Whether or not you are in the midst of the “back to school” rush, September always seems to bring about the desire to improve the lunch routine. Perhaps its to continue the good habits instilled with the the warmer weather or to help your kids succeed at school- regardless, preparing homemade lunches is a necessary task that can often be seen as a headache.
Here are some tips on how to make this chore a bit easier:

1. Create a weekly schedule (or meal plan) of lunch meals. This can help you better use up those leftovers as well as create a base for your grocery list. Take some time to gather your favourite meals by browsing magazines or old recipes and create a list of your family favourites. Avoid planning more labour intensive lunches on nights that are hectic or when leftovers are not possible.

2. Once you know what is going into the lunch, create an assembly line of the ingredients or materials you need in each lunch. This is a real time saver.

3. If you have kids, include them in the planning and preparing processes. By including them, you can avoid foods they are likely to throw away, use their brainpower to come up with new ideas and muscle power to put it all together. Showing them what their body needs can help them create a more balanced lunch box (ex. 2 fruit per day, 2 milk and alternatives, etc…). Here is a great link to what you and your child need on a daily basis: www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/basics-base/quantit-eng.php
On this site you can even create your own food guide complete with pictures of your favorite foods.

4. Stock up on a variety of foods so that you are less likely to have to rely on restaurants or cafeteria foods. Keeping non-perishable foods in the pantry (like dried fruit, nuts, granola bars), the fridge (keep fruit in the fridge to double its shelf life!) as well keep some meal ideas in the freezer (frozen fruit, homemade “tv” dinners). You can’t throw it into your lunch if its not in the house.

Sometimes convenience trumps $$. Buying foods that are pre-washed, cut up and wrapped can help to save lots of time and help you eat better. Some examples are:

-veggies that are “naturally” packaged are mini carrots, sugar snap peas, mini cucumbers and cherry tomatoes.

-of course, the same can be said for some fresh fruit like bananas & oranges

-fruit cups, individual yogurts, cheese sticks, soy-milk tetra-pak

-bagged salad or pre-washed lettuce

-individual containers of hummus or salad dressing

Sandwiches are always a popular choice. Mix things up by using tortilla, pita, English muffins, lettuce leaves or even rice paper instead of bread.

Here are some interesting fillings for sandwiches that are a bit out of the ordinary but are reminiscent of the classics:

-chopped leftover chicken mixed with salsa, corn and sour cream

-grated apple and carrot, minced nuts, raisins and cream cheese

-slices of beef, with salsa, avocado, sliced tomatoes and lettuce

Kids love to eat with their hands and combine creating with eating. Meals do not have to be the traditional hot lunch or sandwich. Why not make your own “lunchable” meal by including sliced cheese, sliced meat or pieces of leftover meat, crackers and cucumber slices? Veggies and dip like hummus can also be a great hit. Less prep at home and no more waiting in the microwave line wasting precious time.

The Bento Box has become popular in North America. The idea behind it is to have a variety of colors and textures all packaged neatly in a “box”. It not only stimulates the eyes but also the appetite.