Tips for Packing Healthy School Lunches on a Budget

Back to school is right around the corner. With four kids headed back, this mama is looking for some healthy school lunches on a budget. The tips below were shared with me and I couldn’t help but share. Enjoy! 

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Tips for Packing Healthy School Lunches on a Budget

via Cher Murphy PR

Back to school means back to lunch preparation for parents around the country. It’s a challenge that many parents take on, but often struggle to keep healthy. While it’s easy to toss in convenient snacks, it’s not going to do much in the way of keeping their little bodies healthy and developing well. One pediatrician wants parents to know that sending kids to school with healthy lunches each day doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. In fact, she’s on a mission to help teach parents how to pack healthy school lunches on a budget.

“School lunches may not seem significant in a child’s life, but when you add up that they are eating them five days per week it’s quite a lot of their calorie consumption,” says Dr. Nimali Fernando, a Fredericksburg, Virginia-based pediatrician who founded The Doctor Yum Project. “Teaching them healthy lunch habits from a young age will give them the tools to build lifelong healthy habits.”

Of concern for many pediatricians is the fact that most children are simply not eating enough healthy foods to begin with. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report earlier this year which stated that only 12 percent of adults meet the daily recommended fruit intake, and only 9 percent reach the daily vegetable intake. They went on to say that most U.S. children do not meet national recommendations for daily fruit and vegetable servings. Add to it the fact they report that 14 percent of preschool-aged children are considered obese, and it’s a recipe for health disaster.

Here are tips from Dr. Yum for packing healthy school lunches on a budget:

  • Plan lunches for the week. Every weekend, sit down and make a list of what lunches you will make throughout the week. Dr. Yum’s Menu Planner can help you plan lunches, dinners, breakfasts and snacks and then gives you a shopping list for the week that is even sorted by department.
  • Buy in bulk. Skip buying individually packaged items like snacks. They are often much more expensive that way. Buy items in bulk, such as at Costco, and use reusable containers to put the items in. Keep it healthy by opting for things like dried fruit, trail mix, unsweetened applesauce, etc.
  • Use leftovers. Plan your dinner meals so that you can make extra and then put some aside for lunch the next day. The Dr. Yum Menu Planner is terrific for this too!
  • Make from scratch. When we buy items, such as muffins, premade at the store, they often have ingredients in them that we would never find in our pantry. Take it old school by going back to making your own items from scratch. Preparing a batch of healthy muffins, for example, and then putting them in the freezer will help you save money and have healthy options on hand at all times.
  • Skip the sugary drinks. Buying sugary drinks is not only expensive, but it puts too much sugar into your child’s diet. Opt for sending them with a reusable container filled with water or unsweetened tea.
  • Take a twist on old favorites. Most kids like a traditional PBJ, but you can add some twists by making peanut butter and sliced banana sandwiches, using a whole wheat tortilla, or putting peanut butter and jelly into a whole wheat tortilla and grilling it like a quesadilla. Each variation makes it a bit different, but very few different ingredients are used, keeping it easy and affordable.
  • Think smoothies. Packing a smoothie like Dr. Yum’s Green Dragon Smoothie once a week is a great way to get kids nutrition, serve them something they like, and make lunch preparation easy. Keep bags of frozen fruits and veggies (like spinach and kale) on hand and whip together a smoothie to put in their thermos. Smoothies are not just for breakfast!

“Get your kids involved in helping to make healthy lunches this year, which will teach them healthy habits and make them more likely to actually eat what you pack together” added Heidi DiEugenio, director of the Doctor Yum Project. “Once you decide you want to serve healthy and affordable lunches, you just need to stick with the commitment and make it happen. It will become a healthy habit for the whole family.”

Quick, healthy recipe from the Doctor Yum Project website: Rainbow Veggie Pinwheels

Healthy School Lunches on a Budget
Source: Cher Murphy PR

INGREDIENTS

8 whole wheat tortilla wraps

1 cup hummus

1 cup red bell pepper, thinly cut strips

1 cup grated carrots

1 cup yellow bell pepper, thinly cut strips

1 cup fresh spinach, thinly cut

1 cup purple cabbage, shredded

METHOD

Spread about two tablespoons of hummus on each tortilla, leaving a one-inch border on all sides. Line up a thin layer of sliced vegetables across the hummus. Roll up the tortilla tightly. Cut the roll crosswise into four or five pinwheels and serve. These can easily be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator, ready for a party, snack, or packed lunch!

