During my morning scramble I'm rushing to cook breakfast and pack a healthy lunch for my kids. In that hectic time slot my multitasking-parent skills are on overdrive. Once the kids are eating breakfast, I start working on lunch. I don't necessarily pack the plain old PB & J. Instead I mix and match whatever I have on hand to send my kids off with a balanced array of foods. I think of lunch items as fitting into one of three categories: protein, fruit and vegetables, and whole grains. I just choose at least one item from each category and the lunchboxes are packed in a jiffy. Here's how my approach works:
Quick Breakfast Ideas: Healthy Breakfasts to Get You Out the Door
Step 1: Pick a protein.
Adding a little protein to your child's lunchbox is an easy way to keep them satisfied throughout the afternoon--gram for gram, protein will keep them feeling fuller longer compared to carbohydrates and fat. I take a look in the cupboard and refrigerator and select one of these items: cottage cheese, cheese cubes, nuts, roasted tofu cubes, slices of ham, pouches of tuna or hard-boiled eggs.
Step 2: Include a mix of fruits and vegetables.
Making vegetables and fruit the largest portion of your kids' lunch boosts total nutrition, delivering disease-fighting phytochemicals, essential vitamins and minerals and a healthy dose of fiber. I usually include whole fruit, such as apples, pears, bananas, berries, peaches, plums or nectarines, because they take no time to prep. If I have more time in the morning, I might include cut-up fruit like melons, pineapple or mango. And finally I include cut-up vegetables: sliced red peppers, cucumbers, carrots or celery. I like to cut these the night before, when I am making dinner.
Step 3: Add some whole grains.
Whole grains provide a healthy boost of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Grains are also rich in carbohydrates--the body's main fuel supply. Lunchbox foods in this category can include crackers, whole-wheat pretzels, cereal-based snack mixes, popcorn, a slice of homemade quick bread, whole-grain muffins or a little leftover brown rice or whole-wheat couscous from dinner.
Try These Lunch Ideas: 4 Foods for a Healthy Lunch
Here are 4 of my favorite tips for cutting corners and making the lunch-packing process speedy:
Tip 1: When I make muffins or quick breads on the weekend I wrap them up individually. That way they're ready to throw straight into a lunchbox during the week.
Recipes to try: Delicious banana bread and muffins to wrap & pack
Tip 2: Keep a set of containers just for the kids' lunchboxes. Fill them with homemade snack mix and keep in the pantry until you're ready to pack them. Try these healthy homemade snacks to pack.
Tip 3: Use just one or two sizes of packable containers. That way you're less likely to be stuck searching around for the lid that fits. And you can make sure that both sizes are ones that will fit into the kids' lunchboxes. Check out these 5 fun lunchbox options!
Tip 4: How often are you just about to zip up the lunchbox and find the ice pack is missing or thawed because it didn't make it into the freezer last night? Buy extra ice packs and store them in the freezer.
What are your tricks for packing a healthy lunch and snacks for your kids?
By Alesia Depot
Alesia Depot, EatingWell's assistant managing editor, has worked on nearly every recipe ever created for EatingWell. She's also lucky to have tasted half of them during testing-which makes her two kids lucky, too, as many of these delicious recipes are the ones Depot packs up in their lunchboxes.
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