School Daze: Easy Lunch Ideas & Shopping List (Kid-approved Vegan Food)

School lunches. There are four ways parents generally approach the irksome task: 1) prepare carefully sliced and arranged food figurines into pristine Bento boxes, 2) toss a Lunchable at the kid on his way out the door, 3) opt for cafeteria fare, 4) stick to the same worn-out lunch options out of ease and self-preservation. None are wrong, right, better, or worse. All get the kid fed.

My approach lies somewhere in the middle. I aim for easy-to-make, relatively healthy, filling, fast-to-eat, and kid-approved.

As noted School Daze: Morning Prep post, I pack the week’s lunches on Sunday. I have more delicate lunches lined up to go first with sturdier fare waiting in the back for Thursday and Friday packing. I don’t like to invest a lot of time into the prepping, so I opt for quick to make dishes that use ingredients I already have on hand.

This is an example of a week’s worth of pre-packed vegan school lunches my first grader polishes off.

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LUNCH #1; “Just Ranch” Salad with Pita Add handful of chopped salad greens, 1/3 of the cucumber (chopped), 1/3 of the carrot (chopped), 1/3 of the bell pepper (diced), a sprinkle of Follow Your Heart Shredded Cheese Alternative, and 2 mini pita pockets to a lunch container. Poor 2 Tbl of Just Ranch into a small container for dressing.

LUNCH #2: “Just Caesar” Salad with Pita Add 2 handfuls of salad greens, 2 mini pita pockets, and a liberal sprinkle of Follow Your Heart Shredded Cheese Alternative to a lunch container. Pour 2 Tbl of Just Caesar into a small container for dressing.

LUNCH #3: Veggies & Pita with Hummus Add 1/3 of the bell pepper (sliced), 1/3 of the cucumber (sliced into sticks or discs, whichever is preferred), 1/3 of the carrot (cut into sticks), and 2 mini pitas to a lunch container. Scoop a few Tbl of hummus into a small container for dipping.

LUNCH #4: Hummus Pasta Salad Add a cup of cooked pasta to a lunch container. Add 1/3 of the cucumber  (diced), 1/3 of the bell pepper (diced), and 1/3 of the carrot (diced), then stir in a couple scoops of hummus.

LUNCH #5: Lentil Marinara Pasta Add 1/4 cup of prepared lentils and 1 cup of prepared pasta to a lunch container. Stir in the desired amount of spaghetti sauce. Optional: top with Follow Your Heart Shredded Cheese Alternative.


SHOPPING LIST:

1 package of salad greens (or 1 head of lettuce)

1 large carrot

1 English cucumber

1 large bell pepper (whichever color is preferred)

1 package of mini whole grain pitas (you’ll need 6 mini pitas)

1 container of hummus (or homemade; you’ll need just a few tablespoons)

1 package of dried pasta (I used Banza for extra protein)

1 jar of spaghetti sauce (you’ll need just a serving’s worth)

1 bag of lentils (or prepared lentils if preferred, you’ll need just 1/4 cup)

1 container of Follow Your Heart Shredded Cheese Alternative

1 container of Just Ranch (you’ll need roughly 2 Tbl)

1 container of Just Caesar (you’ll need roughly 2 Tbl)


Comment here or tag me on Instagram (@thedairydiaries) if you make any of these lunches. I’d love to see your creations and variations.

Happy packing!

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School Daze: Dinner’s Done (Meal Planning)

Back-to-school can mean even nuttier evenings than usual with homework and extracurriculars, worn-out kids and snack demands. So how do I minimize the chaos? Meal planning.IMG_20170819_181942_053

I used to wait until lunchtime to figure out dinner. Not only did that add to my stress level, stacking another task on my harried afternoon, but it often left me racing to the store for last-minute ingredients — which amped up the grocery bill — or I simply wound up making the same tired three or four meals on rotation, since we generally had the necessary ingredients in the house. Then I began meal planning.

Not only did my stress level diminish because there was no rush to figure out meals, but our grocery bill declined too. And, guess What? We ate better!

How do I meal plan? I go pretty low-tech compared to some, but this is my process.

1) Look to the calendar. Every week I sit down and plan out the meals according to our calendar. If I have a mom date one night, The Hubs is in charge of dinner so I don’t bother planning a meal for that day. If it’s supposed to be beautiful one day and The Hubs isn’t slotted to be busy with work, I’ll be sure to plan a grillable meal. If I know we have a packed afternoon one day, I plan an easy meal.

2) Special requests, anyone? Before finalizing the meal plan, I ask the kids and The Hubs if they have any meal requests for the following week. Then I try to incorporate those menu items.

3) Write it down. Simply using the Memo app on my phone, I type out my week’s meal plan.

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4) List it out. After creating the menu, I go to my preferred grocery store’s app and create my grocery list. Before adding the frequently purchased items, I make sure the ingredients for each menu item are on my list. Then, I add the usual staple products.

