Healthy Meals on the Go

Mason jar of yogurt, granola and fruit

This is my Breakfast in a Jar. It’s healthy, delicious and easy to customize.

It’s back to school time again! For some of you that also means back to sports, dance, gymnastics, or any other extracurricular hobby that keeps your family busy all week. Sometimes it seems as if those activities are scheduled right in the middle meal time and rarely in between. That usually doesn’t leave much time for cooking a nice, hot, healthy meal. Fast food and take-out are the most convenient but aren’t very healthy, and certainly not easy on the pocketbook. Of course you could grab a snack on the way out, and come home to a crock pot meal or a casserole that needs to go in the oven. But wouldn’t it be nice if there was another way to enjoy a quick, healthy, even potentially hot meal while on the go?

Our family is always on the go. I’m in school full time. My husband works seven days a week with hours that result in me parenting alone most days. My oldest son has tutoring twice a week, my daughter has ballet, and all three kids play soccer with practices and games two or three days a week. We won’t even mention the amount of the dreaded “H” word we have every day. I can tell you that eating out is very tempting! And though many restaurants offer a variety of healthy options, the cost can really add up.

A couple years back I decided that I had enough things to worry about and that dinner shouldn’t be one of them. As a student I usually don’t have time to sit and eat, so I took my own personal routine of making my meals portable and did the same for our children. I got creative and came up with some meals (I like to call them “meal hacks”) for any time of the day that are quick, easy, healthy and delicious! These options save time, clean up and money, and have the added benefit of being healthier for you and your active and growing kids!

Breakfast Choices

Mornings are always a time when we need food to-go. If your kids are anything like mine, they have no urgency at all, so having a nice breakfast would make us even later than if we just grabbed a cereal bar and headed out the door. Here are a couple of breakfast ideas.

  • Breakfast in a Jar. I have this almost every morning and it’s really easy to customize. The basic ingredients are:

o     Plain Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is made differently than regular yogurt and packs about 15–20g of protein (compared to 9g in regular). Buying plain eliminates the unnecessarily added sugars from the flavorings.

o     Granola. Its extra fiber helps lower the bad (LDL) cholesterol, control blood sugar levels, provides a dose of healthy omega-3 fats, and includes vitamins like thiamin and folate, minerals, and antioxidants. It also keeps the kids feeling full longer and “regular” in the potty department. You can make your own homemade granola, but there are also some healthy options at your grocery store (just be sure to check the labels).

o     Fruit. Berries are another great way to pack in some additional vitamins and nutrients.

o     Honey. Adding a little drizzle sweetens things up a bit.

  • Breakfast Smoothies. For a quick breakfast, blend some fruit (e.g., bananas, strawberries) with Kefir (pronounced “KEE-fer”). Kefir is like yogurt, but more liquid and drinkable. It also contains more probiotics and is a great source of calcium, phosphorus, B vitamins and protein.

Lunch/Dinner Choices

  • Pizza dough pockets. These take some time to make, but you can stuff them with your choice of hot or cold filling, then wrap it up with some foil and you’re good to go! Start with either homemade or pre-made dough. (Making your own dough provides the added benefit of having fewer preservatives and you controlling the ingredients. Here’s a good recipe. Next, stuff the dough and make your own version of a Hot Pocket – pizza; or chicken, cheese, and broccoli; or mini stromboli.
  • Hot dog bun meals. I’ve used hot pulled pork/beef/chicken that was made in the crock pot the day before. Egg/tuna/chicken salad also works great in a bun if you want something cold.
  • Pitas. Some options include:

o     Hummus with veggies and feta

o     Deli meat and cheese

o      Salads of all types work great

  • Whole wheat taco shells or wraps.

o     Fill with scrambled eggs, cheese, and ham.

