By Chef Meg Galvin, Healthy Cooking Expert at SparkPeople.com
In summertime, many of us moms feel like the kid in "Home Alone"--or at least we feel like making that face! The kids are hot, hungry, and tired, and so am I! What do I feed them that is healthy and quick. It only adds to the drama if you're at work and you have teens at home alone or a babysitter with limited cooking skills.
Everyone will smile with these simple and easy healthy lunches for your tots, pre-teens and full-blown teenagers that eat like adults (I have three of those myself!). Bonus: Most of the meals can be made ahead and changed slightly to yield a new lunchtime menu.
Get your summer kitchen ready and organized!
- Hold a family meeting on Friday for the next week's menu choices. That way you can hit the farmers markets or supermarket on the weekend to get the freshest produce
- Post a menu selection on the fridge or use a wipe off board to post the choices for the day/week.
- Purchase some clear glass or plastic storage containers so that kids can see what's inside (Isn't it funny how kids get selective blindness when they open the fridge?)
- Label all containers with the items that are inside
- Organize the refrigerator and pantry so that items the kids will need are at their eye level and items needed for the meal are stored together
- Get the kids--from tots to teens-- involved. Those just learning to write can make the labels while those who are a little older can make cool labels on the computer. Let kids write the store lists, research recipes, and weigh in on food choices as much as possible.
- Make life easy for you. Reuse leftovers from last night's dinner as much as possible, and rely on "low-cook" recipes.
- Don't forget yourself. These meal ideas are great for mom's and dad's lunches, too.
Chicken Taco Bowls: Chop green leaf lettuce and toss with shredded cheddar cheese, black beans, salsa, and leftover cubed chicken. Put each ingredient in a separate container and stack together in the fridge for easy prep work.
Chicken Penne Salad: Combine cooked whole-wheat pasta and leftover cubed chicken with a basic salad dressing. Place shredded and diced vegetables, drained and rinsed canned beans, and shredded cheese in storage containers so kids can customize their salads.
Loaded Baked Potatoes: Bake (or microwave) big batches of potatoes or sweet potatoes at night. Pair with drained and rinsed white or red kidney beans, shredded cheese, chopped broccoli, cubed chicken, and light sour cream.
Flatbread Veggie Sandwiches: Place any leftover vegetables from dinner in clear containers with a bag of reduced-fat shredded cheese, some whole-wheat flatbread, and a package of lean deli meat nearby. Kids can build the sandwiches and eat them cold or warm (by microwaving for 30 seconds).
English muffin pizzas: Keep a bag of whole-grain English muffins in the bread box, plus a bag of shredded cheese and a jar of sauce in the fridge. Chop up a bunch of veggies the kids like and place them nearby, along with cooked chicken or turkey pepperoni. The kids can build their own pizzas and microwave or bake them with the help of a grown-up
Fun pasta: Cook up a box of small pasta in a fun shape, such as stars or the alphabet. Puree a jar of chunky veggie sauce and a few handfuls of fresh spinach, then add to the pasta. Add ground turkey seasoned with Italian spices, and this will replace the kids' favorite canned pasta.
Souped-up Smoothies: Over the weekend make a batch of your favorite granola and store in a clear container on the countertop. Stock the freezer with all kinds of frozen fruit: blueberries, strawberries, diced mango, sliced peaches, or cubed cantaloupe. Stock your refrigerator with plain Greek yogurt and skim milk, and the kids can make healthy "milkshakes" topped with granola for a quick meal or snack.
Savory stuffed waffles: Over the weekend, make an extra batch of waffles stuffed with lean meats. Fill the bottom of the griddle with 1/2 of recommend batter, then 2 ounces of turkey or ham, and top with remaining batter. Cook, cool, then freeze in plastic bags. Kids can reheat in a toaster oven for a fun alternative to a sandwich.
Remember, when all else fails, there's always the good ol' PBJ with a cup of milk!
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SparkPeople Healthy Cooking Expert Meg Galvin is a World Master Chef, culinary instructor, and the author of " The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight." A farmer's daughter and marathon runner, she lives in northern Kentucky with her husband and three teenage sons.