Ace Back-to-School Lunch & Snack Prep with the Yumbox
There’s no doubt that the 2020-2021 school year looks different than years past. Whether your little ones will be starting the semester in the classroom, at home, or a combination of both, start the new year off right by committing to creating healthful and fun lunches for your kids.
There are so many benefits to nutritious, whole foods-based lunches and snacks. A healthy, midday meal is essential in keeping energy levels high for optimum academic performance and can positively affect long-term health issues (less sick days, healthy body weight, etc). Kids who are offered a variety of food choices on a consistent basis tend to be less picky eaters; it helps create interest in meal-planning and getting them involved with you in the kitchen, too! Planning meals at the beginning of the week (or at least the night before) helps relieve the daily stresses that come with school schedules for parents as well.
Love the idea but think packing daily healthy lunches will be a hassle? With a little planning and our favorite bento-box-style kid’s lunchbox – the Yumbox – assembling beautiful, bountiful, and anything-but-boring lunches will be as easy as A-B-C!
Check out my tips then try one (or all!) of the Yumbox lunch ideas below. (These are specifically tailored to address allergies, dietary restrictions, and tastes!) Yumboxes are widely available on Amazon but if you’d prefer to shop local, I still have some stock on my e-commerce store.
SAVOR EACH SEASON
Buy fruits and vegetables at the peak of their season. Not only are you offering your kids variety, but hopefully they’ll gain an appreciation for savoring produce in it’s truest and most flavorful form. Plus, in season fruits and veggies make for a super colorful Yumbox!
Leftovers from dinner – proteins, rices, pastas and veggies – can all be repurposed into lunch for the next day. One of the best features of the Yumboxes are their proportioned, leak-proof trays. You can feel confident dishing out a saucy pasta from dinner without it making sandwich bread soggy!
Never left with leftovers? Make big batches of salads and rice-style dishes likes pasta salad, tuna/chicken salad, quinoa, and orzo at the beginning of the week to serve up all week long!
BUY IN BULK
Skip the prepackaged “snack size” options of nuts, dried fruits, sweets, and treats and buy in bulk instead. You’ll save a considerable amount of money and get to control the quality of ingredients.
Create your own trail mixes by stocking up on nuts like raw almonds, walnuts, and pistachios, dried fruits including cranberries, raisins, and apricots, and mini chocolate morsels (Be mindful of packing chocolate-based candies during the warmer months!) Even sweets and treats like cookies, crackers, and granola bars are less expensive when bought in bulk. When stored properly (Like in our stylish Kilner Clip-Top Glass Jars), bulk goods will stay fresh for several weeks – if these goodies aren’t all eaten by then!
ROUTINE, ROUTINE, ROUTINE!
Lunchtime meal prep is sooooooooooo much more attainable when you find a routine that works for you and you stick to it. Personally, I find it easiest to get lunches prepared if I have a few extra minutes while dinner is cooking or right after we finish eating. My cutting board and knife are already out and I can decide if I’m including leftovers. (This time is also a more realistic time for your kids to actively take part in their lunch making than in the early AM rush.) As we’re cleaning up from dinner, lunch stuff is put away too, and I don’t have to think about it until we pull the Yumbox out of the fridge the next morning.
I’ve never made a lunch in the morning and don’t intend on starting anytime soon! Life is too short for running around like a mad lady and having a sink full of dirty dishes before enjoying a cup of coffee!
Now that you’ve been schooled in the Yumbox basics, let’s have a little fun with our food, shall we? Our stack of fun, colorful Yumboxes were just begging for some creative lunches. Here we’re showcasing a few of our favorites.
*We tried to make these lunches as “real” as possible. While there a ton of pretty pictures online, many images display food that wouldn’t actually fit in the Yumbox with the lid closed. All of these examples do! I also shied away from getting too “‘cute” with the food. Cookie-cutter sandwich shapes with eyes, ears, noses, and tails are creative, but not realistic on a daily basis.
THE ALL-AMERICAN LUNCH
School lunches don’t get any more classic than this! Elevate a standard turkey and cheese sandwich with high-quality deli meat, thick-cut cheddar cheese, fresh green leaf lettuce, and a grainy mustard on whole grain bread. Carrot chips provide texture and are easy to bite (Particularly helpful for elementary-age children losing their teeth!) and apple slices are always a hit, especially in the fall. End lunch on a sweet note with a few mini Oreos.
THE PROTEIN-PACKED (GLUTEN-FREE AND MEAT FREE) LUNCH
This lunch is perfect for those who have to avoid wheat-based foods or don’t eat meat but still need proper sources of protein. It includes one of my all-time favorite foods – one that pops up in our dinner rotation at least once a week – quinoa!
Quinoa is called a superfood for a reason. It’s gluten-free, high in protein and one of the few plant foods that contain all nine essential amino acids. Quinoa is also high in fiber, magnesium, B vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin E and various beneficial antioxidants. Not to mention it’s nutty and delicious!
The addition of a hard-boiled egg, cottage cheese, gluten-free crackers, dunkable, fiberific veggies and nut or dried berry mix will keep kids energized and satiated until dinner!
FOR THE WORDLY EATER: MEDITERRANEAN-INSPIRED LUNCH
If you’re going to subscribe to a diet, make it the Mediterranean diet. This isn’t really a diet, but an eating lifestyle centered around whole foods enjoyed in their simplest, purest forms. Think fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, nuts, and olive oils. If your little ones love Mediterranean-inspired meals as much as we do, then this lunch is perfect for them.
My favorite portion in this lunch are the cucumber, prosciutto, and basil bites. They are an easy and delicious way to introduce fresh herbs to children, and makes for a super-simple grown-up small bite/finger food to enjoy with wine.
I also love the skewers! Sweet cherry tomatoes are in season now and go perfectly with little balls of mozzeralla and black olives (Tip: Spend the extra $1 on the imported canned black olives – they are so much more flavorful!)
For grains and pastas, whole grain is the way to go! Don’t be afraid to try whole wheat pastas. If you’re going to indulge in pasta, you might as well make all those calories count! The whole wheat option has a higher nutritional value and a yummy nutty bite!
FOR THE SWEET TOOTH
Last but certainly not least, we can’t forgot about The Sweet Tooth. While it’s neat to think every kid is a future foodie, it’s safe to say there are many picky eaters out there and those that can only be tamed by sweets and treats. If this sounds like your dilemma, don’t worry, we’ve got a sweet surprise for you. Some sweets are really good for you. Yes, you heard that right! The key is choosing and combining whole-foods that are naturally sweet and staying away from processed sugars as much as possible.
Fruits like grapes, mango, and blueberries, protein-packed Greek yogurt topped with cinnamon and honey, PB&J/banana roll-ups (In a whole-wheat tortilla, of course!) and everybody’s favorite “Ants on a Log,” are all great choices. Here I also included my favorite prepackaged energy bar – the Lara Bar. Lara Bars are minimally-processed whole-food bars made from just a few (under 10!) fruit and/or nut ingredients. With flavors including Apple Pie, Snickerdoodle, and Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip (featured here), your kids will never know their tasty treat is actually good for them! RXBars are another great, whole-foods based option, or if you’re feeling really ambitious, you could make your own granola bars.
We hope our tips and fun collection of recipes helps your family make the most out of the upcoming school year.