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Lunchtime Meal Prep

Vanessa T.
VANESSA T.
Pediatric Dietitian
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The start of the school year means weekly lunch prep. Prepping healthy meals ahead of time doesn't have to be a headache. Join the conversation to learn more. Led by Registered Dietitian, Vanessa T.

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VANESSA ADDED A NEW COMMENT!
Foods to make ahead and refrigerate
SHEFALI, PARENT OF 2 YEAR OLD

Hi
I am trying to get a head start on meal prep for daycare and know of freezing meals to use later but what kinds of meals will last long in the fridge if I'm just prepping at the beginning of the week? What foods should I avoid prepping in advance (won't be appetizing or will turn into mush etc) - I'll be making meals for a toddler with no known allergies or dietary restrictions.
Thanks in advance!

Vanessa
VANESSA

Hi Shefali,

Good question! Freezing meals is a great way to prep ahead, but sometimes the fridge is even easier.

Food safety experts will tell you that most cooked meats are good in the fridge for 3-4 days, so you could certainly prep ahead and store in the fridge for at least the first half of the week.

For protein, poultry, meat and alternatives like tofu tend to do better than fish or seafood in the fridge. For example, You can grill or bake a few chicken breasts and a few lean steaks to cut up and use in different dishes throughout the week.

Most grains do well in the fridge, so you can prepare larger portions of whole wheat pasta, quinoa or potatoes.

Veggies like bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower and carrots tend to do well in the fridge- cooked or raw. Salads, spinach, mushrooms and other veggies that tend to wilt don’t stand up to the cold or reheating process quite as well.

That being said, I would plan on making 1-2 dishes at a time and alternating over 3-4 days at a time. Steak and veggie quesadilla and a chicken pesto pasta with peppers are great examples of foods that Stay well and make for easy, safe reheating options.

A big part of making leftovers appetizing is reheating properly. Veggies might mush up whole protein will overlook and harden in the microwave for too long. Consider taking the time to reheat in a pan or on lower heat in the oven for delicious, make ahead meals!

And remember, once you reheat leftovers (especially meat), you should not save them again for later. Food should only be reheated once before you eat or toss it.

Let me know if you need more help!

VANESSA ADDED A NEW COMMENT!
Freezing ahead!
MEGHA, PARENT OF 22 MONTH OLD

Hi there! I have a six-month-old who absolutely loves eating solids. So far I’ve been making them fresh for the most part – I have given him a couple taste of earths best organic peas in the jar.

So far he has tried sweet potatoes, butternut squash, apples, peas, bananas, avocados, and carrots. I have frozen a few 2 ounce jars Of the sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and carrots – not sure what other things I can freeze that will thaw well. Any suggestions? Curious about fruits and possibly meets as I plan to introduce that soon too.

I know they say to freeze in 1 ounce servings – but since I can keep them thawed in the fridge for 2 to 3 days I just let them thaw, take out an ounce, and mix it either with another fruit or veggie – or use the rest the next day. Is that okay?

Vanessa
VANESSA

Hi!

Thank goodness for freezers! They make it so easy to make your own baby food at home without needing to repeat the process daily. As long as you follow general food safety principles, you should be good!

Most fruits, veggies and proteins can be frozen easily with the exception of high water content fruits (think watermelon or other melons) and eggs, which just don’t freeze well. You can always add a bit of water, breast milk or formula before or after freezing to get the consistency dialed in.

Meat purée work well but should be used in 1-3 months once frozen or within 24 hours once thawed. Fruits and veggies can generally hang out in the fridge for 48 hours (72 hours at the max!). Do not refreeze anything you’ve thawed. You also need to discard any purée your child has already eaten from as saliva can act as a breeding ground for bacteria on leftover food.

