Savvy mums have revealed how they prep an entire week’s worth of school lunches for their families on a budget.
And according to the clever mums, the meals can stay fresh for seven days.
With children getting ready to go back to school, parents are also having to get back into the swing of things with a routine.
One of the jobs many mums and dads dread is making the packed lunches, from keeping the meals balanced to ensuring your little ones don't get bored.
To avoid staring at the fridge in desperation, these mums have prepped a week’s worth of school lunches for their families – and it gets rid of the lunch headache all together!
Ciara Attwell, from Kent, said it may seem ‘daunting’ at first but with a few simple hacks, it’s easy to prepare and organise a week;s worth of school packed lunches.
The food writer and cookbook author, 39, cooks extra portions of meals like tomato pasta, sausage rolls and mild chicken curry and freezes them for lunches during the week.
She said: “I batch make sandwiches and freeze them then I prep portions of fruit and veg to keep in the fridge.
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“I mix it up between hot and cold food throughout the week. One day I’ll put the prepared sandwiches in the lunch boxes, another day wraps, then some hot food like pasta or soup.
“I will also do a day of picky bits such as sausages, crackers and cheese.”
Ciara, who is mum to Aoife, ten, and Finn, seven, revealed it takes her an hour to make a few sandwiches, a batch of homemade cookies, cook two types of pasta in sauce and also prep some raw veggies like carrots, cucumber and peppers to keep in the fridge.
She spends some time on a Sunday evening making the sandwiches along with baking some sweet treats like cookies or flapjacks.
Sometimes she will cook a pasta meal – but often she uses leftovers from meals during the week and freezes those.
She said: “It’s always guided by my kids and what they like to eat. I don’t see the point of sending them to school with lunches that they hate and won’t eat.
“So I always choose ideas that I know they love. That’s why I tend to keep it simple with sandwiches, pasta, homemade sausage rolls etc. Simple foods but very kid friendly!
“My son loves a simple ham sandwich or picky bits like crackers, cheese and cooked sausages. My daughter loves tomato pasta or mac and cheese.”
Ciara’s top tip for organising a week’s worth of school packed lunches is to plan ahead.
The mum-of-two plans two or three days of cold lunches like sandwiches, wraps and picky bits from the fridge and then another two or three days of hot lunches like pasta or soups.
She also plans some snacks or sweet treats like cookies or muffins and then writes a shopping list based on that.
She believes it’s the easiest and cheapest way to do it – plus, she insists you’ll find that there is an overlap with ingredients.
The food-savvy mum shares her fussy eating tips and tricks as well as healthy recipes and fun food ideas on her website My Fussy Eater.
CIARA’S FRESH FOOD TIPS
Ciara shares her favourite tips to keep school meals fresh and appetising
- Research what food is best kept at room temperature, in the fridge or in the freezer and for how long, says Ciara. Prepping lunches ahead is fantastic but you want to make sure the food is still great quality or the kids are unlikely to eat it!
- The Fussy Eater founder added that meals with a sauce such as pasta, curries, soups etc are ideal for batch cooking and freezing in small portions.
- Sandwiches are also great to freeze and helps to keep a big loaf of bread fresh, Ciara advises. Keep the fillings simple with ingredients such as cheese, ham, chicken etc and wrap up well to avoid freezer burn.
- Homemade cookies, muffins and flapjacks also freeze really well, Ciara shared. They can be taken out of the freezer in the morning and popped straight into lunch boxes.
5. In the fridge you can keep pasta salads, couscous salad etc for up to 48 hours, Ciara reminded parents. Leftovers such as cooked sausages, cooked chicken or ham will also keep for a couple of days and can be added cold to lunch boxes.
Ciara added: “For £20 I can make a week’s worth of lunches for up to four kids.
“Knowing what’s best kept in the freezer and what’s best in the fridge and using a mixture of both is the key to having fresh lunches all week even when prepped ahead of time.”
Elsewhere fellow mum-of-two Kerry Whelpdale, 36, also preps a week’s worth of school lunches for her family when she has a particularly busy week coming up.
The vlogger, from Brighton, admitted she likes to get ‘ahead of herself’ with all meal prep, including lunch boxes, especially when she has a busy week coming up.
Kerry, who is mum to Rory, 11, and Jamie, nine, revealed she ‘loves’ meal prepping.
She shares her weekly mealspiration videos as well as day-to-day life on her Youtube channel which has nearly 90,000 subscribers.
She said: “Even though at first the task seems daunting, once the prep work is done, the week ahead is so easy.
“I like our boys to have hot dinners two to three times a week and so I prepare healthy veggie packed pasta sauces as well as homemade flapjack bars and all my sliced veggies.
