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This content was produced by Boston Globe Media's Studio/B in collaboration with the advertiser. The news and editorial departments of The Boston Globe had no role in its production or display.

Back to school lunch strategies for busy parents

With remote learning, your kitchen has become the cafeteria. Try these time-saving tricks to minimize school lunch stress.

For many parents, this back to school season is more stressful than most. You are being asked to help your kids successfully adjust to remote learning in addition to your regular responsibilities and work. 

We hear you. And we feel you. This fall, KitchenAid and your local appliance dealers are offering support for parents with tips for keeping the kitchen a calm and creative space, even during this chaotic time.

There are many things Kristin Quinn, a mother of three on the South Shore, loves about being a mom—but packing school lunches is definitely not one of them. “I find packing school lunches pretty stressful,” says Quinn, author of the popular Misadventures in Mommyhood parenting blog, whose kids are 9, 6, and 3. “My friends and I are always looking for ideas on how to keep lunch interesting and balanced for our kids.”

Why is packing school lunches such a common source of anxiety? “Parents feel stress because they are trying to balance cost, nutrition, and pleasing their kids, all in as efficient a way as possible,” says Cynthia Kriegman of Jamaica Plain, who teaches communication skills workshops to parents and teachers through her company, Positive Parenting Boston. And of course, packing lunches promises even more complications this fall as COVID-19 throws school schedules into disarray. 

Here are some easy ways to take the tension out of packing midday meals.   


Keep it simple

When it comes to healthy school lunches, you can tag all the bases without whipping up complicated meals. “Balanced nutrition is key for kids to help them focus during the school day,” says Liana DeLoid, R.D., of Engaging Nutrition on the North Shore. “Protein from chicken, yogurt, or beans, whole-grain bread like Dave’s Killer Bread or One Mighty Mill tortillas, fruits, and vegetables will give kids the right nutrients for lasting energy.”

Use what you already have

Planned leftovers can be a saving grace for time-strapped parents. Try doubling your dinner recipes and storing the extra portions.

You can also make sure you’re getting the most out of every grocery shopping trip by using this handy Pantry Search tool. When you enter the foods in your kitchen, it generates recipes using those items. You may be surprised how many meals you’re already prepared for.

Pro tip: Check to see what kind of food preservation features your refrigerator has. Many KitchenAid fridges, for example, have advanced temperature control systems and produce preservers that can extend the life of your groceries and leftovers, saving you from additional trips to the store. If you’re considering an upgrade, find KitchenAid retailers in your area to learn more about these useful products and features.

Involve the kids in planning

To plan healthy lunches that your kids love, Karen Mountjoy, R.D., of Coastal Family Nutrition in Portsmouth, N.H. recommends working with your kids to create lists of foods they enjoy. Start by talking with your kids about the components of a healthy lunch: a fruit, a veggie, a protein-rich main item, and a snack. “This is a great opportunity to teach kids what a complete lunch looks like,” Mountjoy says.

Have your child make a list of which fruits, veggies, mains, and snacks they like. Post the list in your kitchen, and when it comes time to make lunches, you and/or your child can make lunch efficiently by picking one item from each category. You can also take a picture of the list with your phone to use while shopping.

Think of planning lunches as a problem you and your child can solve together. Kriegman recommends saying something like this to engage your child in a lunch-planning brainstorm session: “I’d love for you to have lunches that you like eating, and that are also easy to make and nutritious. Will you help me make a big list of possible lunch foods for you?”

Make little makers

Kids of all ages can play a part in actually putting together their lunches, too. Older kids can do everything themselves; younger children can pick out foods, wash fruits and veggies, or place items in bags. 

“When you prepare foods with your kids they’re very much in the process,” Mountjoy says. “They feel some ownership when they’re involved in making it, and they’re more likely to eat it.” 

Allowing children to be a part of the process may even plant the seed for them to become makers: kitchen creatives who find joy in the process of cooking, not just the end result. For makers, the kitchen is a workshop where they are free to explore, experiment, take risks, learn, and grow — an important practice for kids of all ages.

Pack lunches in the evening

Making lunches the night before school can help keep things calm for you and your children. “I try to get all of the parts, except hot foods, ready for the kids the night before,” Quinn says. “This cuts down on a lot of stress in the mornings trying to get out the door.”

Packing lunches the night before makes sense even if your kids are doing remote learning at home. “That way they have a plan in place when they get hungry or have a break,” DeLoid says. “It will also prevent them from grazing too much on snacks.”


Inspiration beyond the sandwich

Sandwiches are the standard go-to for school lunches, but they don’t work for every child. “My kids really don’t love sandwich meat,” Quinn says. Many schools don’t allow peanut butter because of allergies, and it can be hard to keep hot foods hot, “so I struggle to come up with meals that are balanced with enough protein to keep them going.”

Fortunately, you can pull together a healthy, enjoyable lunch without slapping meat between two pieces of bread. Some great non-sandwich lunch options include:

• Mini bagels with cream cheese or hummus

• Mini quiches, baked egg cups, or hardboiled eggs

Chicken lo-mein or chicken fajitas

• English muffin cheese pizzas

• Whole-grain cheese quesadillas with beans and guacamole

• Whole-grain crackers and hummus or bean dip

• This protein-packed crunchy veggie with hummus and avocado wrap

• Build-your-own nachos made with whole-grain tortilla chips, cheese, and black olives

Mac and cheese with ham

• Strips of grilled chicken with whole-grain tortillas and salsa on the side

Asparagus red pepper quiche

• Mini calzones made with frozen pizza dough, tomato sauce, cheese, and veggies

• Leftover anything (spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, baked chicken, macaroni and cheese, pizza, etc.)


Use the map below to find a local KitchenAid appliance dealer in your area.


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This content was produced by Boston Globe Media's Studio/B in collaboration with the advertiser. The news and editorial departments of The Boston Globe had no role in its production or display.