes.
Last week, I tried salads. They were a lot more work than soup, but who wants soup in the summer? I prepped all of the ingredients so I could make each salad the night before to prevent them from getting soggy. I have heard about salad in a jar, which I may need to explore! Even so, I would still want to add a protein (chicken or egg) the night before. I bought these handy salad containers, which have a spot for holding a fork and dressing.
Ingredients for this week’s salad include: Spring Mix lettuce, cucumber, red pepper, shredded carrot, grape tomatoes, hard-boiled egg, and grilled chicken. Voila, the final product:
There are 40 weeks in the school year, and I do my best to rotate recipes and try new healthy, low-calorie, filling, tasty, creative, and efficient lunch ideas throughout the year. Here is a list of my favorite lunch options (I always add LOTS of veggies!):
Pancakes are a weekend thing, right? There’s honestly no better way to spend an early Saturday or Sunday morning than sitting at the kitchen table with my husband (and the dog sitting ON my feet – he has attachment issues), reading the news, eating pancakes, and planning the rest of the day. How often do I get to do this? Almost never. Who wants to go through all the trouble and make all that mess?
WELL! I tried out another great idea I found on Pinterest. I made the pancake batter and spooned it into a plastic bag. I got the griddle nice and hot, cut off the corner of the bag, and squeezed the batter into perfectly shaped silver dollar pancakes. AWESOME!
The clean-up was almost nonexistent. I just threw away the bag! No drips all over the counter/stove to clean up. I am in love with pancakes all over again! Next weekend, I am going to try fun shapes. I mean, why not?
Another food prep activity that I am doing before Back-To-School is dehydrating fruit. This makes a great, hassle-free snack at a reasonable price, and without any chemicals or preservatives (NO sulfates!!!)! You can also preserve some of your favorite seasonal items that are about to disappear for a while (sniff, sniff… goodbye cherries!!!)
I’ve got to warn you – once you start, you will become obsessed! I have since moved on to vegetables… dun, dun, duuuun! I guess once I get my electric bill, it may curb my enthusiasm a bit…
In the pictures below, you can see my first batch.
1 Gala apple
1/2 large carton of strawberries
1/3 of a pineapple (not pictured) <— my FAVORITE!!
So as you can tell, it’s not as much fruit as it looks like. I dehydrated the fruit for about 6-7 hours. I probably could have gone longer on the pineapple. I did not do any pre-treatment of the fruit, but I have heard that a dash of cinnamon on the apples is delicious, as well as a lemon/lime spritz over everything for added zest.
Of course I make sure to cut the fruits as thinly as possible. I really like the crisp edges 🙂 For Christmas, I’d love to get a slicer to make the job go faster. I think this mandoline by Pampered Chef would be great, and this slicer by Paderno World Cuisine has nice reviews on Amazon.
Some other fruits/veggies I would like to try:
Right now, we are dehydrating fools as we prepare for my husband’s 9-day camping trip to the Boundary Waters. I am dehydrating a bunch of jalapeños, which will then be crushed into powder and used as a spice in various meals. We’ve also done a pound of carrots, and 4 red peppers. The house is really getting warm, but it smells delicious!
Do you have any recommendations or tips for food dehydrating?
In preparation for … (holding my breath)…. Back… To….(gulp) School….. (there, I said it), I am beginning to get things in order around the house. One of those tasks includes grocery shopping and preparing meals. Bless the Teacher-Mothers who are able to come home and cook dinner for their families; I just can’t seem to manage that, and I’m not even a mother! I decided to try frozen Slow-Cooker meals as a new option for my husband and me. I found some excellent recipes from Six Sisters’ Stuff – they really know their stuff! Very easy recipes without crazy ingredients, affordable, and delicious.
Though they have dozens of recipes, I picked 4 to begin: Cilantro Lime Chicken, Chicken Broccoli Alfredo, Hearty Beef Stew, and Chicken Cacciatori.
I began at the grocery store, where the above ingredients cost me only $51.63!!! Since I am making 8 Bags (16 meals), that’s only $3.22 a meal! I was very pleased with this, and I know I could have done better with coupons (new goal for next round).
The preparation took approximately 1 hour, just like the Six Sisters promise. I have a few recommendations if you are going to give this a try:
1. Begin by getting out a Sharpie and labeling all of your freezer bags. The Six Sisters recommend using freezer gallon bags. I did this, but I split each of the recipes into *2* gallon bags. They say the recipes are for approximately 5-6 meals, and it’s just my husband and myself, so I figured why not make it even easier by dividing in half.
2. Prepare all of the meat first. I hate this part and I like to get it over with. I clean and trim all of the meat and separate it into the appropriate bags. Then I can clean my countertops and not worry about cross-contamination.
3. Flip out the zippers of the bag. This makes the bags stand up nicely, and they are open for dumping in ingredients. You probably knew this already 😉
4. Use this as an opportunity to clean out your fridge/freezer! I love vegetables, so I added WAY more than the recipes called for. I cleaned out my veggie drawer and any little bags of frozen veggies I had left over from other meals.
5. Save the frozen ingredients for last.
Here are the final products – 8 frozen meals for 2-3. The directions are right on the bag: they’re ‘Husband-Proof’!
And here they are all stacked up, waiting to go in the freezer. They take up about a third of my freezer space.
A tip I have heard is to use Slow-Cooker liners to speed up the clean-up process. I don’t feel good about cooking my food in plastic bags, so I will not be doing this.
I hope these meals will last us through the crazy first month of September. The investment (financial and time) are definitely worth it!