I truly cannot believe that my kids go back to school here in Atlanta this week. It’s the third week of August, and summer is over. I know this is a uniquely Southern thing… nobody else I know (or see on Facebook) is doing back to school quite yet.
But alas, that’s what’s happening here. And as a result…I’m going to freak out about Back to School (and all it involves) well in advance of most of you.
So lets talk about school lunches.
Every mom has a set of tricks that make her family run. One of mine is making school lunches the night before. We have SO much going on in the morning (plus we’re tired, and I’m usually trying to drink as much coffee as possible as quickly as possible).
I swear to you, making this switch in our routine a few years ago was a massive, game changer. I can always think more clearly at dinnertime (plus I’m already doing food-related things), and now that they are bigger, I usually make the kids choose and pack some elements of their lunches. The workload is therefore much easier, and with the kids’ input on their own lunches, it’s much more likely that they will actually eat their lunch at school. That’s the objective, right?
My kid lunches generally fit into an equation that looks like this:
1 Main (sometimes referred to as “growing food”)
1 Crunchy Carb Thing (Veggie Chips, crackers, granola bar)
1 Dairy Thing (cheese stick, yogurt, etc.)
Sometimes a drink
Please don’t hate on me because there are no veggies. It’s not worth my time – the kids won’t eat them at lunch. Plus their school serves veggies as part of snack and I have convinced myself that the kids are probably so hungry for snack that they eat a carrot stick or two once in awhile. And sometimes I sneak spinach into morning smoothies. So there.
This year I have a new strategy for lunch “Mains”…
I’m having an affair with my freezer.
We have been together forever, of course, but it’s only recently that I have realized the depth of our love, based solely on how much easier it has made my life this summer. Did you know you can freeze salsa, pesto, pasta? Of course you do. I had clearly forgotten.
Anyway, I have re-realized all of the possibilities, and I’m leveraging that so this year, making school lunches will be 1 billion times easier. Here’s how I’m doing it…
This morning, I woke up, and I made nearly 40 school lunches in 4 hours. Actually, just the “Main” meal part of the school lunch, but you know what I mean. I then put all of them in my freezer… we’re ready to go. All I’m going to have to do is pull them out the night before, let them thaw a bit, and throw one into each kid’s lunchbox. BAM.
I’m feeling like super-mom.
Oh, did you say you want to know what I made? You bet. I’m pretty excited to share that with you too. I made 5 things in bulk that I think are going to be winners – take a look:
#1 – Chicken Burritos
#2 – Pizza Bagels
#3 – Twice Baked Potatoes
#4 – Homemade Jelly “Uncrustables”
#5 – Chicken soup
The above involved me doing a few “big” things- here is a roadmap:
* Roasted a whole chicken:
I roasted a whole chicken in my slow cooker while I watched the Olympics last night. This involved me dumping the whole chicken into the crock-pot, sprinkling it with salt and pepper, and leaving it on high for about 4 hours. I turned it off, and stuck it in the fridge overnight. This morning, I pulled the meat and bones apart. You could avoid this step by just buying a supermarket roasted chicken.
I bought the super-big tortillas at the store, and filled each with some rice, beans (my kids like pinto beans), shredded cheese and chicken. Rolled each one up, secured it with a toothpick, wrapped it in plastic/foil. I plan to cut each in half when I actually pack lunches (they are huge).
*Used the chicken carcass to make chicken stock:
This involves putting what’s left of the chicken into a big pot with some onions and a lot of water and letting it simmer for about 3 hours. I know it’s done when the water is a little cloudy and the carcass comes apart when you stir the pot. You could avoid this step by just buying chicken stock. Then I dumped in some of the chicken meat, some leftover rice, some leftover (frozen!) pasta, and some very very tiny slices of carrot (veggies!). I let it all simmer for about 30 minutes. Then let it cool and put in lunch-sized Tupperware-type containers, which I then stuck right into the freezer. Next time I might do this in the cupcake tins and freeze. We’ll see.
*Made Pizza Bagels:
Cut bagels in half, cover with red pasta sauce (does NOT need to be “pizza” sauce), cover with shredded cheese (I use “Mexican mix” – it just melts well), then broil under over in highest setting for about 3 minutes. DO NOT LEAVE BECAUSE IT WILL BURN IF YOU LEAVE. Just watch it. Pull out when bubbling and browning on edges.
*Baked potatoes & then re-stuffed them
This involved turning on the oven and dropping the potatoes in for about an hour. That’s actually super-easy. Once cooked, I let them cool until I could handle them, cut them in half, and scooped the insides into a bowl with some butter, sour cream, a dash of milk and some salt and pepper. I mixed it all up until smooth, scooped back into the potato skins, covered each with shredded cheese, and wrapped each in plastic wrap. Bam! Done!
*Made Jelly Sandwiches
The kids can’t have nuts at school, but my little guy will eat jelly sandwiches. So I got out some wheat bread, covered each slice with a generous layer of good-quality jam, closed the sandwich and used some Halloween cookie cutters to make shapes (whatever, he won’t care that it’s not Halloween yet). Wrapped each in plastic wrap, dropped into a larger ziplock bog, and then stuck in the freezer. This is going to be a winner.
FORTY SCHOOL LUNCHES IN FOUR HOURS MY FRIENDS.
I’m nearly insane with joy. What’s great is that we will use these some days – others the kids might like leftovers from dinner or whatever… but it’s so much easier when you have a backup plan just sitting there in your freezer.
Ok, I’m off to do some dishes… but gleefully.
Enjoy the rest of your summer!