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About The Doctor Yum Project

Dr. Fernando created The Doctor Yum Project, an organization with the mission of transforming the lives of families and communities by providing an understanding of the connection between food and overall health, as well as empowering them with the tools to live a healthy life. The project offers healthy cooking classes, child nutrition classes, cooking camps for kids, hands-on cooking instruction for families, first foods classes, a teaching garden, and online tools to help families make healthier meals. They also offer a preschool nutrition program, with 40 classrooms and almost 600 participating preschoolers.

Dr. Fernando, otherwise known as Dr. Yum, is a board-certified pediatrician. She is also the co-author of the book “Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater: A Parent’s Handbook” (The Experiment, October 2015). To learn more, visit the site at: www.doctoryum.org.

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Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fruits and Vegetables. (Download here.)

Five RDN Approved After-School Snacks from Jo Bartell

*articles may contain affiliate links* ## Our kids have always been snackers. Back-to-school will probably just bring on the snack gene even more fierce! Admittedly, we’ve not been the best at providing whole, nutritious after-school snacks because we have four different appetites and preferences. But honestly, how hard is it to insert a few healthy snacks into the routine?

I was provided with these ideas by Jo Bartell, a registered dietitian nutritionist and think they are totally doable as part of the fall routine. Which is your favorite?

after-school snacks

Five RDN Approved After-School Snacks from Jo Bartell

RDN Jo Bartell says that the key to any snack combo is a blend of protein & fiber. As a general rule, she suggests you shoot for snacks that contribute more than 3 grams of fiber and more than 5 grams of protein. Instead of dreading after-school snacks, see it as an opportunity to incorporate valuable nutrients that are often missed in other meals. Jo has come up with 5 easy snack ideas that fit the bill and will keep your child fueled and focused until dinnertime!

  1. What: 1/2 cup cottage cheese + 1/2 cup blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and/or raspberries. Why: Cottage cheese is a super underrated food that is both versatile and jam-packed with protein. For a sweet and ultra-satisfying snack, pair cottage cheese with fiber-filled and antioxidant-rich mixed berries.
  2. What: 3 tablespoons hummus + veggie sticks (carrots, radish, jicama, celery, bell pepper, broccoli or endive leaves). Why: Hummus packs in the plant-based protein with chickpeas, and the other ingredients, which are typically tahini and olive oil, are wonderful sources of heart-healthy fat to slow down digestion and keep you feeling satiated throughout the afternoon. Think outside of the box with colorful and crunchy veggie dippers–more color and variety in the veggies you choose means more beneficial vitamins and minerals!
  3. What: A brown rice cake or two topped with a tablespoon natural nut butter, sliced strawberries and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Why: Getting in whole grains throughout the day is super important, especially if those whole grains are replacing their white (refined) counterparts. The fiber-filled rice cakes will go perfectly with vitamin-C packed strawberries and healthy fat + protein filled nut butter to keep the energy up until dinner.
  4. What: Pistachios and fruit. Why: Pistachios always help crush hunger with their crunch and combo of protein, fiber, and healthy fat. As a bonus, pistachios are a fantastic source of both potassium and vitamin B6. Pair them with antioxidant-packed plums and you have a delicious solution for your child’s afternoon sweet craving. Try Setton Farms’ new Pistachio + Plum Chewy Bites as your one-stop-shop for a powerful and delicious combination of pistachios and plums that will provide you with powerful energy to get through the afternoon. Setton Farms is my favorite brand of pistachios- they even have naturally flavored pistachios!
  5. What: 2 corn tortillas rolled up with 2 tablespoons mashed avocado, sliced tomato and cucumber. Why: Corn tortillas contribute whole grains and fiber, so choose those over flour tortillas whenever you can. Avocado adds flavor, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fat that works to lower bad cholesterol (a.k.a LDL) and raise good cholesterol (a.k.a HDL). And, even though we usually don’t think of avocados as a source of fiber and protein, they are actually super rich in both! Again, sneaking in tomatoes and cucumbers will add crunch and an extra vegetable serving or two for the day.

