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The stress-free school week

By Stacey Stein

With September looming, the carefree days of summer will soon give way to the more structured days of fall.

When contemplating school year routines, thoughts often turn to food. Come late August, you may be asking yourself how you’re going to get your kids fed in the morning and off to school before the bell rings, what kind of dinners you can pull off while making it to hockey/dance/piano lessons on time, and how you’re going to survive 10 months of lunch-making during the morning crunch.

Fear not: we have ideas for easy, on-the-go meals and snacks, along with some helpful tips, to help keep things running smoothly during the school year while ensuring your family is well fed.

A little planning goes a long way

“People get this idea in their mind that a meal plan has to be a complicated thing, but it doesn’t have to be,” she says. “Keep it simple – you can make easy, nutritious meals at home with just a little bit of planning.”

We all know we should be making meal plans, but actually doing it often feels overwhelming. According to registered dietitian Shannon Crocker, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Crocker has three tips. First, she suggests doing some limited meal planning on the weekend, even if it’s for the first three days of the week. Second, she recommends doing some meal prep ahead of time. The weekend is a good time to get a few simple things ready that will help set you up for the week – think chopped up veggies, a batch of muffins for after-school snacks, or a few jars of overnight oats for a quick, healthy breakfast.

Crocker’s final tip is “cook once, eat twice.” This means making a double batch of whatever you’re cooking for dinner so you can re-purpose it for lunch or dinner the next day.

“Think of ways to reinvent leftovers,” says Crocker. “Plan for meals where supper is reinvented for lunch the next day.”

Make breakfast a breeze

A good breakfast will fuel your family for a full day at school or work. “Think healthy fats, protein and fibre to keep you focused for the day,” says Crocker.

If you have some time on the weekend, she recommends making a double batch of pancakes, like these protein-packed apple pie cottage cheese pancakes. Put a bunch in the fridge and pop them in the oven during the week for a fast, nutritious breakfast.

You can also try this baked banana chip oatmeal to go, which makes for a perfect grab n’ go breakfast. Crocker describes this recipe as a crossover between a muffin and oatmeal (tip: replace the sour cream with Nordica Smooth Plain cottage cheese for a hit of protein).

Short on time in the morning? These strawberry coconut overnight oats only require 10 minutes of prep the night before. Filled with protein and fibre, they’ll give you a boost of energy in the morning.

Also requiring just a few minutes to prepare, this blueberry acai smoothie bowl is full of powerhouse ingredients like kale, blueberries and cottage cheese, and will keep you energized all morning.

Leftovers for lunch

Many dinners can be reinvented as lunch the next day, like these cheesesteak quesadillas. While delicious as a hot meal for dinner, the leftovers will make for a great cold lunch the next day.

Leftover chili or soup packed in an insulated container also makes for a great lunch. Loaded with wholesome ingredients, this hearty quinoa and sweet potato chili will keep you satisfied until dinner.

School-age kids can make their own lunches, saving you time in the morning while giving kids a chance to help out. Bento box lunches are easy to assemble and don’t require any cutting. Kids can toss some cubed cheese, crackers, snap peas and grapes into containers for a fun and healthy snack-style lunch.

Another snack-style lunch that Crocker recommends is the deconstructed sandwich. Pack the bread, filling and veggies into separate containers the night before. Kids can assemble their sandwich at school the next day (or eat everything separately). You can try this Mediterranean tuna pita sandwich, which tastes great eaten deconstructed or enjoyed whole.

Keep it simple with DIY dinners

DIY dinners not only get everyone involved at suppertime, they also allow people to build their meal the way they like it best. A salad bar supper is a great DIY meal and can introduce kids to different veggies. Make sure to involve your family in the prep work – older kids can cut up veggies and cheese. Other DIY dinner ideas include fajitas, a sandwich bar, or power bowls filled with a variety of healthy ingredients, like this Southwest power bowl or this sweet potato and black bean Buddha bowl.

If you’re pressed for time, try rethinking dinner. A grilled cheese sandwich paired with a side salad works just as well for supper as it does for lunch. No time to cut up veggies? Crocker recommends using a bagged salad mix to put together a salad in under a minute.

While everyone loves a good old-fashioned grilled cheese sandwich, if you have a little bit of extra time, you can try a twist on the classic with this roast beef and horseradish grilled cheese or this Mexican fiesta grilled cheese.

Sheet pan suppers are another ingenious time-saver. “Toss all the meat and veggies on one pan and dinner takes care of itself,” says Crocker. Two sheet pan dinners Crocker recommends are this garam masala turkey and these honey chipotle sheet pan steak fajitas.

Simple & satisfying after-school snacks

Quick after-school snacks don’t need to be unhealthy. Packaged snacks may seem like an obvious go-to, but Crocker says after school is a great time to put out cut up veggies with dip or fresh fruit (or tortilla chips) paired with a caramel apple dip (try this recipe). For a grab n’ go snack on the way to an after-school program, try these cinnamon orange bran muffins or on a warm fall day, these berry popsicles are packed with protein but will still satisfy kids who have a sweet tooth.

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