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!
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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.” http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/09/12/kefir-benefits_n_3914818.html
“Whole Grains 101.” The Whole Grains Council. http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101