In Episode 7: Lunchbox Meal Prep, we talk to Brenda Thompson about getting ready for back to school and meal prep tips for packing healthy lunchboxes including make-ahead ideas and ways to get the kids involved.
Brenda Thompson is a busy mom and wife, foodie, self-taught meal planner and freelance writer currently residing in Houston, Texas. Through her blog, Meal Planning Magic, she shares tips to make mealtimes healthier but also how to save time and money as well as eat well without sacrificing her pocketbook.
We know that the school year is hectic enough along with crazy mornings, trying to get out of the house on time. Here at Healthy Family Project, we are always on a mission to provide helpful lunchbox recipes, meal prep tips, and tricks to help you and your family eat better and save time.
In this episode we share some of our favorite tips and tricks along with ways to help get the kids get involved in packing their lunches, too. For more check out our episode 21: Meal Planning and Cooking with kids, too!
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Listen to Episode 7: Lunchbox Meal Prep
Want to skip straight to a hot topic? See time stamps below. But of course, we recommend listening all the way through!
- 1:15 – Power Your Lunchbox
- 5:35 – Top tips for meal prepping for lunchboxes
- 9:20 – Make ahead lunchboxes ideas
- 11:57 – Tips for keeping food at the right temperature
- 15:40 – Nut–free zones
- 18:06 – How to get kids involved in the packing process
- Ultimate Guide to Packing Healthy Lunchboxes
- 5 Food Safety Tips for Packing Lunchboxes
- 20 Lunchbox Tips from Parents to Help You Power Your Lunchbox
- Build Your Own Healthy Lunchbox
- Healthy Lunchbox Ideas
- Nut Free Alternative for Kids
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Transcript for Episode 7
This transcript was produced by Otter.Ai. Please forgive any misspellings and grammatical errors.
Welcome to the healthy family project by produce for kids, covering the hot topics in the world of health,
food and family with a dose of fun. Before we get started today, I need to just pause here at the
beginning of our seventh episode to say thank you to our community of listeners, we have listeners in
more than 10 countries that is so crazy. And we’ve had the chance to talk to some pretty awesome
people here in the last six episodes, and I truly can’t wait to see what the rest of the year holds for the
healthy family project. I sometimes forget to mention, but if you can, please please, please leave us a
review or drop a few stars or even tell a friend about the healthy family project. we’d greatly appreciate it.
We can create a healthier generation and be the change we need in the world together. And it’s definitely
back to school time. My girls start next Monday, and in celebration of back to school we produce for kids
are kicking off our fifth annual power your lunchbox promise, you and your family can head over to power
your lunchbox.com and make the promise to eat healthier this year as a family. And in turn, our partners
will donate $1 to Feeding America programs that benefit families and children. We have a huge bank of
lunchbox inspiration, lots of ideas recipes. We also have snacks and breakfast ideas on the site as well
as tips on everything back to school related. So get over there it is your one stop resource to get you
back on track for back to school. We also have a teacher section on the site. So be sure to spread the
word to your favorite teachers and let them know that they can download free classroom decor materials,
lesson plans, and lots more goodies over there. And they’ll also be entered to win some pretty cool
prizes. And we got to make sure we’re extending that healthy eating message to the classroom. So
please help us spread the word there. And then today, we are chatting again with Brenda Thompson
from meal planning magic.com. All about meal prepping for lunchboxes, we’re gonna help, she’s going to
help us better understand how we as parents can meal prep are way too easy lunch boxes for every
week and just feel successful and get rid of some of that stress and anxiety that comes with the morning
routines and getting everyone out the door. So we chatted with Brenda back in episode one and she
gave us tons of great tips for families looking to start meal planning and prepping. And if you haven’t
listened to that episode yet, I’d definitely suggest going back and and giving Episode One a listen. But
today we are talking about meal planning and meal prepping for lunchboxes. So let’s get right into it with
Brenda. Hi, Brenda. Welcome back to the healthy family project.
Hi, Amanda. It’s great to be back here with you.