o     Make quesadillas

o     Turn them into sandwiches like BLTs

Container Options

  • Mason jars. You’ll notice my breakfasts are all in a Mason jar. That’s because it’s my favorite container for meal travel. The jars fit perfectly in a car’s cup holders and clean up is simple. All you need to do is bring a spoon (plastic or reusable) and you’re good to go! Just remember to bring the lids and rings to seal the jars up when you’re finished so nothing left over spills out. Those also keep the smell to a minimum; think hot car + yogurt = not the freshest of scents! You can also use mason jars for things like soup, chili, pasta…the possibilities are endless.
  • Edible food containers wrapped in a foil pouch. These (e.g., buns, wraps, etc.) are easy, quick are also pretty self explanatory. Try to stick with whole wheat and/or whole grain items so you get all the nutrients that are lacking in the ones made with refined grains. Whole grain versions provide more energy, along with fiber, iron, B vitamins, and antioxidants that aren’t found in fruits and vegetables. You can read more about whole grains and their benefits at the Whole Grains Council.

Final Thoughts

  • Eating a variety of foods daily is an easy way to ensure your family is getting all the nutrients they need. Try to incorporate a variety of healthy lean meats, dairy, and fresh produce.
  • Some of these items might take a little preparation, but be creative and adventurous! You might start off with just a ham and cheese, but then add in a slice of tomato or onion next time, or try Muenster instead of cheddar. Maybe you’ll get crazy and throw in some fresh avocado slices into that BLT!
  • It’s really important to let the kids have fun, too! Sometimes when children feel they have a little more control over what they eat, they’re more likely to eat it.

Has anyone else made some great to-go type meals? If so, please share! I’d love to hear what’s worked for you!

– Joohi Schrader is a nutrition and food science major at Wayne State University, a mother of three amazing children, and a certified Square Foot Gardening instructor. She’s also a Parenting Program volunteer.


“Kefir Benefits: 12 Things to Know About This Yogurt-Type Food.”

“Whole Grains 101.” The Whole Grains Council.

Meet the Parenting Program Staff: Deanna Robb

Photo of Deanna Robb, Parenting Program director

Deanna Robb is director for the Parenting Program.

Where did you grow up?
4 blocks from Beaumont, RO.

Tell us something about your family.
I am the youngest of four children. Both of my parents were born and raised in Canada, so I have many fond memories spending summers and holidays with my grandparents and cousins in Canada. When I was 15, I met my husband, Brent. We were friends throughout high school and began dating after we graduated. Now married 35 years, we have two grown children who live in the area. We feel so very lucky to have them both in state and enjoy spending time with them.

Why did you choose to be part of the Parenting Program?
I started out as a volunteer for the program close to 20 years ago. I loved the idea of helping new parents and being surrounded by lots of babies!

Who or what inspires you?
Our volunteers. I am always awed by the selflessness, generosity and genuine heart that our volunteers give.

What are your hobbies or special interests?
Golf, cycling, reading and travel. Most summer weekends, you can catch a glimpse of me riding my bike around downtown Rochester.

What’s your favorite family-friendly destination?
Oh, there are just so many great places in Michigan to visit, it’s truly difficult to name just one. Some favorites include: Charlevoix, St. Joseph, Port Austin, Mackinac and Traverse City.

What’s your favorite movie? Book?
I love to read, so picking just one book is a tough one. A favorite is the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.

What’s your favorite meal?
Anything Italian!

What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?
Hot fudge sundae

Share something about you that might surprise us.
Long before the movie Grease and the Broadway show, Jersey Boys, I was a huge fan of Frankie Valli. I’ve been to over a half-dozen Frankie Valli concerts.

Tell Your Beaumont Parenting Program Story Contest and Win!


contestpicfinalYou’ve shared with family and friends what the Parenting Program meant to you. Now we want to hear it, too.

In October, the Parenting Program will celebrate supporting and educating 100,000 families. To recognize this tremendous achievement and major milestone, we are hosting a contest for families who received services from the Parenting Program. Maybe you received supportive phone calls after your baby was born, or participated in a parent group. Perhaps we provided great comfort and reassurance when your child was in the NICU or when you were struggling with postpartum depression/anxiety. Whatever your path or story looks like, we want to know about it. Now through September 30, participants may submit a written story and picture, or a video to share their Parenting Program experience. A grand prize winner, selected by a panel of Beaumont team members, will receive a prize package worth more than $300. Winners will be announced on our Parenting Program Facebook page on October 7 and will be showcased at our milestone event on October 14.

