Hooray, the kids are going back to school! I don't know about you, but we never did establish a summer routine, and my family is in dire need of some order and regularity. It's time to start thinking about easy weeknight dinners and packing lunch boxes, as we know we have to plan ahead to make healthy meals. My kids started school last week so I've already put a few favorite lunch recipes back to work. I like to double recipes for dinner and freeze the leftovers to use in lunchboxes. If you need a jump start this year, here are some of my family's favorites for you to try. And if you don't have kids? Keep reading, I promise you'll like these recipes too.
Chicken Parmesan Meatloaf Bites: I should rename these to Turkey Parmesan Meatballs, because I swap the ground chicken for ground turkey and I roll them into meatballs so I don't have to wash my mini-muffin tin (I'm going for quick and easy). I serve these for dinner with spaghetti, and then toss them into a lunch box the next day. I usually freeze a bunch too. I'm fortunate that my kids will eat things cold, so they don't have any trouble eating cold meatballs. These are flavorful and moist enough that even I will eat them that way. If your kids won't eat them cold, warm them up and toss them into a thermos.
Cottage Cheese Pancakes: Protein is a must-have in my kids' meals, so normally pancakes alone don't fly with me as a lunch or dinner entree. But these are made with cottage cheese and plenty of egg, so they are protein-packed. Cottage cheese may sound strange in a pancake, but try it, these are good! I don't even like cottage cheese. These are good with a little syrup, or even cold as a snack without syrup. I freeze these to thaw as a grab and go snack, or pack with a little container of syrup in the lunchbox. One of my kids favorite lunches!
Lunchmeat: Do you, or the kids, get tired of lunch meat sandwiches? Try it a little differently. Wrap some lunchmeat around a cheese stick and roll it in a tortilla with some veggie slices, or just roll it around the cheese to be eaten that way! Pack some whole wheat crackers on the side. My kids beg for Lunchables, but I'm not a fan so I make my own. I buy a favorite lunch meat or Canandian Bacon slices and cut them into pieces, with cheese slices and Triscuits. Throw in some fruits and veggies and a Nature Cookie (see below), and it's good to go!
Nature Cookies: These are a great addition to a lunch, or better yet, a healthy snack for school. My second grader has to pack a healthy snack daily, so I have a bunch of nature cookie dough in my freezer to bake a dozen when we run out. I'm not supposed to recommend eating raw cookie dough for food safety reasons, but this dough is delish, just an FYI to the baker. You can swap out the goodies you put in the cookies, aiming for 2 cups total of dried fruit, seeds, nuts, chocolate chips, coconut, etc. My kids have nut allergies so we do about 1/2 cup raisins, 1/2 cup choc chips, >1/3 cup sunflower seeds, >1/3 cup pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds), and <1/3 cup coconut. No nuts makes them school-friendly.
Roasted Veggies: You guys, my kids ate, and LIKED, brussel sprouts last week! I've been trying for a year to get them to eat brussel sprouts but they weren't interested. I've learned that the best time to have my kids try a new veggie is when it's sitting on the counter in a bowl, I'm making dinner, and they are starving. They'll eat almost anything. I roasted a big bag of brussel sprouts one night after dinner just to have them already prepared for the next day. Fast forward to the next day, cold brussel sprouts in a bowl on the counter, and my kids chowed down. Roasting veggies gives them a crispier texture and a nice flavor, which is great for dinner and sometimes even better the next day in a lunchbox. I do brussel sprouts at 375 or 400 degrees for just over 30 min. Just trim, slice in half and spritz with olive oil. Broccoli or cauliflower I do at 400 degrees for about 20 min (again, trimmed and sprayed). So many veggies can be done this way, so make them for dinner and make extra for lunches.
Pulled Pork Tacos in the Crockpot: Lastly, here's a fabulous, and fabulously easy, dinner recipe that will leave you with lots of leftovers. This may be my all time favorite meal. I usually half this recipe, unless we have company coming. I use a pork tenderloin because it's leaner than a pork shoulder, and easier to find in smaller portions. Just dump in the ingredients and turn on the slow cooker. Don't like pork? Use chicken. Create tacos or nachos with the meat, and once again, I benefit from the fact that my kids will eat anything cold. I throw this meat and some cheese in tortilla and pack some red and green peppers on the side for lunch the next day. Also, have you seen those 100 calorie individual servings of guacamole at Costco? Wholly Guacamole makes them. They are perfect for packing lunches. Or snacking on after school. Or as you are writing a blog about it.
If you are having trouble getting rolling in the morning because nobody is used to waking up early, pack your lunches the night before when you are cleaning up dinner. And when you pack lunches for your kids, how easy would it be to pack one for yourself too?! You could save yourself lots of money and calories by packing rather than eating out. Just remember: protein, carb, fruit, veggie. Perhaps a milk box on the side. Voila, lunch is served!