Italian Meatball Soup
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Cooking Plans - Summer/Back to School

Preparing a nutritious and tasty lunch can be challenging. One sure way to make this process a little easier for everyone is to get the kids involved in the planning. Make a list of what they like to eat and what they don’t. Most of the time you can accommodate their lunchtime wishes as long as the food item is within reason and is something that can be made “portable”. You can get ideas from the Big Book of Freezer Cooking, the recipes section of the 30 Day Gourmet web site, the ebook Freezer Lunches To Go and from other family favorites that you eat on a regular basis. 

Compile a list of 15 or 20 recipes and put together a rotating menu. You can use a four-week schedule similar to what is used at school. Use this menu for three months at a time. At the end of the three months, talk about what recipes you liked, the recipes that you want to remove from the rotation and what new ideas you have for the menu. Then update the menu and go for another three months. Here’s a sample four-week rotation: 


Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Week 1

Chicken Pockets

Ham Sandwich

Meatball Sandwich

Pasta with Ham

Pizza Pockets

Week 2

Bowtie Soup

Turkey Sandwich

Hamburger Mulligan

Pepperoni Sticks

Peanut Butter and Jelly

Week 3

Turkey and Noodles

Sausage and Rice

French Toast Sticks

Montreal Chicken Sandwich

Tuna Salad Sandwich

Week 4

Mac and Cheese

Chicken and Rice

Turkey Sandwich

Pork BBQ

Meatloaf Sandwich

Also have a list of side dishes to buy every week to pack with lunch. This usually includes a fruit, a vegetable, a small dessert (usually homemade) or salty snack (chips, pretzels, homemade snack mix, etc.) and a beverage. These help round out the meal. Here’s a sample weekly menu with some possible side dishes:

Monday: Turkey and Noodles, baby carrots, sliced cantaloupe
Tuesday: Sausage and Rice, pineapple chunks, celery with peanut butter
Wednesday: Taco Roll-ups, sliced cucumbers, apple
Thursday: Ham Sandwich, sliced tomatoes, applesauce
Friday: Tuna Salad Sandwich, baby carrots, grapes

For the snack items, use a variety of different recipes. Plan a monthly cooking day just for the lunch and after school snacks. Here are some family favorites you can try:

Granola Bars Blender Shakes (multiple variations)
Grandma Petrini’s Gingersnaps Carolyn’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
Snackin’ Mix Apple Squares
No-Bake Cookies Frozen Peanut Butter Bars

These are great things to have on hand when your hungry kids come home from school. You can also keep lots of fruits and vegetables on hand for snacking as well as simple things like popcorn, homemade frozen waffles, frozen muffins, etc.

The Do's and Don'ts of Packed Lunches 
What’s the first thing that you think of when someone talks about having a sack lunch? The old stand by peanut butter and jelly comes to mind. What if lunch could be an exciting, fun and interesting part of your day? It can be with a little planning, preparation and a good system of foods that work for you and your family.

Get everyone involved in the process! Ask what they like to eat and what they don’t. Try to develop a basic list of things that can be sent for lunch. Don’t forget to look at what you eat for dinner. Sometimes these dishes can be repackaged for lunch. For example, the meatballs from last night’s spaghetti and meatball dinner make a great return as meatball sandwiches.

Kids love to help in the kitchen and this is the perfect activity to get them started. Even the youngest child can package food that is already prepared such as pre-peeled baby carrots, homemade cookies or granola bars. With your guidance, they can learn about good food choices.

Give them choices for side dishes. Keep a variety of fruits and vegetables on hand and let them choose their own sides. Make fruits and vegetables fun with simple homemade dips, purchased salad dressings or simple peanut butter spreads. Surprise them with a simple fruit smoothie packed in a thermos. The key is to make lunch fun.

Here are some simple do’s and don’ts to remember:
  • Do have a planning session with the members of you family concerning what you will be packing for their lunch. Make a list of foods they like to eat and incorporate them in to a menu system for the week. Planning ahead saves time and prevents confusion.
  • Do plan creative ways to repackage the foods that your family likes for lunch. For example, use tortilla wraps, pita pockets or hot dog buns in the place of regular bread or buns. Combine fruit in yogurt in a thermos to create a dessert “parfait”.
  • Don’t send foods that your family won’t eat! If trying a new recipe, test it out at home first before sending it for lunch.
  • Don’t let your sandwiches get soggy. Spread the peanut butter on both pieces of bread put the jelly as the middle layer. Use lettuce on sandwiches to keep the meat from getting the bread wet. If packaging a mayonnaise based sandwich such as egg or tuna salad, pack the salad in a small container away from the bread. Older kids like to make their own sandwiches.
  • Do let you family help make or package the foods for lunch. The more they are involved the more they will enjoy their lunch.
  • Do plan ahead for packing lunches. Have all the staples on hand that you need. Pack as much as you can the night before. This alleviates a lot of stress during the morning rush to get everyone out the door.
  • Do have the right equipment on hand to package lunch. Thermoses work well for hot foods. Insulated lunch boxes help control the temperature of their contents. Drink boxes can be frozen and used to keep sandwiches cold.
  • Do remember the basics of food safety – keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Keep your work surface, lunch box, and containers clean to prevent bacteria from developing.
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