Wonderful. Well, so so we’re really excited to chat with you today about meal prepping and school
lunches. But before we jump in, can you give everyone a quick overview of who you are and your
website meal planning magic and really the inspiration behind it. I know we talked on Episode One,
about meal planning for beginners, but just in case we have listeners today that may not have listened to
that episode. Can you give them a quick overview all about you?
Yep, sure, no problem. So I started meal planning on my own destroyed teaching myself. Over a decade
ago, actually, when my kids were little, they’ll both be starting high school this year. So I’ve come a long
ways. But I just started learning different ways to get more organized because at the time, life seemed
chaotic. And I knew that getting my meals in order was going to be helpful. So as I learned different
things, I started teaching workshops locally and with the request of my friends just kind of sharing my
ideas. And at the time, blogging was just starting to become a thing. And I have a journalism
background. So it seemed like a natural fit to just start to share those ideas and some of my family’s
favorite recipes online. And here we are.
That’s wonderful. Well, congratulations. And it’s so wonderful to start, you know something as a resource
or you know, to kind of keep you organized and watch it grow authentically into you know what it has
become over the years as a resource for all of us out here.
Yeah, I had no idea when I started what it would have become but I’m very thankful for where I am today.
well great. So we definitely learned a lot from you in episode one, which was meal planning for
beginners. But now that it’s back to school craziness, you know, my kids are heading back next Monday,
which is just the summer blew by but so we know that meal planning is important, but what about meal
planning For lunchboxes, because I think sometimes that’s maybe overlooked and we find ourselves in
the kitchen, you know, trying to get the kids out the door dealing with, you know, someone doesn’t want
to brush their hair and someone lost their homework and and so I think that meal planning for
lunchboxes is equally important, as you know, planning out your your dinner meals. So let’s kick off with
an easy question. I’m sure an easy question for you. What are your top three tips when it comes to meal
prepping for lunchboxes?
Yep, well, of course, the first one would be to plan it out, like you kind of mentioned. So when you’re
planning your dinners, you want to include lunches at the same time and so that you can add those items
to your grocery list. Or I like to include my family as well asking them what they’re in the mood for this
week, or maybe something that they’ve been wanting that they’ve been missing for a while. So I add all
those items to the list. And occasionally they want to try a new recipe or I want to so we add that to the
list. And we’ve just started using the new planning app that makes it a lot easier to add items on the go.
So my kids can actually add grocery list items to the list makes it super easy. And then my second tip
would be to do a little bit of the prep work at the beginning of the week. So that might include washing
and chopping and slicing fruits and vegetables, and then storing them in smaller containers so that
they’re easier to add to the lunchboxes. Each day, when you’re getting everything prepped and things
like portioning out dips into smaller containers, or even making pasta salads or other things that hold up
well like soups that can be portioned out throughout the week help smooth along the process for meal
planning for lunches. And then lastly, I would say to pack the pack your lunch the night before. This is
really key for us. My kids are not really morning people. Because all we can do to get the basics down
like breakfast and getting dressed and packing up backpacks and that kind of thing. So we pack our
lunches the night before when we’re cleaning up from dinner so that the kitchen gets cleaned up all at
one time. And we’re ready for the rest of the evening to finish up homework and wind down that kind of
thing. So just taking those extra five or 10 minutes at the end of the evening to prep lunch the night
before is such a sanity saver in our house.
So I can imagine well, those are those are really great tips. And I’m just really surprised that teenagers
aren’t mourning people to tell you the truth, you know. Or adults, you know, I feel like that never ends. So
well. Those are awesome tips. And I know in our house, I often get the question from my husband, why
don’t you know you can do that in the morning. You can pack the lunches in the morning. And and I think
I can but it’s going to make for a not a great start to the day. So those are all really good tips. And I feel
like to like you said when you wash and chop, and slice those fruits and veggies, it’s easy. easier for me
to get my younger daughter to help put things into the lunchbox because they’re kinda already portioned
out. So I just say, Okay, go pack your lunch, and there’s not too much involved, she can grab her ranch
dip, she can grab her, you know, carrots, or whatever it might be. So that is definitely really helpful. And
to do it the night before, always, always a plus. So,
yep. And we like our sleep. So, you know, if you take an extra 10 minutes at night, then you get to sleep
an extra 10 minutes in the morning.
