Guys. It’s less than a week until Hamilton County Schools start back. (GASP.) While I think my 8- and 6-year olds are ready to get back into the swing of things and see their friends, I’m not sure I am ready. Mostly I am not ready to have to drive all over the county, help with homework, get up in the mornings, and pack lunches.
I both love and hate packing lunches for my kids. With two in elementary school and one in preschool, though, it’s simply a fact of life for us. I have to pack the preschooler’s, and my kids would only eat about half of what they serve for school lunch — the very unhealthy half.
(Let’s not get into the lunches they serve at school. Just suffice to say I don’t want my kids to eat them every day. Maybe I am controlling, but I also like to know what they are eating.)
Part of my back-to-school prep is tackling as much of the lunchbox situation as I can before school even starts. I love to stock my freezer, making it as simple as possible to fill up those bento boxes in the mornings (in between nursing the baby, drinking coffee as quickly as possible, and yelling at everyone to JUST PUT SOME SHOES ON PLEASE)
If you’d like to do some prepping, but have no idea where to start, I’m your girl! Here are some general ideas along with recipes to begin your freezer-filling:
Muffins and Breads
Muffins are probably my favorite things to make and freeze. Don’t have anything for breakfast in the morning? Grab some out of the freezer the night before and thaw on the counter. Need to send a snack? Muffins! But they also work well in a lunchbox. My kids will also eat almost anything baked into a muffin, so it’s my way of getting some extra fruits, veggies, and healthy fats in them, too. You might think your kids would scoff at bright green spinach muffins…but why not give it a try? Just smile and call them Yoda Muffins. Works every time here.
If you like to bake bread, make a couple extra loaves and freeze them, too. It’s easier to make big batches once than small batches several times.
Here are some breads and baked goods I like to freeze:
- Spinach Cake Muffins
- Gingerbread Muffins with White Chocolate Chips
- Double Chocolate Zucchini Spice Muffins
- Lemon and White Chocolate Mini-Muffins
- Sweet Carrot Muffins
- Strawberry Cream Cheese Bread
- Fluffy 100% Whole Wheat Bread
While some of my kids are pretty happy to eat a PB&J or a ham and cheese sandwich practically every day, I like to mix it up a little bit. Don’t be afraid to try some new things in the lunchbox! We use Thermoses to attempt to keep hot items warm until lunch, but my kids are usually fine eating cold or room-temperature chicken nuggets, pizza, or nachos. (If they will eat it cold in a Lunchable, they can eat it cold homemade. I promise.)
Here are a few things I like to make and freeze for those entree portions:
- Chicken Nuggets – These are incredibly easy to make (just dusting the chicken pieces with a seasoned flour, then some oil, and baking). I put them in the lunch boxes frozen, and they thaw by lunchtime. Omit the cayenne if your kids don’t like spicy foods.
- No-Rise Pizza Crust and Veggie-Heavy Pizza Sauce – I make big rectangles of pizza dough, bake them, and cut it into triangles for tiny pizza slices. (Think pizza Lunchable.) I freeze the pizza sauce in my silicone mini-muffin pan, then pop out the frozen cubes into a big freezer bag. Then send the pizza kit with a couple pieces of frozen crust, one of the sauce cubes, some shredded cheese, and whatever toppings they like. Yum!
- Homemade Spaghetti-os – Can you freeze this? Yes you can! Freeze in one-cup portions, then nuke them in the morning and pack in an insulated container.
- Honey-Maple Roasted Turkey Breast – Slice into portions and freeze for easy packing.
For lack of a better term, here are some “snacky things” you can send as a side for lunch or as your child’s snack, if you need to pack one. (Muffins work well there, too!)
- Peanut Butter No-Bake Energy Bites – Energy bites are great for filling up little tummies with an extra boost of health food! Just make sure your school allows peanut butter, or substitute sunbutter.
- Chocolate Date Candy – Similar to energy balls, but extra sweet thanks to nature’s candy: dates.
- Chocolate Coconut Oat Bars (or other granola bars)
- Sweet Beet Cookies
- Chocolate Graham Crackers
To get you started on your lunchbox stash, here’s a great muffin recipe. We love pumpkin all year round, but it’s especially easy to find in the fall. I love how these are honey-sweetened, too!
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
yields about 15 muffins
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
- 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 cup chocolate, cinnamon, butterscotch, or white chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350F. In a big bowl, stir together eggs, pumpkin, oil, honey, and water. In a smaller bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add dry ingredients to wet ones and stir until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips. Scoop batter into greased or lined muffin tins, about two-thirds full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in a muffin comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.