10 Back-to-School Meal Prep Tips

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I consider myself a meal prep advocate that has been practicing what I teach since 2018. When my kids transitioned to distance learning in the spring, a whole new set of challenges came up around the lunch hour. At the time, we didn’t seamlessly transition to meal prepping for both our kids. We were under the assumption that without having to shuffle out the door in the morning to school, and with everyone home during the lunch hour, we’d just eat together like we did in the evenings.

Reality struck quickly. Every day is different at our house. While our kids have a somewhat predictable schedule for school, our pre-schooler has a different schedule and my husband and I are managing work demands. In addition to the challenge of juggling schedules, everyone gets hungry at different times and wants different food. After a few weeks of bumping along, hoping things would go back to “normal”, normal never came and we quickly realized that, once again, meal prep would help us meet our goals.  

Whether you are homeschooling, distance learning, hiring a tutor or no-schooling this fall, meal prep is a helpful practice to have in your toolbelt as you navigate the new educational environment of 2020.

Meal prepping was really the key to achieving my health goals, but it’s also paid off in dividends for the money and time it saves me. Having my kids at home while I work has created its own unique set of challenges that so many can relate to. Meal prepping our food for the week helps us transition in the morning to getting our day started and more seamlessly transition through our lunch hour.

Here are ten lessons I’ve learned along the way:

1) Eat what you love.  

Meal prepping means I (and my kids) are eating some of the same foods on repeat during the week. It’s important for me to like the food I’m eating and the same is true for my kids. I let them have input regarding what foods they want to be served for lunches.

2) Divide and conquer.

I don’t plan, shop, or prep all in one day. Instead, I plan and draft my grocery list on Tuesdays. I place my online grocery order on Thursday and pick up groceries on Friday. This means the actual process of meal prepping on Sunday will only take a couple of hours. Sometimes I don’t make food for the whole week but I always have a plan for when I will make the 2nd batch of meals for Thursdays and Fridays.

3) Clean and teach as you go.Kids Cooking

I start with an empty garbage, an empty dishwasher, and an empty sink. I load the dishwasher as I’m cooking, which makes the meal prepping aftermath much less overwhelming. It’s important for me to teach my kids that being the school lunch lady is hard work and deserves recognition and respect.  Along with teaching my children to enjoy the at times mundane task of cooking, I’m also instilling in my kids the process of planning ahead and cleaning as you go.

4) Move with the music.

I never start meal prepping without finding a good music station to listen to. I crank up the beats and settle into my role as the substitute music teacher. I don’t allow Alexa or Siri in my kitchen or the kids fight over radio stations, instead I choose a kid-friendly radio station, get to dancing, and the kids soon follow.

5) I love my tools.

I invested in meal prep containers specifically for meal prepping our breakfast and lunches. I also have a good set of sharp knives for myself and nylon knives for my kids so they can help without hurting themselves.

6) Include the kids in the process.

Now that the meals we are making for the week include their breakfasts and lunches, my kids are involved in the process. Having them select and cook the food they will eat gives them a true connection to their meal.

7) Start early.

My enthusiasm for meal prepping is high after my morning cup of coffee. By early afternoon, my excitement is gone. I’ve learned from this to clean my kitchen the evening before, get the kids excited about the process, and get prepping by 10:00 a.m.

8) Variety really is the spice of life.Meal Prep

Remember when your child was two and they ate fish crackers every day for three months? So, you went to Costco and bought two big boxes of fish crackers and they decided the next day they hated fish crackers? Try not to let that happen again by having a weekly rotation of some of their favorite foods.

9) It’s okay to ask for help.

Right now, a lot of people (and children) are facing food insecurity. If it’s a struggle to get meals together for your kids either because of lack of time, energy, or money – it’s more than reasonable to use the school lunch programs in the community.

10) Make mistakes.

I didn’t come out of the meal prep gate an expert and this year I’ve succeeded just as much as I’ve failed with my meal prepping plans.  The key with meal prepping, whether it’s just for your kids or for your whole family, is to simply get started and to keep trying. It really does save time, money, and energy… and makes the week a whole lot easier!

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