Yes, that’s for sure. Okay, so let’s talk about we’re talking about the night before, but what about prepping
at the start of the week. So what meals or lunchbox inspiration Have you found that are best for prepping
at the start of the week. So in my house, there’s always a concern that food will get soggy or dried out
my older daughter is the queen of I didn’t need it because it was soggy and the younger one says it was
old, which really means dried out. So I’m not really sending old. So what are your tips on keeping those
those meals fresh?
Well, we do like you mentioned earlier, we do keep most of the items separated in their refrigerator until
the night before and we use the lunch kits that have little separate containers. So that helps out or
sometimes it’s just a mixture of what we might have on hand as far as containers so so things aren’t
sitting together, getting squished together, whatever moisture transferring. So just that separation really
helps. For one thing, and then my my high schooler well I guess they’re both high school now my
daughter she packs her own lunches now because she’ll do like what she said is just grab little bits of
everything in them and then put it all to together so that all she has to do is grab, you know, a few
containers and plop it right into her lunch bag. And she’s good to go. So,
right, that’s a good tip, keeping those those items kind of separate from each other. I know, we do my
older daughter, she likes to take salads, but sometimes the moisture you know, you the lettuce or
whatever it might be is is soggy if you do it the night before. So I have found if I put up just a piece of
paper towel at the, like at the top of the container, it’s it’s amazing. I mean, it keeps it 100 tight. Like
there’s no soggy lettuce.
For sure. And like even if my daughter wants to bring like a tortilla or brand or something to separate it,
she’ll might put it all in the same container. But maybe she puts it in a baggie so that it’s there. And then
she just assembles it pretty much when she’s at school. So, yes, yeah, I just kind of think of it like an
assembly line, except for it’s a portable assembly line.
I was gonna say that we have there’s a recipe, a recipe in our lunchbox, recipes on produce for kids calm
and we have it’s like a lunchbox stackers. So everything’s on assembled, and kind of just in those
containers, and then once they get to school, they can kind of build their own. Which kit. Yeah, and I feel
like they like the kids just they like to build their own stuff anyway. So. Yeah, agree. All right. Well,
another age old question. And we get this all the time on produce for kids, social media outlets, parents
are really concerned with how do you keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold? So what tips or tricks do
you have for keeping food at the right temperature? I know there’s, there’s oftentimes, you know, safety
concerns too, as far as how long things can sit out and everything along that line.
Yeah, that’s for sure the safety is a big concern. And I get those questions a lot too. So a lot of kids you
know, don’t have access to a refrigerator or microwave at school. So it is super important to keep things
at the right temperature, so that we don’t get sick. But the technology has come a long way as far as
insulated containers. And so things will stay hot for several hours or cold. For even more hours, it seems
like so that’s a big help by using an insulated container, or insulated lunch bag. And also, for extra
measure, I go ahead and add ice pack or frozen water bottle to help things help keep things extra cold,
especially in our hot Texas heat here. And so foods like meat, cheese, dairy, cut fruits and veggies, those
need to stay cold, but you don’t really have to worry about things like Whole Foods or crackers, breads,
juice boxes, that kind of thing. So and then for hot foods, you’ll definitely want to use some sort of
thermos or insulated container to keep food warm. And one of the best tips that I actually have gotten in
I’ve utilized myself is to prep the thermos before adding the hot food by pouring boiling water into the
thermos. And I usually let it sit there for a minute or two while I’m actually heating up the other item. And
then I pour it out and add the heated food and and seal it up. And my kids say it really does help keep
the food’s warm until lunchtime. So it’s, it’s a big, big help for sure.
That’s a great tip on the hot because I have a wonderful thermos and my older daughter, she loves to
take soups with her but she still says by the time she has lunch, you know at 1212 30 that it may not be
the temperature that she would like that it’s it’s not cold, but it’s you know, not the hot soup that she’s
looking for. So I’m gonna have to try that that’s a really great tip
really works. I did not start doing that until probably a couple years ago when I got the tip myself and it
really really helps.