“The first year of a child’s life is one of great transition for new parents. We often hear how the Parenting Program was an integral support during this adjustment,” says Deanna Robb, Parenting Program Director. “It could be the kind voice and listening ear on the other end of the phone, a parent group that became the best of friends, or a volunteer or support group that came alongside you during a challenging time in your life. We love to hear these stories; they keep us striving to support families in the best and most effective ways possible.”

To Enter:

To enter the contest, participants must submit a picture and written story that is 400 words or less or a video that is three minutes in length or less.

Participants must download, complete and submit an authorization form with the picture and written story or video.

All entries must be submitted to by September 30.

Please include the following:

  • Your Beaumont Parenting Program Story: What made your experience special
  • Participant’s name, phone number, email address and child’s birth date
  • A photo of parent(s) and child or parent group
  • Authorization Form


Winners will be announced on October 7. There will be a grand prize winner and two runners up.

The grand prize winner will receive a prize package worth more than $300, including:

  • $200 gift certificate to Mezza Mediterranean Grille
  • $100 gift certificate to Kruse and Muer
  • A collection of autographed children’s books by acclaimed author Maria Dismondy

Two runners up will each receive:

  • $50 gift certificate to Sweet Lorraine’s
  • $25 gift certificate to Holiday Market

— — — — —

* OFFICIAL RULES. NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER. Eligibility: The Contest is open only to legal residents of the fifty (50) United States, the District of Columbia and Canada, who are 18 years of age or older as of the date of Entry.  Potential winner will be selected by a panel of Beaumont team members on or about Oct. 1, 2014, from among all eligible Entries received. Entering the Parenting Program contest does not establish a patient/caregiver relationship with Beaumont Health System. All submissions become property of the Parenting Program and may be used in future programs, online materials, and printed materials.

Breaking the Paci Habit

Close up of young girl sucking on pacifier

Unaltered Image. Raúl A., CC License.

I understand that as my kids get older, particularly teenagers, they’ll like me less and less. How they could like their parents less than the day they took their beloved pacifiers away, I can’t even imagine.

I know; we were late to the ballgame on this one. Our twins are 2½ years old. We should’ve broken the paci habit a year ago. Maybe even more. But we were all sleeping so well. I like sleep.

But the time had come.

At first we tried the casual approach: “How about we sleep with no paci tonight?”

“No. I want paci.”


Then we gave ourselves a deadline. The night of the deadline, my husband and looked at each other and knew the feeling was mutual. We chickened out.

One day I found some clearance toys and bought two for each kid. Our son tried it for one night, so we gave him a bucket of plastic animals. Our daughter took one look at the menagerie, had a moment of jealousy, and got over it.

That night, our son took his paci back. Fail.

The pacifiers now looked like they went through the garbage disposal and I wasn’t buying more. That’s when I pulled out the big guns: a Doc McStuffins doctor kit and a garbage truck with flashing lights.

Our daughter was the first one to take the bait. I showed her the kit and told her if she sleeps all night with no paci, she could have the toy in the morning.

I’ve never seen her move so fast. She ran to her room, pointed to the box with her pacis, marched it into the kitchen and set it on the table. It was quite a to-do. My husband and I cheered her on the entire way.

That night, she jumped in bed (unheard of) and didn’t make a peep until the morning. I went in to get her out of bed and the first words out of her mouth were, “Doctor Stuffins?”


That night, however, we realized we failed to help her understand that this was permanent. A tantrum ensued.

Her brother wanted no part of that. He stuck to his paci.

Each day after that got easier. After a week, she started asking why Brother still had a paci. It was time to pull the trigger again. Her brother didn’t go for the wait-and-earn-it approach. He’s more of an instant gratification guy. So, we took a risk and said that he can sleep with the garbage truck, but not his paci.