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Grocery list on the store app

5)  Abide by the list. The biggest part of meal planning isn’t devising a menu or creating a comprehensive grocery list, it’s sticking to the plan. At first, it can be tempting to wing it and go back to old habits of take-out or frozen meals. Forcing yourself to stick to meal planning is the key to its success. After a few weeks, it simply becomes habit.


Looking to shave even more money off of your grocery bill? Here are some easy ways to go about it.

1) Circulars and coupons. Check out local stores’ circulars and coupons then design your menu around deals.

2) In-season shopping. Buying produce that’s in-season is a major money saver. Apples and butternut squash in fall, zucchini and tomatoes in summer. Let the season’s produce inspire your menu.

3) Fresh over premade. The fewer processed items you buy, the cheaper and healthier your meals will be. Instead of buying a box of seasoned rice, stir your own pantry herbs into plain homemade rice. Instead of opting for a tub of guacamole, mash up your own. Not an inventive cook? There are tons of recipes online. Google is your friend.

4) Go meat-free (or low-meat). Since dropping meat, our grocery bill has been $50-$100 less every week compared to when we ate meat daily. The less meat you buy, the less you pay at the register. Beans, lentils, and other plant-based (unprocessed) protein sources are widely cheaper and healthier than animal protein. Compare the cost and nutritionals of a can of beans or a bag of lentils to a platter of chicken breasts or a pouch of ground beef, and you may be a plant-eater more often.

5) Buy in bulk. If space and finances allow, buy staple items in bulk. Just be careful not to purchase products simply because they’re available in bulk or on sale. This would not be the time to make impulse or experimental buys. Stick to tried-and-trues. If you won’t use it, don’t buy it.


Now that you have the know-how, get planning! Make your afternoons a bit less stressful and your evenings a bit smoother with a little extra planning. You deserve it!

 

School Daze: Morning Prep

School mornings… as pleasant as a hemorrhoid, no? Early start, grumpy kids (and parents), little time, lots to do, start times, and tantrums (from kids and parents.) Fun!

Though our mornings aren’t scenes of fairytale bliss, and far from serene, they are streamlined. They are organized. How? One word: preparation.

I wake up ahead of everyone to heat breakfasts, pop lunches into backpacks, and begin my day so that by the time my crew shuffles downstairs, the rhythm is already in motion. My first-thing-in-the-morning task load isn’t too great though because I prepare everything I can ahead of time.

Lunches and snacks? Made at the beginning of the week. I simply grab a container stack, the water bottle, and place it in the lunchbox.

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Outfits? Laid out for the school week on Sunday evening based on the weather forecast and week’s schedule. The day’s outfit hung in the bathroom, so there are no clothing battles in the too-early morning.

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Each outfit bundle contains a top, bottom, socks, and underwear

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A week of outfits

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The next day’s outfits

Breakfasts? Prepared and plated the night before. I just heat and place them on the table while my caffeine brews.

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Mama’s caffeine? Set up the night before and ready to brew.

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Mama’s tea

Basically, when I wake up in the morning, it’s a matter of hitting “play” as opposed to scrambling to piece it all together while attempting to ready myself and my minions for the day. (That’s a feat in and of itself.)

We all could use a leg up in the morning. Why not give yourself one with a little prepping?

 

School Daze: Out-the-Door Organization

As requested, I am starting a little series about my school year organization and preparation tips. Let me begin with the most exhausting portion of the school day: getting out the door.

Now, let me preface this by clarifying that I am not a professional organizer or even a neat freak. I have three young close-in-age kids and a clutter-prone husband who often works from home. I aim for livable neatness (as in, “heathens live here but someone among us is trying to be neat.”)

Sure, I have donation boxes waiting for months to be offloaded. I have paper piles and a cluttered basement. BUT I know how to organize to get multiple mini-humans (and myself) out the door early every day. So, here are my tips on organizing to get out that door in the AM.

If you’re like us, you exit via your garage door as opposed to your front door. This makes the mudroom the primary portal. Getting everyone in their shoes with their backpacks out one door can seem akin to wrangling cats into a rabbit hole.

We have a primary shoe basket in the kitchen just beyond the mudroom where we keep daily use shoes. I used to keep school shoes in there too, but that lead to “I can’t find my shoes!” And “Why can’t I wear my pool sandals on the pumpkin patch field trip?” drama. So that habit needed adjusting.

Solution: backpack and school shoe central:

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Out-the-door Organization

Using damage-free Command hooks, I hung the kids’ backpacks and shoes (soles out) on the coat closet door. I added a cheap folding step stool to aid my shrimpy first grader in reaching her top-tier items. Then, I adhered her teacher’s reminders just beside the door.

And there we go. No hunting for shoes. No missing backpacks. No school debris strewn across our kitchen.

Easy peasy!

Next up: morning prep.