Back to school kitchen prep

It's that time of the year again, the undeniable back-to-school feeling is in the air and you may already hear the first-day-of-school bell ringing in your head. Many of us are already starting to think about the lunch boxes we will need to pack for our school-age children. It can be hard when the lazy days of summer give way to the mad rush of getting everyone out the door on time with a nourishing breakfast in their belly and a healthy lunch in their backpack. Adding to the pressure, there are end-of-day challenges of having dinner on the table when your family returns home and convenes for dinner. 

Here are some of my top tips to help you transition from summer holidays to school season in the kitchen.

1.    Plan ahead for the transition and create a routine

I know it may be easier said than done but try to think ahead, lay some ground rules and consider adjustments to daily habits that will help give your family a smooth start to each school day. Take time to cultivate your basic needs, and those of your children and family members (I.e., good food, ample sleep, movement, and stress management, just to name a few). Create customs and routines that you can rely on to provide a bit more ease as you transition and move through the year.

2.    Empower yourself

Current societal swings bring many pressures, and parents are concerned that their child will be different, even outcast, among their peers if the food choices they make are not considered to be the norm. It is important to provide children with food that supports ample energy and focus throughout the day. Do not overlook the fact that you have possibly the strongest hand in informing the health, longevity and disease prevention for your children.

Feel empowered that you get to make the choice at least three times a day to say yes to healthy for you and your family:

  • Make time for a breakfast that really is for champions
     
  • Pack those loving lunches, and
     
  • Get a delicious dinner on the table that everyone will eat.

The tips below can help you set the foundations for success. 

3.    Stock your fridge and pantry!

Here are a few key tips that will keep your fridge and pantry well-stocked with ready-to-go-meals so you can always have an answer when faced with that glaring question What’s for dinner?

Your fridge is your salad bar

Buy pre-washed and packed salad greens and chop your favourite toppings (or buy pre-chopped) so you can always have a nutritious salad ready to throw together. Some topping ideas include raw or roasted vegetables, olives, hard cooked eggs, canned fish, avocado, roasted chicken, dried fruit, nuts and seeds.

Roast your roots

Make a large batch of roasted root vegetables every week. Try the usual sweet potatoes, carrots and turnips or venture out and try some celery root, parsnip, rutabaga and winter squash. You can eat these alone, as a side dish, on a salad or pureed into soups.

Dress like a queen

Make one or two simple salad dressings each week and keep in closed mason jars in the fridge to shake up and use on any delicious salads. Keep plenty of fresh lemons and olive oil on hand for an even easier on-the-spot option.

Cook once, eat twice

Make double batches of your favourite soups and stews and immediately freeze half for another time. Use small containers so they are easy to defrost and perfect for individual or smaller meals if your family has a busy schedule.

Slow-cooker friends

Use your slow-cooker or crock-pot to have a meal ready for you when you get home from work. One or two favourite soup and stew recipes can be rotated each week for a no-hassle dinner.

Tastes like chicken

Roast a chicken every week, either in the oven, or overnight in your slow-cooker. The meat can be used for salads, sandwiches and wraps all week and the carcass can be used to make soup and stock on the weekend.

Get saucy

Have two or three sauces in your repertoire that are easy to prepare and are crowd pleasers. Make a batch or two each week to top cooked proteins, vegetables or dips for snacks. Try making herb pesto, sesame tahini, Asian dipping sauces, mayonnaise or a simple tomato sauce.

Grainy goodness

If your family regularly consumes whole grains or legumes, make big batches of quinoa, millet, rice or lentils to use throughout the week in soups, stews, on salads and as side dishes.

Smoothie packs

If getting breakfast together and cooked in the morning is overwhelming, pack smoothie ingredients into individual containers, ready to blend and go in a mason jar if necessary. Kids love making their own smoothies and this puts them in charge of their meal.

Cook your eggs

Hard cook a dozen (or more) eggs each week to leave in the fridge for grab-and-go snacks, and easy addition to breakfast or a topping for salads. Cooked eggs are easy to store and will last a week if not gobbled up before.

In the spirit of back to school, I am giving you some homework for the week:

  • Note which tips and tricks you think will work best for you and your family.
     
  • Try out one or two of these tips this week on a day when you have time. Sundays are my favorite prep day but find what works best for you.
     
  • If your children are old enough, invite them to participate. They just might enjoy what is on their plate for dinner a little more if they take part in the deciding and preparing of it.

If you are already organized with your kitchen basics and meal preparation tips and skills of your own, please share them with me. Seriously, I always want more!

The beginning of the school year is filled with its own stresses, schedules, readjustments and constraints. Making sure keeping you and your family nourished and fueled doesn't have to be an added burden.

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For more about nutrition, tips to improve overall health and wellbeing, recipes and meal plans, visit Integrative Health.

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