Awesome. Well and I have to mention, we we just posted out we did a round up of lunchbox accessories
that you know, some of these thermoses and bento boxes that can help ease parents minds on you
know, keep making sure things are at the right temperature. So in the show notes I will definitely link up
to to some of those in case any of you listeners out there are wondering you know where to go because I
know that sometimes just a challenge to figure out what what products will do the trick.
Yes, but I will say if you know throughout the year, of course you can always shop online but I’m just
buying throughout the year. The camping section has. Yep, that’s what I’ve discovered. So if you need to
replace something throughout the year, check the camping section.
Yes, that that’s a really great tip because I’m telling you, it’s like when those back to school months, go
over the stores and everybody’s like Alright, we’re done. You got all your stuff got Wait till next year
before we start promoting it again. So, good tips. So check out the camping section if you if you pass up
that back to school craziness, so Well, awesome. So let’s shift gears just a bit. I know there are a lot of
schools who have gone free and don’t allow students to bring nuts or nut butter in their lunches. Do you
have any advice on how parents can you know adhere to these policies and have those substitutions?
Well, I will say that in our elementary school, they the whole school really worked to educate students,
parents and teachers to be aware of nut allergies. And they discourage students from sharing foods. So I
think that really helps everyone in the loop understand why there’s restrictions and how to kind of just
help everyone follow those rules. But that said, there are a lot of great substitutes to avoid nuts. Of
course, fresh fruits and vegetables are always a safe bet. They’re not free, I guess. But yeah, but we also
like to make wraps with lunch meats or with a spread and adding some vegetables or soups, like we’ve
mentioned before other leftovers are really easy to take in a lunch box as well. So if you just stop and
kind of think about it, it’s pretty easy to come up with a lot of alternatives that don’t include nuts or nut
It is I think we’re just an I know, I was raised in a pb&j world. So I think just mentally it’s hard to and in our
family, we’re fortunate we don’t have nut allergies. But you know, several of our close friends do our vice
president here at parties for kids trash, she has not allergies. And so you know, it’s just it’s out there, and
we just have to be cognizant of it. So all good stuff. And I believe I just, I feel like we just had something
on our blog. And I will include in the show notes. As I always say, I will pull all the links. So that if you are
looking for substitutes for nuts, you know, for the peanut butter and things like that, then we’ll include a
link up so you can kind of take a look at those. Alright, so let’s see, both of my girls are at the age where
they want to be involved in packing their lunchbox, they’re really just at the age where they want to have
a say in everything really. But so sometimes it can lead to a bit of a mess. I know I mentioned that we
portioned things out, which for my younger daughter will make it a little easier. But do you have tips for
parents looking to get their kids involved in the packing process? So you know, maybe that’s the meal
prepping on a Sunday helping to portion things out? What steps can they take? And what are your
thoughts? I know you have two older ones, but what are your thoughts on different tasks that kids can do
at different ages.
But my biggest tip, just like any kind of meal planning or packing is to just get started and do it. So like I
mentioned earlier, we make our lunches as we’re cleaning up for dinner. So a little bit of extra mess is not
going to make that big of a difference. But even if you’re prepping, you know at the beginning of the
week, you can make a mess. And excuse me, I need to start over I guess no, no, because of my voice.
