For the first time in years, I'm not dreading the task of making back-to-school lunches. I usually start the year with good intentions, along with a mental stash of all the fabulous things I'll make for the boys to eat. And then, real life sets in. Work gets busy, I forget to make lunches before I go to bed, and before I know it all of my plans have unravelled and I'm stuck with six months of a task I just can't get excited about it.
But this year, the kids are in charge of making their own school lunches. I’ll help them, if needed, and make sure the food they want is readily available, but after 12 years of making school lunches I’m officially taking a break. I’ll be back at it in a few years don’t forget, and will have another decade of midday meal making to put under my belt, but for now the kids are in charge, with a little assistance from me.
At this stage in the lunch making game, my boys are looking for huge hearty portions of one of two things instead of small compartments of many different items. Fruits and veggies are no longer sliced, as they’ll either pack a giant salad or a piece of whole fruit, and something stuffed between bread still ranks high on their preferred list of lunch foods.
I recently read a survey conducted by Longo's grocery store. They asked 1,000 parents in the GTA their thoughts on school lunch, and here’s what their findings revealed:
- 15% of parents confess they would rather walk over hot coals than make their kids’ lunches every day, the majority don’t mind the weekday routine.
- This isn’t just about what moms think –46% of dads take ownership of school lunches and surprisingly enjoy the job (81 percent of men enjoy packing lunch vs. 76 percent of women).
- 25% of respondents say they lose their meal-making mojo by the second week of school. That number increases to half by Thanksgiving.
Longo’s recipe developer and chef Emily Richards – who happens to be good friends with a few of my friends - has some advice for keeping families inspired, eating well and motivated about meals.
Pass the torch to Dad
Women (67%) make more school lunches than men (46%) on a daily basis. However, more men (81%) than women (75%) say they enjoy making school lunches. Try alternating this daily duty so it’s not on one person’s shoulders every day. Kids can also help pack their lunches to help reduce the parent load. Younger children get excited about this because they can share the choices they make with friends and appreciate time spent in the kitchen with mom or dad. Older kids will feel a sense of responsibility and ownership over what they are eating. Get kids involved from the beginning by bringing them to the grocery store. It’s an opportunity to guide them to make healthy choices and get excited about their daily meals.
Fire the short order cook
66% of our respondents pack different meals for each family member. Emily suggests deconstructing lunches so that kids can assemble the final product themselves. Offer sliced chicken, cheddar, cucumber and tomato slices and a pita or bread and let the kids eat the components together or separately.
Back to school signals the return to lunch and dinner routines. If you’re making a dinner your kids love, be sure to make enough to pack for lunches the next day. Emily calls this big batch cooking. This guarantees that lunches will be eaten because it incorporates food that your family already loves. For example, add leftover chicken breast and broccoli to pesto and pasta to turn a hit dinner into a cold pasta salad for lunch the next day.
No more morning rush
Make lunches the night before to save yourself from a mad dash at dawn. 67% say that they make lunches in the morning, which could be contributing to lunch box drama. Fix lunches while you’re clearing dinner so you can pop leftovers right into lunch boxes.
Find some go-to recipes
Only 24% of parents have a go-to lunch recipe. Having 7-10 go-to lunch recipes that you can rotate throughout the month will make a big difference in your routine. Once you get the hang of the recipe, you’ll be done in no time.
Buy local, in season and save money
50% of parents prefer to pack locally sourced foods for lunch. Perhaps this is because most in season and local produce is sold at the best price and can save you money for the freshest flavours. Make a list before leaving home so you know what everyone likes and what you will include in your meals and lunches. Stick to your list to save time and money. When included in the decision making process, children will feel proud to include these fresh and local staples in their meals.
I love that Emily encourages everyone to batch cook. I can’t imagine not approaching so many of my meals with that mindset – cooking once to eat many times. I like to make large quantities of lunch-specific foods, like granola bars and such, and then dinner foods are always made in bulk with the goal of leftovers in mind.
Emily was kind enough to share a recipe for a potato cauliflower frittata. Not only is this tasty and nutritious, but the leftovers pack up well, and can be even be sandwiched between sliced of bread for a hearty sandwich. Frittatas also taste great when hot or at room temperature so you don’t need to worry about reheating them at midday.
Potato Cauliflower Frittata
- 1 teaspoon Longo’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 cup cooked leftover potato, chopped
- 1 cup roasted or cooked cauliflower, chopped
- 8 eggs
- ¼ cup milk
- 3 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
- ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper
- 1 small red bell pepper, diced
- 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Heat 8-inch ovenproof non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.
2. Add oil to pan and quickly heat chopped potato for 2 minutes. Add chopped cauliflower and stir well.
3. Beat eggs with milk, parsley, salt and pepper. Pour into skillet and reduce heat to low.
4. Top with red peppers and feta.
5. Bake for 20 minutes or until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.
If you happen to live locally, I have good news for you. Longo’s has generously offered to give one Family Bites reader a $100 gift card to help with their back to school grocery shopping! To enter, please leave a comment letting me know what your kids like to find in their lunchbox and I’ll draw a name at random to select a winner. The giveaway ends on Tuesday September 8th at midnight. Good luck!
This post was produced in partnership with Longo’s. Thank you for supporting the companies that support Family Bites.
Update: Congratulations to Tracey on winning the gift card giveaway.