“They love a hot lunch, so pasta with a veggie sauce and cheese is always top of the list. They also love a pickie lunch of carrots, pepper, cucumber and homemade hummus.
“I add a wrap into their lunchbox and they like to construct it themselves. I'll include ham and cheese into their lunchbox and then they put it together during their lunch hour.
“They always tell me their friends like watching them make their wraps!
“This is great for meal prepping as if you made the wrap ahead of time on Sunday, by the time your kids come to eat it, it would be soggy.”
Kerry includes a mixture of veggie tomato pasta, tuna, rice, mayo and cucumber, homemade sausage rolls, homemade flapjack bars and sliced peppers, cucumber, carrots and homemade hummus in her kids lunches.
She believes she feeds her kids and makes a week’s worth of school lunches for £15.
And the mum-of-two always asks her sons what they would like – before she prepares the week’s lunches on a Sunday night.
She said: “I can easily feed my kids a week's worth of lunches for £15 max! The boys are great with coming up with ideas and I know it will be things they eat as they have chosen the meals themselves.
“This is a win-win as it means I don't have to spend as much time thinking of what to feed them and it also means they will enjoy everything given to them in their lunchbox.
“I prepare the lunches on Sunday evenings and the boys often help me. If not, then I just quickly get it all done before I sit down and chill.
“I prepare 10 lunches as I have two kids and I would say it takes me about 45 minutes from start to finish to get the lunches prepped and cleared away.”
Kerry said she uses a number of clever tricks to ensure her kids' packed lunches stay fresh throughout the week.
First of all – she makes sure that she only buys food from the store which is near the back of the shelf, as these items usually have the longest shelf life on them.
She then freezes items which can be eaten within the next two days.
She said: “If I make pasta sauce or homemade sausage rolls, I keep two portions out in the fridge and I then freeze the rest and take them out the night before they will be needed so they have time to defrost.
“When it comes to keeping cut veggies fresh, I like to store them in airtight tupperware, this stops any fridge smells getting into the food and also locks in freshness.
“I always check the best before dates when buying fresh items. Also there’s no need to be too fancy. Keep to simple lunches which you know will go down well with your kids.
“There is nothing worse than making lunch for your kids and then coming home with their lunchbox still full!”
Dr Carrie Ruxton, dietitian advisor to Petits Filous commented that it’s a good idea for mums to prepare a week’s worth of lunch boxes for their children.
The dietitian advisor revealed starchy foods should make up a third of the lunch box and said parents can include bread, crackers or pasta.
She said parents should also try and add food rich in protein such as chicken, lean meat, fish, cheese, beans or lentils and eggs
She also said it’s important to include a drink – such as tap water, 100% fruit juice or semi-skimmed milk.
While she reminded parents to keep the lunch boxes fresh. She said: “If you make your child’s lunch box the night before, store it in the fridge.
“If adding items to the lunch box that you would normally store in the fridge – dairy foods, grapes, berries, tomatoes etc – use an insulated lunch box with a frozen ice pack or include a frozen drink that will help to keep the lunch box cool.”
Dr Carrie Ruxton added: “It’s important for children to have healthy food and drink from a young age as this helps set good habits for childhood and adulthood. Lunch is a vital part of this.
If your child’s lunch is a lunch box taken from home it’s important to think about its contents a week at a time. You as a mum are likely very busy so making a written plan before the start of the school week helps you to make sure the lunch box is healthy with all vital nutrients.
“With time and planning on your side, you can be creative, provide plenty of variety so your child doesn’t get bored with the same lunch day after day and you can check your plan each evening and make sure the lunch box is good to go before you start the school run.
“Planning means giving your child the best nutritional start and reducing your own worry and stress.”
The two food savvy mums Ciara and Kerry shared their top tricks for keeping food fresh – it’s important to keep your fridge at the right temperature, but it also comes down to research.
KERRY’S TOP TRICKS FOR KEEPING FOOD FRESH
Kerry pitches in with her top food freshness techniques too
- The organised mum insisted parents must keep their fridges at the right temperature (5 degrees).
- One of her top tips is to cut a piece of kitchen roll in with your cut up veggies container as it will remove any excess moisture and stop them from going soggy.
- Kerry shared another trick which is to store food in airtight containers to stop fridge smells from leaking into the cut up food.
- Another clever hack is to freeze what won't be eaten within the next two days and from then on, take food out the night before it will be eaten, Kerry added.
- The mum also said a great way to keep food from the fridge fresh until lunchtime is by putting ice packs into lunchboxes.
In other news, one mum reveals her tips on how to be a savvy saver during the holidays to save an extra £500 for back to school essentials.
Meanwhile one mum who saved £25,000 in a single year reveals her top money-saving tips.
Plus to make life less stressful in time for back to school day, here are some tips on how to help younger children sleep through the night.
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