Okay, fine. So my biggest tip is just to get started just like with meal planning, including your kids and
packing their lunches, just get it started and see where it goes. So you’ll be happier in the end. And so
like I mentioned earlier, we make our lunches as we’re cleaning up from dinner. So a little bit of extra
mess is not going to make that big of a difference. But even if you’re prepping the ingredients at the
beginning of the week, just getting everything out. And getting it all chopped up or washed up is one
time. And so the way I like to look at it is that I’m doing it on that one day and I’m not doing it the rest of
the week. So it’s one you know, several less pure messes, I guess I should say. And so yeah, even
though my kids are in high school now they started when they were very young, helping to make their
lunches and so now they can do it all on their own. They pretty much asked me to buy the groceries so it
definitely pays off. So um, and younger kids, there’s a lot of things that they can do, they can help spread
ingredients on bread or tortillas to assemble ingredients or assemble sandwiches or wraps. They can
also help wash the fruits and vegetables and cut up easier fruits like melons or softer fruits for the really
younger children. You know, I always took the time to teach my kids about knife safety. So as they’ve
grown, they’ve gotten you know, kind of upgraded on what they can do. So it does take time but it really
like I said has paid off in the end and then older kids, they like to get creative with adding different things
to say salads, or even finding recipes on their own that they want to try. So the other thing is, is that when
they get to choose their containers or lunchboxes, it makes them a little bit more excited about packing
their lunch. So they might want to be more involved in the process. So there’s a lot of ways to include
kids in packing lunches.
That’s great, because I think a lot of times, we were, we were just having the conversation over here at
our, in our office about, you know, kids have anxiety about back to school, but so do parents. And I think
that, you know, while many of us working parents, we don’t have the summer off, but at the same time,
we kind of have off from, you know, maybe packing lunches a week here or there, you know, there’s
camps, but still, so I think that there’s a lot of pressure on parents, when they’re packing lunches to make
sure you know, they’re getting the right foods in there. So having the kids help out, I think takes the
pressure off. And it also gives, you know, gives them that responsibility and ownership to, to put that
together we did, at the end of last year I started doing because the girls, they have their lunch, but then
they have a snack because one has a later lunch one has an earlier lunch. So they did a trail mix, I did a
little assembly line of on a Sunday, and I said, Alright, make up your trail mix five, five bags of trail mix for
the week, so then your lunches or your snacks are taking care of. And they were really excited, they
wanted to do it the next week, they wanted to know where the setup was because they could, you know,
make their own combo and and have that and that took care of our snacks for the whole week. It’s
Yeah, it allows them to be a little creative to you. And it also helps with portion control. So they can kind
of decide, oh, I want a little bit more of this. But I don’t want so much of that. But if you provide the, you
know, the ingredients that are approved by you, and then they can choose from that, then it’s really kind
of a win win for everybody.
It really is it was I was surprised. I thought this is gonna be a hurdle having them, you know, get involved
in this. And I was pleasantly surprised that both of them even my middle schooler was like, Yes, I’m all
about this making my own choices. So yes. Well, great. This has been a great conversation today. All
great advice. Thank you for coming back on to the healthy family project and sharing all of your meal
planning wisdom, especially as it relates to lunch boxes, because we’re in that zone. And I know that
you’ll have a lot more to share in the world of meal planning in upcoming episodes. So we look we look
forward to that. So you’ll be back you’re in this. So before we jump off, can you tell our listeners where
they can find you and connect with you.
Of course you can find me on my website at meal planning magic.com Or on pretty much all social
media, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
Thank you so much Brenda and good luck with all your your back to school fun.
Thanks Same to you.
Thanks for listening in today. I have a lot of links to share. And all of those will be in the show notes. And
I have everything from links to the ultimate lunchbox packing guide to simple safety tips for the lunchbox.
And also those nut free alternatives that we mentioned. We also have several video links that will take
you to easy make ahead lunchbox ideas to help get you started. Please be sure to head over to power
your lunchbox comm to make the promise and check out everything we have going on over there for
back to school. Power your lunchbox is part of what we do here at produce for kids in is a really
important initiative for us as we help families start the year on the right foot. And as an added incentive to
check out power lunchbox Ninja has so kindly given us a ninja blender system that we’ll be able to give
away to one lucky family who makes the promise. So head over there to be entered for that. And then as
usual, you can check out new content on our social media outlets, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and
Instagram as well as YouTube. And like I mentioned at the beginning of the show, we are so so grateful
for you all and we are all in this together so let’s create a healthier generation together. Questions and
comments and episode ideas can be posted on healthy family project podcast.com Be sure to subscribe