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May 1, 2016

Easy Lunch and Snack Hacks

Do you ever feel stuck in a rut when it comes to packing lunches and snacks? For me, especially as the school year is drawing to a close, I end up resorting to the quickest, easiest, throw-together meals which is about all the energy I can muster. I wish I could say that once summer is here I get a break from lunch-packing for another three months. But when you have a child with food allergies, there is never a break. In fact, if I am not packing a meal for some reason, I feel off. Like I’ve forgotten something, and it takes most of a day to get over that feeling!

I am always looking for ways to feel less stressed about lunch-making, and also to have healthier, more wholesome options available for after school snacks. I have tried everything I can think of from creating week’s worth of menus to rotate through, to packing dinner leftovers the night before, to prepping several servings of meals and freezing them. All of those ideas were fine, but still I found that they only worked for a short time. A month or two in and I found myself struggling once again.

One of the foremost requirements for school lunches and after school snacks in our house is that they must have a healthy component. While I want my child to enjoy the foods I make for him, I also need to feel good about what I’m feeding him. Of course, one of my biggest jobs as a mother is to teach him the importance of living a healthy lifestyle. I have this fear, due to having food allergies and a restricted diet, that Mason will not have healthy relationship with food as he grows up. As a means to prevent that from happening, providing a variety of options, letting him participate in creating his lunches, and adding in fun treats on occasion (and in moderation) are probably more important than what I pack for him.

To help parents like me strike a balance between what our kids enjoy and what is good for them, the Capri Sun brand unveiled Capri Sun Organic, a certified USDA organic juice drink that contains one serving of fruit.* Capri Sun Organic is made with 66 percent fruit juice, no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives, no added sugar, and it contains 100% recommended daily value of vitamin C. Capri Sun Organic is a wholesome choice that I can feel good about with organic, simpler ingredients. It is available in Fruit Punch, Tropical Punch, Apple and Grape. So far we love the apple, and the tropical punch is a very close second.

As for the what when it comes to packing lunches? Well, my food-allergic son can be somewhat picky at times (probably from being limited in what he can eat anyway), but I’ve gotten a good handle on the things he seems to really like. Though I personally find sandwiches slightly boring after awhile, he is a fanatic and seems to like them no matter how many times he eats them. To make myself feel a little better about it, I create different versions of a standard sandwich. I will substitute flour tortillas for the bread and make a turkey and (dairy-free) cheese roll-up, stack them with crackers, or make a PB&J “quesadilla,” and he LOVES them!

We are sure to always have plenty of fresh fruit, veggies, dairy-free yogurt, applesauce and fruit cups on hand, which are perfect for pairing alongside our creative “sandwich” options, an actual sandwich on whole wheat bread, or even leftovers from last night’s dinner. If the weather is cold, I may make up something warm like a batch of dairy-free macaroni and cheese that will last most of the week. Or I will make a grilled “cheese” sandwich ahead and serve it along with some warmed tomato soup. These minor changes help mix things up a bit but are still able to thrown together quickly on Sunday night and ready for the week.

I have finally found a plan that works for us and makes my weeknights (and life) less stressful. On Sunday evenings, before making dinner, I pull out enough lunch containers for the week ahead and start packing away. I find that packing the entire weeks’ lunches in one shot takes me about 15 minutes on average. I can store them in the fridge and when I get home from work each evening and I’m unpacking diaper bags, backpacks, and lunch bags, all I have to do is grab the next pre-made lunch and maybe a Capri Sun Organic, stick them in the appropriate lunch bag, and it’s ready to go for the morning.

As for those after school snack hacks? If it were up to my seven-year-old, he would choose candy I’m sure. But since this momma is prepared for that request (and the answer is NO), he has choices available like “ants on a log,” applesauce cups, whole grain fruit bars, apples with peanut butter, or (a favorite) dairy-free unsweetened vanilla coconut milk yogurt drizzled with honey and topped with fresh berries, occasionally with a Capri Sun Organic juice drink alongside. So many fresh and delicious options, it’s perfect for the kids and mom alike!

*Each pouch provides ½ cup fruit juice which is one serving of fruit according to U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.
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