"What are some back-to-school meal planning ideas/tips for kid friendly meals/snacks?"
First, let’s nail down what a balanced meal or snack means. Like the recommendations for adults, we would want to focus on nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables, fruits, protein, and grains when planning and packing meals and snacks for kids. When I think balanced my staple recommendations include at least one fruit or vegetable, a source of protein, and a whole grain (or any combo of at least 2 of those components if we are thinking snacks). Fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals are what we are after.
Make it fun!
Try dips or sauces—hummus, peanut butter, dressings, and yogurt are all easy and delish to dunk fruits, vegetables, pretzels or a whole grain cracker into.
Try different shapes, textures and sizes—who says a cucumber or melon needs to be cut the same old way? We tend to think about packing raw veggies, how about sweet potato fries or canned green beans to snack on? Maybe one day the apple is cut up and the next a whole apple.
Try different containers—by getting away from plastic baggies we are not only helping the environment and saving money but may be making it more fun. Adults and kids are loving all the hype of bento boxes, you could even try mason jars, click lid glass or plastic containers or re-usable colored “baggies”.
Include your kids in the process of planning and prepping their snacks or lunches.
Decrease the stress by prepping for an hour or two at one time rather than each morning or evening. Label who the meal or snack belongs to. Make a menu so there will be no surprises (for you or anyone else). Utilize cold packs so that any uneaten food that is still cold can be used again to decrease waste.
What are some examples:
Protein---string cheese, yogurt, beans, nuts or seeds (trail mix is a fun idea), peanut butter (or any nut butters), edamame, hard-boiled egg, cottage cheese, chicken breast, tuna salad, turkey burger etc.
Fruit---canned (in own juices), fresh or frozen! Grapes, berries, melon, apples, oranges. Be mindful of what is on sale and in season. Try a combo of colors and different combinations.
Vegetables---cooked, fresh, canned, or frozen are all wonderful options! Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots (try cutting whole carrots into smaller “baby” carrots to save $ and support local), sliced colored peppers, left-over roasted veggies, salad, cucumbers, grape tomatoes to name a few.
Grains---crackers, pretzels, whole wheat tortilla, whole grain bread, English muffin, brown rice, veggie pasta, oatmeal bars, homemade oatmeal cups or muffins (try replacing half of the called for amount of white flour with wheat), pita bread or chips, popcorn, graham crackers, quinoa salad, or cereal.
There is no one perfect meal, use the above as a guide to mix and match different combinations of foods and nutrients. While variety is important, don’t stress if your child tends to request the same meal or snack often. Keep in mind kids do not need as much food as adults. Select foods that your kids like and will enjoy!