Worked like a charm.

Today, we are a pacifier-free house. It was a little rough going for about a month until everyone’s sleep patterns settled down again, but we’re back to getting some good sleep.

Now for the next challenge: transition to big-kid beds.

– Rebecca Calappi, Publications Coordinator at Beaumont Health System and adoptive parent of multiples

A Letter of Thanks

Three Parenting Partner volunteers

Parenting Partner volunteers help make a difference in new parents’ lives.

To Whom It May Concern:

I became a mother for the first time in January 2014 at Beaumont, Royal Oak. The doctors and nurses were great, but I wanted to reach out to the volunteers to thank them for their support.

Our room was visited several times by representatives from the Parenting Program that we had heard so much about. I was relieved to have such caring and experienced people offering their resources, and we were excited to begin our parenting group.

I don’t have as much support as I need from friends and family, so the volunteers who offered phone calls and visits made all the difference in the world! I looked forward to the calls and was assured that I was doing a good job. Sometimes that’s all I needed to hear.

Our parenting group has been so rich with information and ideas, and we have made friends! I am so grateful that all of these services, from the prenatal classes to the parenting group, have been offered and so successful. I feel lucky that so many people are kind and nurturing enough to commit their time, empathy and experience to new families. Thank you!


A Parenting Program Participant

Back to School with Literacy

Notebook with child's note

Sometimes my daughter leaves notes in our Family Letter Journal.

It’s that time of year again! The kids are getting geared up to return to school. I’m here to inspire parents to get excited about helping with their children’s literacy development in an exciting way.

I’m not just talking about reading books before bed and sitting with your child when they’re completing their writing homework. Here are two easy ways you can be a part of strengthening your children’s literacy skills.

  • Lunch Box Notes.
    Even the littlest learners love getting notes in their lunch boxes. Whether they’re reading or not, a quick “I Love You” will help them get excited about words.I’ve seen parents use sticky notes to add messages in their child’s lunch box. You can also use pre-printed notes and add your own little message. Here are a few that I have stocked for my soon-to-be kindergartner’s lunch.

  • Family Letter Journal
    This activity is a great way to nurture the relationship you have with your child through the written word. I used to keep a letter journal with each of my students when I taught first grade. I would write back once a week. Some kids would really open up about things that were bothering them at school. Before the letter journals I didn’t hear about these worries.For our family, I let my daughter pick out a special notebook for our journal. It isn’t something we do every single day, but we leave the notebook out on her desk to remind us to write in it. She has written us back a few times too (not a requirement by any means!).
Two journal entries

My husband and I write letters back and forth to our daughter in our Family Letter Journal.

It’s also a great way for your child to learn the five parts of a letter: formal date, greeting, body, closing and signature. Be sure to use each part and remember to print your words instead of using cursive.

– Maria Dismondy, mother of three, reading specialist, fitness instructor and bestselling children’s author living in Southeast Michigan.

Heidi’s Hints: Back-to-School Lunch Ideas Made Easy

Is everyone gearing up for back to school? I know we are! Grayson just picked out his “most favorite dinosaur backpack ever” with matching lunchbox, and it got me thinking … I need some lunch ideas. I already meal plan for dinners so I don’t need to worry about what’s for dinner, but I need to have some good “go to” lunches ready or else I’m going to have “What’s for lunch?” stress on my hands!

Grayson goes to an extended day preschool program and eats lunch at school. Since he’s a picky eater, it can be quite a challenge to find lunch ideas that he’ll actually eat, that are nutritionally balanced, and easy to pack. He pretty much refuses to even look at a sandwich unless it’s a PB&J.

I’m sure many of you run into this same challenge. If you have older children who have the option of packing or buying a lunch, the challenge to get them to eat a nutritionally balanced meal can be even greater.

