By Emily Schmitt, RD, LDN, Campus Recreation Services
The first day of school is nearly upon us. Back to academic classes, dozens of meetings, crowded sidewalks, on-campus traffic, and endlessly long lines at every eatery in College Park. This fall, save time — and brighten your day — by packing yourself a healthy lunch.
Read on for 6 tips for packing a back-to-school lunch.
- Dedicate a day to shopping & prepping. Make Sunday, or any day of the week that is convenient for you, ‘Shop and Prep Day’. Determine the week’s menu and shop for the necessary ingredients. Then, hit the kitchen to prepare for the upcoming week’s meals. Stir up a homemade soup with lean protein and plenty of vegetables. Mix up a brightly colored salad. Wash and cut fruit and veggies into bite-sized pieces to partner with a healthy dip like yogurt, salsa, or hummus. Cook meat that can be incorporated into several dishes. For instance, one batch of chicken can enhance a soup, top a salad, fill an enchilada, or add to a veggie stir fry. The options are endless.
- Get creative. Test out new recipes. Nothing makes a day better more than a lunch that you look forward to. Get your spouse and/or children involved in selecting and preparing recipes. Explore lunchbox-friendly recipes from Eating Well and Cooking Light magazines. Pop by the Farmers Market at Maryland (Wednesdays from 11:00am-3:00pm outside Cole Fieldhouse through mid-November) to pick up local produce, meat, and bread to incorporate into your recipes.
- Pack the night before. How many of us have gone to bed with every intention of waking up, packing our lunch, and heading to campus – but end up having an unexpectedly chaotic morning, ultimately leading to eating lunch out? Pack your and your family’s lunches the night before. If not done already, portion recipes prepared on Shop and Prep Day into individual containers. Put all items into a lunchbox. If your lunch contains perishable items, keep the lunchbox in the refrigerator. Schedule this time in your calendar so it is more likely to happen. Make packing lunch as easy as grabbing and going!
- Plan for leftovers. Cook double the amount of food for dinner the night before. Enjoy leftovers the next day for lunch. The only challenge? Not overeating at dinner, consuming your dinner and the next day’s lunch. To prevent this, set aside the portion you are taking to lunch prior to even eating dinner– so it is out of sight and, hopefully, out of mind.
- Buy the necessary tools. Invest in durable, easy-to-wash food storage containers and an insulated lunchbox. Reusing food storage containers and a lunchbox will produce less waste and can make packing lunch less stressful. What do you enjoy eating? Soup? Salad? Veggies and dip? Select the style and size of your food storage container and lunchbox accordingly. Scan Good Housekeeping magazine’s reviews of the top food storage containers. Got a long way to travel? Don’t have an office refrigerator? Don’t forget an ice pack.
- Keep an emergency meal handy. We’ve all had those days. You rush out of the house and off to campus, leaving no time to pack your lunch. Then, you have a jam packed schedule that doesn’t allow you to escape the office to grab a quick bite. To avoid not eating all day, and potentially overeating when you are starving and finally do get to eat, keep a few non-perishable items at your desk. Ideas include trail mix, whole grain crackers with peanut butter, applesauce, fruit cups in 100% juice, oatmeal, low-sodium soup, and low-fat popcorn.
Got tips to share? Please comment below.
Have a healthy, happy school year!