As parents and children navigate their way back into a familiar routine of in-person activities and returning to the office, it can be challenging to jump right back into the sometimes busy schedule. Add in the need for on-the-go snacks and the desire for quick meals when everyone returns home, it can get a bit overwhelming.
“While parents were working from home it may have seemed easier to prepare meals and snacks quickly,” said Ashley Krautkramer, a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist and Clinical Dietitian with ThedaCare. “One way to make the transition simple is by meal and snack prepping for the week.”
It can also help families return to a routine.
“When you get busy during the week and you have food prepped and ready, you’re less likely to stop and grab fast food,” said Krautkramer. “Kids like to have a routine so having the meal prepping as part of that routine can be beneficial. You can use a calendar and put it where the whole family can see it, and add the meals they like for the next week.”
How to Easily Prep Meals and Snacks
Krautkramer explained that meal prepping lean proteins for the week or just chopping up all of the fruit and vegetables can be a big timesaver during the work week. You’re also more likely to eat them for meals and snacks. She also said it can be helpful to keep a family shopping list where everyone can add to it throughout the week so you don’t run out of staples or favorites. Some items Krautkramer suggests always having on hand are herbs and spices, whole grains, legumes, canned goods, oils, baking essentials and other foods such as potatoes, nut butters, dried fruit and nuts.
Before shopping for meal prep, Krautkramer recommended planning out the meals and what foods you’ll need and identifying what you already have. This can help cut down on waste. Then schedule a time to meal plan and prepare for the week. Many times families like to prepare on Sundays to gear up for the week ahead. You should choose what day works for your family. One concern families may have with meal prepping is trying to keep the menu creative. Krautkramer said when in doubt, keep it simple and get the kids involved.
“Sometimes it can be challenging for kids and teens to tell us what they want to eat, so giving them options can be helpful,” she said. “Ask your kids what their favorite meal is, and try to include it in the meal rotation.”
When it comes to prepping snacks for the week, Krautkramer said kids love to put things together. Toddlers and young children learn from play. If you can, find ways to incorporate fun and simple prepping on their own. That can also be beneficial to creating their own healthy eating habits.
“You could take something simple like grapes and cheese and add pretzel sticks, then let your kids help make kabobs with the ingredients,” she said. “Or you can have them help put together a trail mix they enjoy, and swap out different ingredients to change it up a bit.”
Krautkramer said there are several quick and easy recipes for snacks. Some playful ideas for toddlers and preschoolers include:
- Applesauce snack packs
- Yogurt snack packs
- Pretzels with hummus
- Sliced cucumbers with dill or ranch dip
- Frozen banana pops (recipe included)
- Homemade trail mix (recipe included)
- Mandarins (peel before sending with children to keep it easy)
- Ants on a log – Spread celery sticks with peanut butter or low-fat cream cheese. Top with raisins.
- Sandwich cut-outs – Make a sandwich on whole-grain bread and cut into fun shapes with a big cookie cutter.
- Homemade energy bites (recipe included)
Children often want to get involved in the kitchen and there are several recipes that are great for kids to help prep for the week.
The snack ideas for toddlers can work for older children as well. Other snack and lunch ideas for children ages 6-10 include:
- Cheese quesadilla with fruit
- Celery with peanut butter and raisins
- Frozen yogurt blueberries (recipe included)
- Egg bites (recipe included)
- Apple with salted caramel peanut butter dip (recipe included)
- Cheesy broccoli bites (recipe included)
- Loaded baked potato (recipe included)
- Fruit smoothies – Blend fat-free or low-fat milk or yogurt, frozen berries, ground flax seed and a banana for a creamy and refreshing drink
- Apple Pitas – Stuff a whole grain pita pocket with ricotta cheese and Granny Smith apple slices. Add a dash of cinnamon.
- Homemade lunchables – string cheese, lean lunch meat and whole grain crackers
- Lunch Roll-ups – Use whole grain tortillas and fill with a lean protein such as ham, turkey, hummus, low-fat cheese, mustard, vegetables or nut/seed butter with jelly or fruit
- Sushi rolls for the adventurous eater
- Edamame – Keep in the fuzzy pod for a fun eating experience
At times, young teens and teenagers might seem difficult to please with meals or snacks. Asking for feedback from them or asking them to help pick the menu for the week can help them feel engaged in the process. Sometimes making their favorite meal or having a theme such as taco or pasta night can change their perspective and help them get excited for dinner.
What’s for Dinner?
Krautkramer said keeping a family recipe binder with favorite recipes can be useful. She said you don’t need to make new recipes every night or have a 500 recipe rotation. Another short-cut she encourages is buying vegetables. They can also be found in the frozen section.
“There is even frozen brown rice or quinoa so it is also quicker to cook,” she said. “There is no shame in having a little help. It can also be easier to meal prep if you use leftovers for lunches the next day or batch cook something to have as lunches all week.”
To help with quick meals, there are recipes where pre-cut frozen vegetables and fruit can be used. Casseroles, bakes and slow-cooker recipes for dinner options can often be prepped the night before, or in the morning, to make the day to day task of what’s for dinner go a little easier.
Krautkramer added that some weeks may be tougher to incorporate meal prepping than others, and that is okay. She said it’s perfectly fine to treat the family to a meal out or pick up fast food in moderation. Setting a good example is also important.