To help us all out, I put together some delicious, quick and easy lunch ideas. I’m also sharing some of my favorite lunchbox “tools” to make packing a healthy lunch easy. Spoiler alert: this is not a post on bento box lunches; I wish I had time to make a sunshine out of cheese slices but most days that’s just not in the cards. One thing that I try to stick to is preparing Gray’s lunch the night before. I’ve found that it relieves so much stress in the morning when I already have a million things to do just to get us out the door on time!

Photo of filled lunch containers

The Rubbermaid Lunch Blox are so great for packing lunches. You can configure them in different ways to fit into the lunch box and they come with their own ice pack that fits between the containers.

Option 1: Make your own “lunchable”

There’s a reason why these pre-packaged meals are so popular: they’re easy and kids love them! However, they are heavily processed and filled with preservatives, added sugar and sodium. Solution: Make your own! They’re quick, easy to prepare, and you control the quality of the ingredients. I like to use some of the following items:

  • Nitrate free, organic lunchmeat. Applegate Farms has many delicious options (e.g., turkey, ham, salami, etc.) and although a little pricier than their non-organic counterpart, I’m usually able to get three or five lunches out of one pack of lunchmeat, making it around $1/meal for the lunchmeat.
  • Organic string cheese or cheese sticks. Costco carries this for a great price! Sometimes I sub the cheese out for a Kefir squeeze pack. Lifeway Probugs are our favorite. The kids love the flavors! I love that they are a great probiotic source, and they are lower in sugar than most of their yogurt counterparts.
  • Crackers or some other carb. Popcorn is one of Grayson’s favorites.
  • One fruit and one vegetable. Grapes and blueberries are a favorite around here along with bell pepper slices and carrots. Sometimes I add a little ranch dressing for dipping because we love ranch!
  • And because dessert is important, I pack a “healthy” version of one of their favorites. My kids really like Annie’s Organic Fruit Snacks because, well, they are fruit snacks. I really like them because they don’t contain any artificial flavoring or dyes.
Healthy food in lunch containers

Here’s a sample lunch for Gray.

Option 2: The “Not Peanut Butter” & Jelly

PB&J is actually a very healthy lunchtime option if you use natural peanut butter, an all-fruit spread, and minimally processed bread. However with so many schools being nut-free, the old lunchtime staple of PB&J is no longer an option. Fear not! There are many great peanut butter substitutes out there. If your only restriction is peanuts, then other nut butters such as almond or cashew butter are great alternatives. If your school is completely nut-free, then Sunbutter (made with sunflower seeds) is a great option. Once again, look for these in a natural form without added sugars and salt. They’re easy to recognize if you look at the ingredient list because the only thing you need to see in the ingredients is the actual product itself (i.e., almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds) and nothing else.

For some reason, Grayson is much more likely to eat his sandwich when I cut it out with a cookie cutter. I’m not much into the”crafty lunch thing”, but I do get a little creative sometimes.

Option 3: Leftovers

My favorite! I love packing leftovers for several reasons:

  • They’re easy; you already made the meal! When storing leftovers after dinner, just put them directly into lunch containers. Voilà, lunch is ready!
  • You can offer a lot of different variety by using your leftovers. You can serve them in the same preparation as last night’s dinner or spice them up. Just change/add a few ingredients and you have a completely different meal. For example, chicken from dinner can become a chicken roll up sandwich the next day.
  • Leftovers for lunch reduce food waste. I always saved our leftovers, but we rarely ate them either because we didn’t feel like eating the same thing for dinner twice or there wasn’t enough left over for a full meal for all of us. At the end of the week, I was throwing away a lot of small amounts of leftovers. That was until I realized that these smaller portions are really the perfect lunch-sized portions. If your kids don’t have access to a microwave at school, purchase a small lunch-sized thermos to keep meals hot. These are my favorite for the kiddos.

I hope this helps give you some quick and easy lunch ideas that you can feel great about serving, and your kids will love eating!

Meal Planning Advice? Questions? Recipes? Resources? Feel free to email me at

– Heidi Wilson, Heidi’s Hints: Meal Planning Made Easy


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