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About Jo Bartell

Jo Bartell is a registered dietitian nutritionist with a master’s degree and has extensive training and experience guiding individuals with various health conditions in achieving nutrition-related goals. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BA in Psychology and Sociology from Skidmore College, and earned an MS in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics from New York University (NYU). At NYU, she also completed her dietetic internship. She currently lives in San Francisco with her own private practice nutrition counseling and consulting business. She is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the Bay Area Dietetics Association, along with several Dietetics Practice Groups of AND including Women’s Health, Weight Management, Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition, and Nutrition Entrepreneurs. When she’s not working, she loves food shopping, cooking, traveling, riding horses, and long walks around the city with her dogs, Winston and Nikki.

Find her on Instagram @she_dishes

About Setton Farms

Setton Farms is a family-owned business based in California’s Central Valley and are the 2nd largest producer and processor of pistachios in the United States.  The business started as a small bakery in Brooklyn in 1959 and expanded to growing pistachios in 1987. They are a vertically integrated company and are able to focus on every step of the pistachio process from harvesting, to processing, to shipping. The processing plant has a 1.7MW solar power system and their post-harvest operations are 100% solar powered. Their products range from plain pistachios to flavored pistachios to their iconic Pistachio Chewy Bites. Check out their website or find their Pistachio+Plum Chewy Bites on Amazon.

 

Gerber Lil’ Beanies for the (Twin) Win-Win

Hey there. We’re the ‘lil Burghers twins and of course we do everything exactly alike. You know. How twins do. We’re best at eating all of our meats, fruits and veggies and Gerber snacks.

Gerber

Believe them? Ha! We’ve been struggling with getting both twins to eat like they should. Ava loves meats. Isla loves carbs. They both are “eh” about getting in all of their fruits and veggies. They both love some snacks.

Ever since birth, I’ve been keeping my eye on their nutrition. Not to keep them from having weight gain issues, but the exact opposite. Most of you probably remember when they were “failure to thrive”, measuring in the first (and less) percentile of weight for their age. That was some scary times. So it’s no surprise that when I see them throwing food around, I get a little cranky.

Luckily, they both love some snacks. Tricking them into getting their veggies and other key nutrients in through snacks has made for a win-win situation. We introduced Gerber® Lil’ Beanies™ and now they get goodness from this snack made from navy beans. For the twins, this means flavor and nutrition. For mom, it means I get to say yes to the twins more often when they beg for a “nack”.

Take for instance when we went to Target to grab some supplies for our upcoming vacation. We knew the Gerber Lil’ Beanies™ would be perfect for a road trip snack, but the girls thought that the road trip was right then and there and didn’t understand why they couldn’t just dig in and eat up. There might just have been a mini meltdown in the baby aisle.

lil beanies

We grabbed two flavors, both equally loved by the girls. Isla was ready to chow down on the Original while Ava was begging for the White Cheddar & Broccoli to open itself and get in her belly.

toddler snacks

It was so mean of us to make them wait until they got home, huh?

eatingsnacks

We know that good things come in twos, so we’re sharing a way for you to get a discount on your next Target purchase of Gerber Lil’ Beanies™. First, you’ll need to login to iBotta and grab up this offer to earn cash back on the purchase of Lil’ Beanies™ (while supplies last). Next, head out to your local Target. Find the baby aisle (in ours, we always forget that baby food and diapers are up front and not with baby furniture and clothes) and look for these cans of win-win choices. Your toddler will thank you and you’ll feel better about giving into the ‘nack. (Oh, and after you check out, be sure to go back to iBotta and submit your purchase so you get that cash back! Win-win!)

gerberlilbeanies

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About Lil’ Beanies (information from Gerber):

The first bean-based snack in the baby aisle, Gerber® Lil’ Beanies™ is made from the goodness of navy beans to deliver 2 grams of protein (9% Daily Value), 1 gram of fiber, and 10% Daily Value of Vitamin E per serving. A delicious and nutritious treat, your little ones will love it for its taste and you’ll love it for its nutrition. Gerber® Lil’ Beanies™ Snack is baked, not made with genetically engineered (GM) ingredients, and is naturally flavored!

