Summer flew by and it’s time to get back to the books! Whether prepping for preschool, grade school, high school, or college, a little planning goes a long way. With the right ingredients and equipment, you can make fast and easy take-away meals that are better for you and your family when you’re on the go—whether it’s for school, work or play! Here are three simple ways to make mealtime simpler during the school year.

  1. Back to basics for breakfast. Balance, efficiency, and taste will win in the morning. Whether cooking ahead is your thing or grab and go items are better, here’s the essentials arranged by pairing food groups. Easy? Yes. Creative? Yes. Appropriate for pretty much any age? Yes!
    • Bake muffins with fresh or dried fruit and nuts (if desired) on the weekends, freeze and pack in individual baggies or containers. During the week, grab one and a container of yogurt with whatever fruit is on hand and you’re good. (These are also great for days when you’re running late).
    • Make use of that muffin tin in a savory way. Make mini egg and veggie “casseroles” that can be warmed in the microwave. Store them in the freezer individually, too.
    • String cheese with fruit and crackers; yogurt with fruit and granola; or oatmeal with cinnamon, raisins and nut butter or milk and topped with seasonal fruit are all super for running to the bus with and eating en route (if necessary—it’s always best to sit and enjoy a meal whenever possible).
    • Peanut butter sandwich with bananas is a an old favorite that’s sure to please, or try lean meat and cheese with veggies in a wrap—with at least to 2-3 grams of fiber it can help stave off hunger till lunch.
  2. The lunch bunch. Often times, foods that can be tossed into a bag and assembled later are easy to pack and fun to eat. Keep these items in pantry, freezer, and fridge, and grab one from at least three of the food groups in appropriate portions..
    • Fruits: anything seasonal; fresh, dried, canned (packed in juice or water), frozen (with no sauce)
    • Vegetables: anything seasonal, fresh, dried, canned (drain and rinse before cooking/eating to help reduce sodium in canned items), frozen (without sauces)
    • (Whole) grains: Read ingredient lists and check for fiber
    • Dairy: Choose low-fat or fat-free options, and/or pair higher-fat favorites with other lower-fat items to round out your meal/snack
    • Protein: Enjoy the variety of this group, including eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, poultry, fish, beef, pork, and more!

Dinner dilemma (no more). When shopping, look for items that do double duty at more than one meal or snack, and that go well together. What can you make one day for dinner that would make a delicious lunch the next day? Use your weekends to make soup, stew, casserole, then cut into individual portions in containers that can be frozen and microwaved. These can easily be put into lunches or warmed for a busy night’s dinner some time later in the week.

Enjoy your better choices this back to school season!

Kim Kirchherr, MS, RD, LDN, CDE, FAND