10 Meal-Prep Hacks for the First Week Back to School and Beyond
Getting back into the school routine can be stressful and daunting for parents, not least when there's that added pressure to give your kids the nutrition their brains need to thrive. Follow these easy tips for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner and you'll be golden for that first week and onwards.
After a long summer of sun, swimming, and laid-back meals, getting back on a regular schedule can be tough. From whipping together breakfast, packing lunches, prepping snacks, and figuring out what to get on the table for dinner, it's a lot to plan. But we asked five dietitians and food bloggers for their best back-to-school tips to help make your family’s transition from summer to school year a whole lot easier.
1. Set your menu for the week
"Setting aside an hour or two on a Saturday or Sunday will help you tremendously during the school week. Look on Pinterest, flip through your favorite magazines, or look online to search for recipes. Create a menu for the week. Once you have some dinner recipe inspiration, write a grocery list and go shopping. Feel free to get your kids involved too!"
—Alice Choi, Hip Foodie Mom
2. Make a portable breakfast parfait
"For a quick make-ahead weekday breakfast that works in a lunch box, too, assemble yogurt parfaits in a jar. They're protein-rich, nutritious, and kid-friendly. Here's how:
Spoon 3/4 cup Greek yogurt into a jar with a lid. Drizzle 1 to 2 teaspoons maple syrup over the yogurt, top with 1/3 cup melted frozen raspberries, finish with a spoonful of granola or toasted nuts. Cover with a lid and refrigerate until ready to eat."
3. Set up for breakfast before bed
"Setting up for breakfast before going to bed will save time and stress in the morning. For example, use the timer on your coffee machine. If you are having cereal, put out the bowls and spoons along with the cereal boxes. Have washed berries in a bowl ready to grab from the fridge. Packing lunches the night before also means that parents can enjoy their food instead of scrambling to get lunchboxes ready."
4. Freeze your breakfast favorites
"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and you want to send your kids off to school nourished and ready to learn! For breakfast, I have to plan ahead. The freezer saves me all the time. Make waffles from scratch and freeze them. Then, in the morning, just pop them in your toaster oven and you are set.
My kids also love these Baked Egg Tater Tot Muffins! They can be made ahead, placed into the freezer and then re-heated the morning of for breakfast! I also often make hard-boiled eggs the night before and store them in the fridge. Then, my kids have a great source of protein to enjoy in the morning with some toast."
—Alice Choi, Hip Foodie Mom
5. Encourage your kids to pack their lunches
"My kids make their own lunches, and one thing that helps this go smoothly are lunch-packing bins I prep on Sundays. I keep one in the fridge stocked with things like string cheese, yogurt, veggies, and washed fruit and one on the counter with items like granola bars, nuts, and single-serve applesauce pouches. (Parents' editors like Mott’s Clear Applesauce Pouches with no sugar added.) They're not limited to just those foods of course, but it gives them a good start and streamlines the process because everything is quick to grab and pack."
—Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, registered dietitian of Real Mom Nutrition and author of The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids
6. Skip PB&J sandwiches—and try these PB roll-ups
"A tasty twist on a classic PB&J, these nut butter roll-ups deliver fiber, healthy fats, and protein in one tidy package. Here's how:
Spread 2 tablespoons peanut butter or other favorite nut or seed butter over a whole-wheat tortilla. Drizzle lightly with honey. Set a peeled banana at one end of the tortilla and roll up. Cut in half or into smaller 'bites.'"
7. Schedule afternoon snacks
"As a dietitian, one of the biggest struggles I hear from parents is that their kids eat a bunch of snacks in the afternoon and then are not hungry for dinner. I recommend that parents offer one balanced snack after school and then tell kids that the next opportunity to eat will be at dinner. Make sure that the snack has protein, high fiber carbohydrate, and some fat to keep little tummies satisfied. Some examples would be plain Greek yogurt + granola + fruit or veggies + hummus + oatmeal cookie or half of an egg salad sandwich + milk."
8. Make a DIY trail mix bar
"For a crunchy snack that packs more nutrients than chips or cookies, set up a DIY trail mix bar and let your kids make their own. Here's how:
Put out favorite nuts, seeds, dried fruit, dark chocolate chips, pretzels, whole-grain cereal, dehydrated fruits and so on. Give your child small reusable containers or wax paper bags to assemble their own trail mix. Make multiple bags to store for quick grab-and-go snacks for days to come."
9. Prep (but don't cook everything) on Sunday
"A lot of people get discouraged thinking meal prep has to mean prepping everything or nothing. Find a middle ground that works for you! Prep the bare minimum—have raw veggies ready to roast and protein ready to cook. Grains like rice will last all week when prepped in advance!
Having a few staples ready will hold you accountable, encouraging you to stick with your plan, but also provide flexibility to modify as life happens throughout the week. Instead of spending multiple hours on Sunday meal prepping, spend just an hour getting things ready, and then spend a minimum amount of time during the week to get your meal cooked and assembled since prep-work is done."
Great back-to-school side dishes you can meal prep:
3 super easy back-to-school dinner recipes perfect for meal prep:
—Alyssia Sheikh, Mind Over Munch
10. Freeze batches of dinner soups, sauces, and curries
"Keep your freezer stocked with dinner items like pasta sauce, chili, soup, and curries. A well-stocked freezer will save you from that dreaded 5 p.m. scramble of trying to decide if you can piece together a meal or if you should order in."