We’ll just be over here, enjoying our snacks! xoxo, Ava & Isla

Perfect Pudding Pops (a #BacktoSchoolSimple Recipe)

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #BacktoSchoolSimple #CollectiveBias 

Oh, Back to School. How is it less than a week away? We’ve gone through Kindergarten Orientation, started earlier bedtimes, bought new clothes / shoes, and did our back to school food shop at our local Giant Eagle. Grabbing everything we needed for lunches, snacks, and a special first day of school treat (see the Perfect Pudding Pops, below!) was easy and convenient at Giant Eagle. (Bonus? I got to add some fun, healthy snacks to my lunches, too!) We set out to grab quick win items, and the Bigs had control over what went in the shopping cart. Everything on our list was checked off in one quick and easy stop.

Perfect Pudding Pops

Pudding Pops

I wanted to be sure the kids had a fun first day of school treat, so I asked my chef-in-the-making (Arianna) to look at our list and help me come up with a fun recipe. She wanted to fill Snack Packs with some of the fun Oreo and Goldfish treats we found while at Giant Eagle, and Evan chimed in that we needed some healthy additions, too. We ended up deciding to grab some strawberries to mix in, then put them in the freezer for a cool treat (as the first day of school is of course forecast to be a hot one).

To make our Perfect Pudding Pops, we needed to pull our ingredients together:

  • Snack Pack Pudding cups (we wanted chocolate and vanilla)
  • Goldfish crackers (assorted, we chose Chocolate Mint + Pretzel and s’mores)
  • Mini Oreo Cookies
  • Strawberries
  • Optional, Popsicle Sticks
  • Optional, popsicle molds

ingredients_pp

The Bigs were pretty excited about those Goldfish, by the way.

goldfish

 

Putting together the Perfect Pudding Pops was pretty easy, too. We simply:

  1. Open Snack Packs.
  2. (Optional) Spoon into the popsicle makers.
  3. Crumble add-ins.
  4. (Optional, if not using popsicle makers) Add in popsicle stick.
  5. Cover.
  6. Put in freezer for about 6 hours – perfect for during the school day. Pro tip – don’t let these sit for longer than a day – they do get a bit crunchy! 
  7. Push out of the cup or mold and enjoy!

filledpopsicle

Yum!

ariannapuddingpop

The Lunch Station

Beyond having a super fun first day of school treat, we wanted to build a station that would help with packing lunches once or twice a week, so the Bigs looked for favorites like Schwebels Bread, JIF Peanut Butter, Smuckers Fruit Spread, Frito Lay snacks, Goldfish Crackers, and Entemanns Little Bites. Of course, we had to be practical and pick up the bags to tuck the goodies in, too!

Back to School Simple

I think we did pretty good, don’t you? What would you have added?

lunch station

The After School Snack Station

To make life easy on Greg, we decided to pick out After School Snacks that stuck with our family theme – a healthy choice and a happy choice. The kids will get to pick one of each from this station in the pantry. No questions asked, except asking when can we go back to Giant Eagle to fill it up! *wink* (Check out gianteagle.com to find your local store.)

after school snack

Personally, I was over the moon with these portion packs because I’ll be using them to get back on track with right sized snacks for me, too! I showed Arianna how to weigh a serving of Goldfish, then we made some portion packs filled with her favorite treat from our shop.

portionsnack

Up Next? The first day of school!

I *think* that we are ready, at least when it comes to food. Thank goodness we have Giant Eagle as our local headquarters for back to school shopping! Check out how others are using Giant Eagle as their one-stop-shop for back to school.

What’s still on YOUR Back to School To Do List? Share below!

 

SnackMob

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by Bolthouse Farms Kids™ and The Motherhood. All opinions are my own.

SnackMob

The four ‘lil Burghers are always snacking. Thankfully, I’m trying to show them how to make healthy snack choices when they must eat all the things right this minute. Since it’s back to school season, we’ll also be looking to reinforce healthy snacking habits by packing options that kids will love (like veggies, salsa, low-fat cheese sticks, or fruits). It’s like we are a real, live SnackMob! 😉

We were able to catch the Bolthouse Farms Kids™ Snack Mob truck at the Pittsburgh Zoo last weekend. It was a hot day, so we all welcomed a taste of the Strawberry Meets Banana smoothie. This snack quickly made its way to our grocery list because it was refreshing, healthy, and tasty.

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Arianna and Evan couldn’t wait to get to open these! If you’re wondering, they are a twist cap but still easy enough for them to open.