“If you want your child to be neat and make their bed, well, then you have to do it too,” she explained. “Same goes for healthy eating habits. Kids are more likely to cooperate when the parents do it too. We also know how some days can go. Be flexible with yourself and your family, do the best you can, and that is great.”
Krautkramer said when it comes to avoiding unhealthy eating habits, it’s more about behaviors than the food.
“We encourage eating as a family at the table, with no television or phones during meal times,” she said. “This prevents distraction and allows you to enjoy your meal, and help children know when they are feeling full. Having a healthy routine of staying active is also important as well. Don’t forget about after meal time. Maybe take a family walk or a bike ride in the evenings. Those activities can help lead to a healthier lifestyle as a family.”
Recipes Included in the Article
Frozen Banana Pops
Ingredients: bananas, vanilla Greek yogurt and optional sprinkles
Tools: flat pan, wax paper and optional popsicle stick, pretzel stick or fork
Directions: Cut bananas in half. Use a fork, pretzel stick or a popsicle stick to dip into vanilla Greek yogurt and then sprinkle the sprinkles onto the yogurt covered banana. Freeze for about two hours.
Note: Feel free to change out the yogurt flavor or the toppings to what your child likes best such as strawberry Greek yogurt and peanuts would be just as delicious.
Ingredients: 1 cup Rolled oats, 1 cup flaxseed meal, ½ cup peanut butter, ⅓ cup honey, ½ cup mini chocolate chips, ¼ cup shredded coconut and 1 tablespoon of chia seeds
Directions: Mix all the ingredients together. Refrigerate for one hour so they’re easier to roll into balls. Store in the fridge for up to one week. Enjoy!
Note: This is another fun recipe because the ingredients can be changed and swapped for whatever your child likes best. Just be sure to keep the oats for the protein and fiber and the peanut butter so it all sticks together nicely.
Homemade Trail Mix
Ingredients: Honey nut cheerios, pretzels, raisins, mini marshmallows and mini chocolate candies
Directions: Measure out about half a cup of each ingredient and mix all together. Enjoy!
Note: This is another simple customizable recipe. If your child likes peanuts, add them in. If you want to limit the amount of chocolate just measure a quarter cup of mini chocolate candies. This can easily be a sweet and savory snack that can be made with any of your child’s favorites.
Frozen Yogurt Blueberries
Ingredients: Blueberries, plain or vanilla Greek yogurt
Tools: toothpick, baking sheet and parchment paper
Directions: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Take a blueberry with a toothpick and dip into Greek yogurt. Swirl until the blueberries are coated and place on parchment paper. Continue with the rest of the blueberries. Refrigerate for about an hour and enjoy!
Note: This is a super simple recipe. The blueberries could be swapped with grapes or raspberries, just be sure to watch children while eating frozen snacks because they can be tough to chew. This recipe is recommended for older children.
Ingredients: spray oil, 9 eggs or 2 cups of egg whites, 1½ cups cottage cheese, 1 teaspoon salt, 6 strips of bacon and ⅔ cup shredded cheese
Tools: muffin tin
Directions: Preheat oven to 350° and spray muffin tin with spray oil to prevent sticking. Mix eggs, cottage cheese and salt together. Cut cooked bacon into bite-size pieces and place a couple pieces into each muffin tin. Sprinkle a little cheese on top of the bacon into each muffin tin. Pour egg mixture evenly into each muffin tin. Bake for about 25 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before removing from the tin and enjoy! Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days.
Note: These egg bites work for kids most ages but the best part about them is how easy they are to customize and prep for the week. Feel free to swap out for your favorite cheese and veggies.
Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Dip
Ingredients: 1 cup plain Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup, dash of cinnamon, 1 tablespoon salted caramel peanut butter.
Directions: Mix all ingredients together and enjoy with apples or pretzels.
Note: Feel free to swap out the peanut butter with any other nut or seed butter you love or even Nutella for a sweeter taste. This is a great higher protein option to the traditional caramel dip and apples.
Cheesy Broccoli Bites
Ingredients: 2½ cups steamed broccoli, 1½ shredded cheddar cheese, 3 eggs (lightly beaten), ¾ cup plain breadcrumbs
Directions: Preheat oven to 350°. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper. Chop broccoli into tiny florets and steam for 2 to 3 minutes until tender. Mix together all ingredients into a large bowl. Make small balls of mixture and place on the baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, flip each broccoli ball and bake for an additional 2 minutes or until the tops are slightly crisp and Enjoy!
Note: This is a super simple recipe that can work as a snack or a side for a meal. This is perfect for children, but if you cut the broccoli smaller, it can be enjoyed by toddlers as well. Parents can also use frozen chopped broccoli to save on time.
Loaded Baked Potato
Ingredients: Small baked potato, cheddar cheese, salsa
Directions: Scrub clean a small potato. Poke several times with a fork and microwave for 3 to 5 minutes. Carefully remove baked potato from the microwave. Cut in half and top with reduced-fat cheddar cheese and salsa and enjoy!
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health of the communities it serves in northeast and central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including seven hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their best lives through easy access to individualized care, supporting each person’s own health and wellbeing. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand unique needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care
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