Healthy Lunches for Home or On the Go
Robin Miller here! As a quick introduction, I’m host of Food Network’s Quick Fix Meals, a cookbook author (“Robin Rescues Dinner” is my latest book!) and a VERY busy mom of two ENERGETIC boys, Kyle (7) and Luke (6). I am excited to announce that I’ll be contributing periodically to Virtual Learning Connections – this is my first blog and I’m thrilled to share it with you. This is especially important to me because people stop me every day (whether I’m at home or traveling for my TV shows and book tours) to ask important questions about home-cooked meals and nutrition. How can we pull it all together and make it easy, fun and nutritious? Answering those very questions is my goal with this blog! I want you to find the answers you’re looking for on this site each time I post my thoughts, tips, recipes, strategies, and so on. Plus, I’ll be answering a few questions each time I blog – after I post – so I can TRULY reach out to meet your individual needs and help with your busy lives as you create an exceptional educational experience for your children from home!
We’ve memorized the mantra: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. Yes, our first nosh is important, but what about lunch? Let’s face it, breakfast is often the most “routine” meal, where we consume the SAME foods every day. Lunch is different. By midday, we’ve already taxed our bodies and brains and we need refueling. But lunchtime not only replenishes, it’s an excellent opportunity to consume valuable vitamins and minerals we may have missed at breakfast. Plus, adults and children are more likely to try smaller portions of a variety of foods at lunchtime, unlike the standard protein, vegetable and starch at dinner. When you include a bounty of different foods at one meal, you enjoy a broad spectrum of important nutrients. And when it comes to virtual school or home schooling and lunch, the possibilities are endless! A well-stocked pantry and fridge can guarantee a successful, delicious lunch every day.
But just because you’re home doesn’t mean you have lots of free time to cook! In fact, you may find it harder to sneak away to prepare nutritious meals from scratch. Since days are busy no matter how many kids are home, prepping ahead is a valuable strategy. When you’ve got free time, partially assemble meals in advance so you can streamline lunch-making at the last minute. I call these “meal kits”, and they’ve become a life-saver in my house.
To make a meal kit, prep-ahead several ingredients and keep them separate until you’re ready to assemble the meal. For example, pre-cook pasta and rice on the weekend and make chilled salads during the week. Pre-chop vegetables for pasta and rice salads or serve the veggies with dressings, bean dip, guacamole, pesto, and hummus. Vegetables that take well to advance cutting include bell peppers, carrots, celery, zucchini, and seedless cucumbers. Cube or use a melon-baller to pre-cut melons such as watermelon, honeydew, and cantaloupe.
You can also keep your pantry and fridge “grab-and-go ready” by portioning out snack foods and side dishes such as nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts, and pistachios), dried fruit, whole grain crackers, and cheese slices or cheese cubes.
Here are some of my favorite lunchtime meals. These mouth-watering menus keep stomachs happy and brains fueled! For those of you on the go, my meal suggestions also make fabulous brown bag lunches.
Note: Select the quantity of each meal based on the age of your children. The side dishes can be adjusted or eliminated depending on your needs.
Spread 1 tablespoon basil pesto into a whole wheat pita pocket. Stuff with a few tomato slices and 3-4 slices of mozzarella cheese.
- 1 cup cream of broccoli soup or any vegetable soup
- 1 apple, cut into slices and dunked in 1-2 tablespoons of peanut butter or Nutella
Toss 1 cup cooked white or brown rice with 2 tablespoons each slivered almonds, chopped dried apricots, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, and 1 teaspoon each olive oil, and sherry vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. For added protein, stir in ½ cup diced cooked chicken, shrimp or tuna.
- 2 celery stalks stuffed with 1-2 tablespoons herbed cheese (such as herbed goat cheese or vegetable cream cheese)
- 1-2 biscotti cookies
Toss 1 cup cooked spaghetti with 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter, 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Add ½ cup chopped bell peppers and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro. Season with salt and pepper.
- 1 cup light fruit yogurt
- 1 cup melon balls
Smoked Turkey Roll-Up:
Top a whole wheat tortilla with 2 teaspoons honey mustard, a few lettuce leaves and 3-4 slices of smoked turkey, cheddar cheese and tomato. Roll up.
- 1 cup tomato soup
- 1 cup red or green grapes
- 2 Fig Newton bars or granola bar
Baked Ham on Pumpernickel:
Top pumpernickel or whole grain bread with 2 teaspoons spicy mustard or mayonnaise and then 2-3 slices of ham, 1 slice of Swiss cheese and a few slices of seedless cucumber. Top with second slice of bread.
- 1 cup vegetable sticks (carrots, bell pepper, zucchini) with ¼ cup light ranch dressing or hummus
- 2 graham crackers with 2 tablespoons apple butter
Mediterranean Pasta Salad:
Toss 1 cup cooked pasta (penne, elbow macaroni, bowties) with ¼ cup each quartered artichoke hearts, chopped roasted red peppers, 1-2 tablespoons minced fresh basil, 2 teaspoons olive oil, and 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.
- 1 sliced pear with 1 tablespoon honey and 1 tablespoon crumbled blue cheese or any cheese
- Mixture of ¼ cup cashews and 2 tablespoons dried cranberries