And the truck? It was awesome to see the truck in action after hearing about it. We LOVE food trucks, especially ones that hand out treats and coupons! (Psss…you can snag a coupon good August 1 – December 31, 2015 here if you can’t make want to give these a try.)

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If you have yet to catch the Bolthouse Farms Kids™ Snack Mob trucks in the Pittsburgh area, you still have time before back to school. They will be at the Junior Great Race on September 19 (8 AM at Point State Park) in addition to several other weekend events up until then. You can find more here: bolthousefarmssnackmob.com. You even have a chance to have the SnackMob truck crash your own party. Tweet the date and type of event you’re hosting to @BolthouseFarms with #SnackMob and #Contest in your tweet. Must be 18 years old to enter / have 100 people minimum at your event. Contest ends September 10, 2015 at 11:59 PM (see www.bolthousefarmssnackmob.com/).

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Bolthouse Farms Kids™ is making it easy for kids to go back to school in a healthy way with their refrigerated line of real fruit and veggie snacks. We’ll be integrating grab-and-go choices like Chili Meets Lime Veggie Snackers (carrots) or Peach Meets Mango Smoothies in Arianna’s school lunch while Evan might chose a Blueberry Meets Raspberry Fruit Tube for an after school treat. With 25 to 90 calories // real ingredients // on-the-go packaging, we can’t go wrong. (You can read more about these treats on my first post about them here or at www.bolthouse.com.)

Bolthouse Farms Kids

 

The Twins’ First Foods

Now that the twins are four months old, it was time to give them food. For the twins’ first foods, we went with samples received at Blogger Bash NYC from Ella’s Kitchen. They came I’m fun squeeze pouches and are straight up purees of fruits, nothing else.

While I really want to venture in making our own baby food, I’m just not ready to dive in yet. The day will come. For now, we will use pouches to supplement the mama milk!

For Ava, the food of choice was Mangoes, Mangoes, Mangoes. Admittedly, she did the best at eating the pouch. Ava seemed to enjoy the whole process, too.

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I can’t blame her. Like any good mom, I tried a bite. Delicious!

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Total food coma followed.

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Isn’t her belly sweet?

But for Isla, the process made her angry. Just like her first nursing sessions, she didn’t really want to put in the work. Not sure why, Bananas, Bananas, Bananas is also delicious.

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She does, however, love her Bumbo. We have to get a second new model!

But when Bubby helped? The world was a hundred times better.

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Here’s to enjoying more and more firsts!

I received samples at a blogging event and was not obligated to share. All opinions are 100% my own.

You can find out more about these baby foods at EllasKitchen.com.

Whooo’s Hungry? Recipes from Family Fun

Fall is great, isn’t it? FamilyFun Magazine has some healthy, fun snack ideas that are perfect for celebrating the fall fun. Hopefully you’ll find them as adorable as I did and put them in your fall plans.

Banana Cupcakes

banana cupcake
source: Family Fun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ingredients

Bananas

Peanut butter

Blueberries

Coconut

Directions

1.     Use a piping bag and round decorating tip (or a ziplock bag with a corner snipped off) to pipe a swirl of peanut butter on a 1-inch thick slice of banana.

2.     Top with fresh berries, shredded coconut, or other healthy favorites.

 

Whooo’s hungry owl crackers

Owl Cupcakes
Source: Family Fun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ingredients

Round crackers

Mini round crackers

Cream cheese

Almonds

Raisins

Directions

1.     Spread a layer of plain cream cheese on a round cracker, using the tip of the spreader to make small indents for feathers.

2.     Press on a pair of mini round cracker eyes (we pulled apart a Ritz Bits sandwich and used a half for each eye) and attach raisin pupils with a dab of cream cheese.

3.     Finish by pressing on an almond beak and almond-slice feathers.

 

Color-Me-Sweet cupcakes

 

color me sweet cupcakes
Source: Family Fun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ingredients

Your favorite cupcakes!

Directions

Once your cupcakes have cooled, frost them with four or five shades of tinted frosting (for intense tones like those shown, use paste food coloring).

To make the serving platter, use a craft knife to cut a palette shape from a sheet of cardboard or foam board. Paint it brown and let it dry before using it.

 

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Note: Family Fun provided me with the recipes and images for this post. I opted to share them with you without compensation. Any opinions within are 100% my own.