Eating healthy on-the-go is a challenge many families face thanks to jam-packed schedules for both parents and children. In part 1 of this series, we shared tips for planning meals in advance and shopping for nutritious foods that will fuel little bodies and help them grow strong. In this installment, you’ll learn about best practices for prepping and packing your kids’ breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks.
Phase Three: Prep
Meal preparation involves actions such as washing, drying, cutting or peeling fruits; washing, chopping or cooking vegetables; and seasoning, preparing or cooking meats or other lean proteins. You might also prep by mixing up your own salad dressings or dips to accompany main or side dishes, or preparing quick snacks like hard-boiled eggs. Typically, meal prep for a week’s worth of food is done over the course of a few hours on one afternoon. Many working parents choose to prep meals and snacks on a Saturday or Sunday so there is no work to be done from Monday though Friday. Those with more flexible schedules might prep on a different day to reserve weekends for having fun with the family.
Hard-boiled eggs are great as a quick snack, or to slice and serve over salad.
Meal prep is the ultimate in convenience for busy parents and offers numerous benefits, which include:
- Improved eating habits: Preparing food in advance helps you and your family stick to your nutritious pre-planned diet. When you have a week's worth of meals ready to go in the fridge, you're much less likely to grab a burger and fries from your local fast food restaurant. According to MealPrepMondays, meal prep is a great strategy for those who struggle with self-discipline.
- Save time: When you prep everything at once, you get into a groove; the cutting board's already out and it doesn't take too much effort to chop a few extra veggies. When done, simply throw your utensils and bowls in the dishwasher. On the other hand, preparing food on a daily basis involves unearthing various kitchen tools repeatedly and cleaning up multiple messes. You can also save time by cooking various items together: roast veggies, sweet potatoes and chicken in the same oven at the same temperature!
- Save money: Don't be afraid to buy in bulk to take advantage of a sale or a lower per unit cost. Leftovers won't go to waste when you've planned your weekly meals in advance. Cook all your chicken breasts at once; serve sliced breasts atop a spinach and strawberry salad then shred the remaining chicken and serve it in whole wheat wraps with avocado and lettuce.
When prepping food in advance, it's important to adhere to the following safety guidelines to reduce the risk of foodborne illness such as Salmonella or E. coli:
- Wash your hands: Before removing food from the refrigerator, wash your hands with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds.
- Wash your produce: According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, you should wash produce under running water right before cutting or cooking; commercial produce washes, soaps or dish detergent are not recommended. You should wash all fruits and veggies - even if you aren't planning to eat the skins.
- Dry your produce: Use a clean paper or cloth towel to dry fruits and vegetables. This will further reduce the amount of surface dirt or bacteria.
- Cut away the bruises: . Although some people consider bruises harmless, they actually make fruit more susceptible to growing mold, yeast, or foodborne pathogens.
- Use separate cutting boards: As raw meat, poultry or seafood can carry bacteria, it's a good idea to use one cutting board for protein and another for fruit and veggies. If you use a solitary cutting board, wash it in hot, soapy water between prepping raw meat and prepping any produce that you won't cook. Wash utensils, dishes and countertops as well.
Encourage your kids to help you in the kitchen and follow safe food prep tips.
Phase Four: Pack
The options are endless when it comes to food storage. However, all containers were not created equal. Look for BPA-free versions that are dishwasher and microwave safe. They should also stack and store neatly in your refrigerator to save space, and fit within an insulated travel bag. (Remember to leave room for reusable ice packs!) Here are some fun options your kids will love:
- This sandwich container not only has an ice pack built right into the lid, it also comes in a variety of colors and patterns such as Sk8 All Day and Heart Flowers.
- This bright and colorful 17-piece container set includes 1/2 cup, 1 cup and 2 cup sizes, as well as a lunch pod, lids and ice packs to keep foods fresh. It's perfect for packing various dishes and snacks and perfect for families with multiple children!
- Bento boxes are all the rage and allow parents of picky eaters to serve an array of options in one easy-to-clean container. This version comes with a travel bag and ice pack.
- Put a smile on your little one's face with this fun penguin-shaped ice pack, ideal for keeping produce or yogurt chilled until meal time.
- Younger children will get excited to eat healthy meals and snacks when they're stored in a Yum Buddies insulated lunchbox.
- Older kids will be well served by this insulated lunch bag in cool patterns like Forest Camo and Flames.
And don't forget Mason jar salads! They're fun, nutritious and easy to eat on the go. Switch up proteins and add crunchy toppings like sunflower or pumpkin seeds so kids don't get bored.
Now that you have an arsenal of tricks up your sleeves for planning, shopping, prepping and packing healthy, portable meals, it's time to get to work! Encourage children to help out in the kitchen - according to WebMD, the more you involve kids in cooking, the more likely they are to try new, healthy foods. And stay tuned for part 3 in our "Tips for packing healthy meals for your kids" series where we'll share kid-approved recipes that travel well, taste great and are packed with vital nutrients.