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.

3 Key Themes For Easing Back Into the School Year

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I love not setting an alarm on the days I don’t have to work. I love being able to stay in our bathing suites all day. I love spending the afternoon in the pool or watching the kids run through the sprinklers. I especially love eating ice cream at 5 p.m. just because the ice cream man does not know it’s nearly dinner time.

But I know that now is the perfect time to start easing the kids back into some kind of routine so that when September sneaks up on us (next week — eek!) we are ready.

As my kids prepare for fourth, second and first grades, I wanted to consult the back-to-school experts for their best tips on getting ready for a successful school year. So, I asked my mom (a former teacher), one of my closest friends (a current teacher and mom of three) and my children’s tutor (no further credentials necessary) for their best back-to-school advice. Each provided some really useful suggestions. The overwhelming theme in their advice was:

  1. Routine
  2. Responsibilities
  3. Reading

1. Routine. Summer is the time where we relax our routine; even throw it out the window for three months. Now is the time to re-establish schedules, especially the bedtime and mealtime routines. Incorporating a healthy breakfast into the day is especially important during the school year. Depending on how late your child has been going to bed, it’s a good idea to progressively move his or her bedtime up by five or ten minutes so that the week before school starts you are at the school-year bedtime. It helps to talk to your child about the benefits of school routines and why it’s so important to establish one.

2. Responsibilities. Now is a good time to start easing back into the school-year responsibilities that you ignored during the summer and start think about adding new responsibilities now that your student is a year older. So, for example, if you stopped making beds in the summer, have your child get back into the habit of doing so. If your son or daughter does not typically pick out his or her clothes the night before school, this may be a good year to start.

When school begins, your child should be accountable for his or her school work. You can help your child follow through on homework completion but, as tempting as it may be, do not rescue your child. Instead help your student become responsible for his or her work, including making sure that assignments get back to school on time.

As part of your child’s responsibilities, involve your son or daughter in meal planning and packing lunches. One of the things that really frustrates me is when I ask my kids what they want for lunch and they say “I don’t care.” Obviously they do care when the food in their lunch box comes home uneaten. Dessert seems to be the exception to this rule.

Last year my friend sat down with her two school-aged children and they brainstormed for lunch ideas. She and her son came up with a weekly menu that they followed throughout the year. According to that schedule, every Thursday he ate a cheese quesadilla, a piece of fresh fruit, chips or crackers and what they called a sweet treat on their meal chart. According to their chart, his snack for that day would be a granola or fruit bar and a piece of fruit. Her daughter on the other hand opted for making a list of lunch and snack options and planning each week ahead of time by choosing items from each list. It worked well for them and I’m hoping it goes well in my house too.

3. Reading. Everyone agrees that daily reading is important. It’s the one thing we’ve done our best to try and maintain throughout the summer. Not to say that we haven’t had out battles over it but for the most part we’ve tried to incorporate daily reading and as a result, they have not lost any of the skills they mastered last year.

My panel of experts also stressed addressing the emotional aspects of going back to school. Let your son or daughter know it’s natural to be nervous when starting something new. Reassure your student once she gets to know her new classmates, teacher and school routine, the nervousness will disappear. Children also pick up on a parent’s anxiety so model confidence and optimism.

Our tutor said it best when she told me, “If the first few days are a little rough, try not to overreact. Young children in particular may experience separation anxiety or shyness initially but teachers are trained to help them adjust. If you drop them off, try not to linger. Reassure them that you love them, will think of them during the day, and will be back.”

Our school district closed an elementary school so in the fall two of my children will be going to a new school. Our plan is to visit the school again so that my guys can see their new classroom, find the lunch room, check out the playground and meet their new teacher.

How are you helping your kids prepare?

— Jen Lovy, Parenting Program Volunteer

Thanksgiving Safety Tips from the AAPCC

Did you know that the Poison Center helpline offers assistance in 150 different languages 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? They not only can advise you on medication or chemical exposures, but with suspected food poisoning as well. The American Association of Poison Control Centers is urging people to stay safe from food borne illnesses this Thanksgiving by offering the following tips:

The phone number, 1-800-222-1222, is a national hotline which automatically routes you to the local poison control center. Make sure to plug the number in your phone. And yes, they even make an app for that. Download it here.

—Erica Surman, RN, BSN, Pediatric Trauma Program Manager, Beaumont Health System

Spoon Feeding Baby: When and What to Begin With

As parents, when it becomes time to feed our infants it can be intimidating and confusing. When my pediatrician told me it was time to start spoon-feeding my children, I became nervous. Questions about how much do I feed them, how often do I feed them, will they choke, what utensils should I use all came into play.

The truth is, moving slowly it all comes natural and we work it out. Nevertheless, here a few tips to guide you in your journey along the way: Continue reading

Make Your Own Egg Muffin

My daughter and husband love eggs. In fact, I am pretty sure, they would love if I made them a big Saturday morning breakfast every single day of the week. Unfortunately, that is not possible because a) I am not a morning person and b) our daily activities leave not much not much time to spare.
So this recipe helps me keep my resolution of making simple, clean food while satisfying my husband’s love of Egg McMuffins. The best part? Your family sous chefs can help put in fillings and make personalized muffins to suit their breakfast taste.
Egg Muffins
7-12 eggs (smaller muffin tins use about 7 eggs, larger muffin tins use about 12 eggs)
Salt & pepper to taste
2 tbs of milk
Fillings for egg muffins: Bacon, ham, sausage, cheddar cheese, spinach, feta cheese, olives, red peppers, tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, etc. Be creative!
  1. Preheat the oven to 375° F.
  2. Spray muffin tin with non stick spray. (I usually use olive oil spray.)
  3. Put your fillings in the bottom of your pan. Fillings should take up half of the muffin tin.
  4. Scramble eggs, salt & pepper and milk in a bowl. Pour scrambled mixture into filled muffin tin.
  5. Bake for 25-35 minutes.
  6. Once cooled, use butter knife to separate.
  7. Enjoy! Muffins can be in the fridge up for a week or frozen.
—Kim Fletcher, Parenting Program Volunteer