Kids’ lunches have become somewhat of a moving target this past year, as parents juggle varying school schedules and situations. What better time than a new year to take a fresh look at what we’re packing—or serving at home—for lunch?
I asked Laura Fuentes, cookbook author and founder of MOMables.com, a food blog and family meal-planning service, for her tips and advice on offering our kids easy and healthy lunches. Here’s what she said.
The Epoch Times: What are the key elements of a healthy lunch for kids?
Laura Fuentes: Regardless of dietary preferences, the best school lunches are those that are packed with nutrition, tasty, and easy to prepare—all of which help ensure that the lunchbox comes home empty.
I like to make sure each packed lunch is a balance of healthy carbs, fats, and quality protein to keep them satiated and focused for the rest of the school day.
The Epoch Times: What are some of your go-to strategies for ensuring your kids eat a healthy lunch each day?
Ms. Fuentes: It’s easy to grab prepackaged lunch foods and snacks, but in the long run, we parents know it’s not the best option. Having a variety of lunches in place adds variety to our kids’ meals and nutrition.
I usually plan three different lunch items per week that include fresh ingredients as well as leftovers. This ensures that no food goes to waste and lunches are often prepped ahead of time.
I’m a big fan of bulk cooking and freezing, so one-time prep leads to many future lunches!
I also recreate kid-favorite foods with healthier ingredients. Blending veggies into tomato soup or baking nuggets instead of frying are some of the ways I make my kids’ favorites more nutritious.
Having some of their favorites made with fresh ingredients helps me know that they are getting the fuel they need for the day while enjoying what’s packed for lunch.
The Epoch Times: What are some of your favorite choices to pack in a lunchbox?
Ms. Fuentes: When it comes to making my kids’ lunches, they love anything to do with quesadillas, baked mini quiches, and grilled cheese. Typical, right?! To add a little extra nutrition, I try to add chopped veggies to the quesadillas and mini quiches, while options like the grilled cheese can be packed with a side of vegetable soup or raw veggies and dip.
For at-home lunches (and for adults), I’m all about bowls built with a base of rice or lettuce, topped with veggies and a serving of protein—usually whatever is leftover from dinner—and a sauce to drizzle with, of course!
The Epoch Times: What healthy snacks do you recommend for kids?
Ms. Fuentes: Both my second cookbook, “The Best Homemade Kids’ Snacks on the Planet,” and my fifth cookbook, “Clean Treats for Everyone,” are filled with real-food snacks parents can easily make ahead for their kids.
My kids have inspired the creation of delicious recipes like energy bites, no-bake chocolate chip blondies, and homemade fruit roll-ups, for example.
For store-bought ideas, I prefer sliced fruit and veggies with a dip, nuts, trail mixes, dehydrated foods, or fruit leather.
The Epoch Times: How can parents make packing lunches for their kids each day as easy as possible?
Ms. Fuentes: Know what your kids like. You know your kids better than anyone, including which foods they prefer. Choosing options that are similar to foods they like can help you pack a variety in the lunchbox and make sure they are getting a balance.
Meal plan. While we often meal plan our dinners, it’s important to also plan out lunches. This is as simple as selecting a few lunch ideas your family likes, with ingredients similar to what you might be using for dinner so you can combine shopping lists and spend less time cooking. In this way, you’ll know when to prep ingredients and avoid that situation of figuring out what to make for lunch the morning of.
Prep ahead. Taking 1 to 2 hours at the beginning of the week to chop veggies, prep salads, and cook grains and meats can save so much time during the week. Instead of spending hours in the kitchen every night to bring a meal to the table and pack lunches, it’s more like 30 minutes once you learn how to do healthy meal prep for the week.
Pack leftovers. There is no better way to use last night’s leftovers than for a hot thermos lunch! Not only does this save time, but nothing goes to waste, and hot lunches are always a nice switch-up from the usual cold lunches.