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It’s back to school time! Some of you may have already returned to school, but it’s not too late to do a cooking day. In fact, we do a cooking day about once a month to fill our freezer with food we make ahead and freeze to use for school lunches.
Now I know that the reason that some of you choose for your child to eat school lunch is out of convenience. It is just plain easier. I get it. Believe me, my kiddos have school lunch when we run out of our made-ahead food, or if we have a late night of sports, or if mom is sick….you get the picture. No guilt here.
What if it could be almost as convenient for your kids to pack their own lunches, PLUS you know what they’re eating and are only giving them healthy choices?
The reason that I have continued to stay sane and make lunches for my kids is, first of all, they make their own lunches. This is part of our nightly routine. Play time, homework, dinner, after dinner clean-up chore, make lunch for tomorrow. More play, then bed.
Second, I make as much of the food ahead of time as I can. This saves me. I am in the kitchen all day once a month, but that one day is worth it to me for saving so much time in the long run.
If we had to make everything from scratch the morning of school, it would never happen!
When they make their lunch the night before, they just take the food out of the freezer, put it in their lunch box, and it will be thawed out by morning. Just add some fruits and veggies and you’re ready to go!
Here are some baked goods/snacks that we make ahead of time and freeze:
Quesadillas-we love Stacey’s organic tortillas. We use grass-fed cheese and cut the quesadillas into triangles.
Muffins– we make these Paleo Chocolate Cherry Muffins from Against all Grain and leave out the cherries!
Cookies-we love these Real Deal Chocolate Chip Cookies from Against all Grain.
Chicken Nuggets-these are another hit from Against all Grain. We made them in the Air Fryer instead of frying them. There will be a blog post on that soon, don’t worry! Soooooo good. My kids gobbled them up in 2 days. I need to make more before school starts!
Mini Pizzas-we use Stacey’s Organic Tortillas for these too. Then add some pasta sauce, grass-fed cheese and any toppings the kids want. Cook them, cut them into triangles and freeze.
Freezer Bean Burritos-these are another huge hit at our house. They are so easy to make, and cost fractions of what the Amy’s Burritos that we were buying cost.
Grain-Free Waffles-we love these for breakfast warmed up in the toaster oven, or in our lunches cold drizzled with a little syrup.
*Couple tips: When freezing these things, it is best to use parchment paper in between the layers so they don’t stick together. That way it is easy to take one out every time you need it. We use large plastic baggies or glass containers with snap-on lids.
Here are a few soups, meatballs, etc… that we like to make ahead.
Refried beans-see the Freezer Bean Burrito recipe above.
Broccoli Cheese Soup-this is one of my son’s favorite soups. While I mostly avoid dairy, my kids do have some. We just try to limit it and make sure that when they have it it is from grass-fed cows.
Broccoli Cheese Soup
- 1/2 Cup butter
- 1 onion diced
- 16 oz. chopped broccoli
- 4 14.5 oz. cans chicken broth
- 4 ounces cream cheese
- 1-2 Cups sharp cheddar shredded
- 1 T. garlic powder
In a stock pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Cook the onion in butter until softened. Stir in the broccoli and cover with chicken broth. Simmer 10-15 minutes until tender. Reduce heat and stir in cheese until melted. Mix in garlic powder.
Chili-This Instant Pot Chili Recipe from Red and Honey is not only really good, but also really easy!
Meatballs-I use the meatloaf recipe below and make it into meatballs instead. They are really good. I just adjusted the time. I’m not sure how long I cooked them, I would set the timer for about 15 minutes, then check and see how much longer they needed.
Meatloaf with veggies
- 2 lbs. ground beef
- 1 onion or leek diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 carrot shredded
- 1 sweet potato shredded
- 1 celery-diced
- 1/2 green pepper diced
- 1/2 Cup ketchup
- 1 t. paprika
- 1-2 t. dried herbs thyme, marjoram, basil
- 1 Cup oats
- salt & pepper
- 1 egg
Add all veggies to the meat. Add egg, oats and herbs. Mix well. Put in 2 bread pans and bake at 325 for 2 hours. Check after 1 1/2 hours.
Tomato Soup with Chicken-this is a great recipe without dairy. Sometimes we add the chicken, sometimes we don’t.
Tomato Soup with Chicken
- 1 small yellow onion finely diced
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 5 Cups diced tomatoes
- 1 13.5 oz. can of coconut milk
- 1 t. salt
- 1 t. pepper
- 2 T. coconut oil
- 2-3 Cups diced cooked chicken
- minced parsley for garnish
In a large soup pot, cook diced onions in oil. Add garlic and cook 1-2 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook 7-10 minutes, stirring. Add coconut milk, salt and pepper and heat to simmer. Pour into blender and blend until smooth. Put back into pot. Add the chicken and warm it through. Garnish with parsley.
*Couple tips: We use these small mason jars or jelly jars. Just make sure not to fill them too full when using them for liquids. The liquid expands and I’ve been disappointed more than once when the glass breaks. I leave a couple of inches of air at the top. I also don’t screw the lid on very tight until it’s frozen, then I go back and tighten the lid. My last tip is not the let the jars touch the freezer wall.
Take a jar out the night before and let it thaw in your fridge. The morning of school, reheat the jar in your toaster oven, in the stove in a pan of water, or in the microwave as a last resort. Then transfer it to a Thermos and you’re ready to go!
Now let’s talk a bit about our favorite lunch box
We have been using Planetbox lunch boxes for 4-5 years, so I have made many a lunch in this container.
What we love about it:
We love that’s it’s all one piece, so not a lot of parts to lose and easy to clean.
We love that’s it’s stainless steel and doesn’t leach any chemicals into our food.
We love that it’s dishwasher safe. It’s also really easy to clean if you need to hand wash it. Even if your kids forget their lunch at school over the weekend, stainless steel doesn’t retain odors or stains.
We love that the compartments are molded into the lunch box which makes it easy to keep everything separate.
We love that we are saving tons of paper and plastic from going in a landfill by using this.
Planetbox has 3 different lunch boxes to choose from:
The Rover is the one we have. It has 4 main compartments and a little one for a treat. It also comes with 2 stainless steel containers with silicone lids that are good for liquid or messy foods. This one holds 5 Cups of food.
The Launch has 3 compartments and holds 7 Cups of food. It comes with a small container for dressings or sauces.
The Shuttle is smaller and great for small lunches or snacks. It has 2 compartments and comes with a small dressing/sauce container.
The only cons that we have found are price and they do make your backpack a bit heavy.
As far as price, if the lunch box and carrying bag cost about $72 and we have used it for 5 years, that’s less than $15/year. We do use them year round for day trips and for when we have sports all day and want to pack a lunch. They are still like new so we will definitely get a few more years out of them. For us, the one-time investment made sense. We gave them to our kiddos one year as Christmas presents. Win for them and us!
TIP-I would recommend getting the Cold Kit which is a flat ice pack that slides right into a sleeve to keep their food cold all day.
With a little planning, and the right supplies, making healthy school lunches can be simple.
With love + gratitude,
P.S. Please share any tips you have for making school lunches easier in the comments below.