One ounce servings are convenient in ice cube trays but you can also combine foods together before freezing and
Freeze in larger silicon trays like these: https://www.target.com/p/nuk-flexible-freezer-tray-amp-lid/-/A-14014886?ref=tgt_adv_XS000000&AFID=google_pla_df&CPNG=PLA_Baby+Shopping&adgroup=SC_Baby&LID=700000001170770pgs&network=g&device=m&location=9001980&gclid=Cj0KCQiAkNfSBRCSARIsAL-u3X-M2KN5MbTYUxoG7uj3D-OLoK2UipmGAMLrUYK_z43KUSKS5GbNtlgaAvjzEALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds

Just be sure that your child has been exposed to all of the foods independently without allergic reaction prior to making homemade mixes.

Have fun with this exciting stage of babyhood!

VANESSA ADDED A NEW COMMENT!
Meat-free Mondays
ALANA

Any ideas for vegetarian meals to kick off the week? I'm giving this a try with my twin toddlers, and am determined to make it work!

Vanessa
VANESSA

Hi Alana,

How about tacos? Use black or pinto beans instead of meat. You could also try tofu or packaged ground meat substitutes from the frozen aisle at the grocery store. Offer lettuce, tomato, avocado, cheese and maybe even sautéed peppers and onions and let your toddlers create their own tacos!

Rice and beans is another simple vegetarian dish that is usually a hit with younger children. If you’re comfortable with eggs, veggie omelets or scrambles can make for quick easy breakfasts.

For lunches, try avocado toast- mash avocado with salt and pepper and spread on wheat toast. You can also put a spin on traditional egg or tuna (if you’ll be eating fish) by using different flavors of hummus instead of mayo or subbing out the protein with chopped tofu.

Stir fry is another great way to introduce vegetarian eating to young kids. You can tons of different veggies, sautée in a bit of oil and add a small amount of soy or teriyaki sauce. Add tofu, beans or nuts for protein and serve over rice.
Even pasta dishes can pack a protein punch by adding sautéed chickpeas instead of cut up chicken!

Vegetarianism can be a great, healthy choice for your family, but there are some nutrients that are harder to get adequately. Kids are especially prone to get less protein and fiber if they are eating lots of pasta, bread, etc but not a lot of eggs, dairy, veggies, fruits, etc.

Other nutrients we think about with vegetarian kids are B12, calcium and vitamin D- all of which your kids can get with 3-4 servings of dairy daily. Iron is also important and hard to get from vegetarian sources. Soy, lentils and beans contain iron but some kids end up needing a supplement. You can ask your pediatrician to check iron levels at your next visit if you are concerned.

VANESSA ADDED A NEW COMMENT!
Paleo recs?
BIANCA

My husband and I have committed to eating paleo dinners at least 3x/week. We'd like to branch out to breakfast and dinner eventually, but don't know where to start. Any easy recipes you can recommend? I'm very new to this!

Vanessa
VANESSA

Hi Bianca,

The Paleo diet focuses on on low carbohydrate, high fat and moderate protein foods. It also eliminates processed foods and encourages high intake of vegetables and some fruit. The internet has a wealth of recipes and blogs to explore from people who follow the diet, but you can actually start out quite simply.

For breakfast, switch from cereal or toast to eggs. Try scrambling with veggies and topping with avocado slices or just grab a couple of hard boiled eggs on the go.

For lunch, start with salads- make a big bowl of veggies and top with grilled meat or poultry. Add avocado and nuts for some texture and fat sources, then drizzle with olive oil and a squirt of lemon for dressing.

Dinner can be straightforward- just skip the starchy side and replace it with more steamed or roasted veggies and a larger portion of meat.

The bottom line is this: the Paleo diet has a big following and lots of marketing to back it up. There are lots of products sold as “Paleo-friendly” which can make it easy to get started, but also expensive. My favorite component of the diet is to move away from processed foods and I would encourage you to focus on that principle. You do not have to become a master chef overnight— just shift away from starchy, boxed or premade sides and focus on high quality, fresh meat and plenty of fruits and vegetables. You can explore new seasoning and prep methods as you go, but trying to plan for weeks of complicated recipes can be overwhelming and decrease your chances of following the diet at all!