Back to school meal prep

Thinking beyond sandwiches.
Published September 8, 2019

Despite our best efforts to stay creative in the kitchen, the return to run-of-the-mill lunches is often inevitable once school and extra-curricular activities are fully underway come mid-September. The problem often begins when we become attached to the idea that each lunch must be healthy and unique. This self-imposed pressure eventually becomes overwhelming and that’s when we revert to lunch-making autopilot (hello, sandwiches!) In order to get excited about making lunches again, it’s important to rethink the process. This article will help break down lunches into individual non-overwhelming ingredients, rethinking the traditional lunch format as a series of snacks or a single portion of a hearty, batch-prepped recipe.


Put together a healthy lunch kit


Lunch kits are a popular choice for kids (and kids at heart!) but they’re often packed with sodium, saturated fat, and very little else in terms of nutrients. Reusable containers with individual sections are the perfect way to transport these meals and offer room for hundreds, if not thousands, of different food combinations. To stay fueled throughout the afternoon and beyond, make sure to include a healthy mix of protein, healthy fats, and fibre. Try the following combinations or make up some of your own:


  • Sliced turkey breast, Kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella balls, pesto dipping sauce, and orange slices.
  • Cubed ham or slices of low-sodium pepperoni, cubed provolone cheese, green pepper strips, small container of tomato sauce, mini naan or other small flatbread, and grapes.
  • Baked tofu strips, snap peas, carrot sticks, rice crackers, hummus, and blueberries.


Compartmentalize for quick lunches on the go


Take advantage of all the new fridge organizers out there and compartmentalize foods by type which makes it super easy for everyone in the family to grab their lunch box essentials and go. Clear containers are particularly helpful because they put the contents of the box in full view (also useful for restocking the containers.) Label the containers with a list of their contents, noting any expiry dates to make sure the food stays fresh and is properly rotated. Resealable bags and small lidded containers or jars can be used to portion out single servings of each ingredient if needed. Use these suggestions as a template and fill each container up with all your family’s favourites:


  • Protein: Yogurt, cheese slices, sliced rotisserie chicken breast, baked or steamed tofu, tuna packets, and cooked chickpeas or beans.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Carrot matchsticks, cucumber slices, pepper spears, broccoli florets, small oranges and mandarins, berries, bananas, sliced melon, and whole apples, peaches, and pears.
  • Useful for dipping: Pita bread, mini naan, rice cakes, whole grain crackers, and rye crispbread.
  • Spreads and dips: Salsa, hummus, tzatziki, baba ganouj, pesto, refried beans, roasted and whipped eggplant, and tapenade.


Make hearty salads for the whole week


Big hearty salads make ideal lunches for several reasons: They can be made in large quantities, they’re endlessly customizable, are a great way to clean out the pantry, and will last 4-5 days in the fridge. Choose ingredients that will hold up in a dressing for several days. If your recipe calls for salad greens or delicate fresh herbs (such as basil, oregano, sage, and cilantro) hold off on adding them until right before you eat. To make lunch prep extra easy, portion out the salad into smaller servings so you can grab-and-go during rushed mornings. These salads use classic ingredient pairings to yield delicious results:


  • Pasta Caesar salad: Cooked and cooled penne, roasted chickpeas, halved cherry tomatoes, nonfat plain yogurt, Caesar dressing, lemon juice, and freshly grated parmesan cheese.
  • Southwestern black bean salad: Black beans, cubed mango, corn, diced sweet peppers, diced jalapeño peppers, halved cherry tomatoes, diced red onion, lime juice, olive oil, and cilantro.
  • Chickpea Mediterranean salad: Chickpeas, chopped olives, roasted red peppers, marinated artichokes, sliced cucumber, toasted sunflower seeds, and pesto.
  • Quinoa Waldorf salad: Cooked quinoa, small broccoli florets, dried cranberries, toasted walnuts, cubed apple, and a creamy yogurt-based citrus dressing.