I cannot believe the summer is almost over and school is only two weeks away from starting. Back to school means the lazy days of summer are over and ideally, routines take over to tame the chaos a bit. To that end, I thought I would pass along my favorite hacks for Back to School Healthy Meal Prep as well as give you a recipe for my new make ahead breakfast favorite – Coconut Quinoa with Pecans and Berries.
As my youngest is about to drive and start his Junior year of high school, back to school takes on a whole new meaning. Instead of being ecstatic that he’s starting back and I will have some order in my life again, I am realizing that the minute he gets his driver’s license, my days being needed are numbered. I will be the first to admit, I don’t possess a deep maternal instinct. Most who know me would say I don’t posses one at all, however, I have loved every minute of being the chief caregiver to my magnificent boys (the oldest is now 20…Yikes) and I have learned a lot through the process. One of the most important lessons I have learned, in regards to living a more peaceful life, is when I meal prep my whole life seems more doable.
What is Meal Prep?
Yes, I guess I should back up and explain this a bit. While some people think of meal prep as making a week’s – or sometimes a month’s – worth of meals and freezing them, I’m not a fan of this method at all due to the lack of flavor frozen food possesses for the most part. Meal prep more recently has come to refer to a method of creating bits and pieces of meals to give you a head start on daily meals. The meal prep hacks below fall into the latter ideal and are what I gradually developed over time as my kids came along. I realized how helpful these little things made my week and I created my Simply Real Food™ meal plan subscription based on this method.
Back to School Healthy Meal Prep
- Prep veggies – As soon as you return home from shopping (or your groceries are delivered), wash everything except delicate berries in water with a splash of white vinegar (my go-to inexpensive veggie wash) then cut carrots and celery into sticks, separate broccoli and cauliflower into “little trees”, cut peppers into strips. Chop an onion or two and mince some garlic in a mini food processor. Store everything in glass containers. (Tip: Cover carrots and celery in water to store to keep them crisp.) With veggies washed and cut up, you can throw together dinner in less than 30 minutes with just a little protein and some cooked grains (see below.)
- Cook chicken – America’s favorite meat is a life saver if it is already cooked. Whether you roast a whole chicken, cook a bunch of chicken breasts on the grill, or cook your chicken in a slow cooker or Instant Pot (6 minutes for 2 lbs of chicken breasts or for a whole thawed chicken use 6 minutes per pound; slow release), cooked chicken can be used a thousand ways for lunches or quick dinners.
- Make Grab n Go Breakfast for the Week – Of course you can find breakfast casseroles, baked oats and chia pudding all over the blogosphere, and these are all great make ahead breakfasts, but I have recently started making Coconut Quinoa Breakfast Jars and am IN. LOVE. I am posting the recipe below for my much appreciated readers. My yogurt and paleo granola parfaits that are full of protein and kids adore them as they do my Yogurt Bark.
- Make dips and sauces – Whether it is peanut sauce, ranch or another favorite, make up your kids’ favorite dip for veggies and then store in small stainless steel dip containers so they are ready to grab and go. They are ready to go throughout the week. My Rock Star in the Kitchen e-book has many dips and sauces that are perfect to make and refrigerate and freeze.
- Roast Veggies – Toss coarsely chopped or sliced onions, peppers, broccoli and carrots with olive oil, salt and pepper and arrange in a single on a baking sheet. Roast at 400 degrees until slightly brown and just tender. Store to use in soups, tacos, wraps, bowls or salads throughout the week.
- Cook Grains – If you’re Paleo or doing a Whole30, see Cauliflower Rice below, but everyone else…cook up a batch of quinoa or rice (white basmati or jasmine are my favorites). Here is my foolproof way to make these grains: Measure 1 cup grain and 1 1/2 cups water into a medium saucepan and add a big pinch of sea salt. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium low and simmer until no water can be seen. Remove from heat and drape a clean kitchen towel over the top of the pan then replace cover. Let stand 5 minutes. Remove the cover and towel. Fluff with a fork.
- Cook Cauliflower Rice – I was not a cauliflower rice lover until I figured out that it needed to be browned a little first to make it less watery. Here’s what I do: Heat a large skillet (12”) and add 2 tsp avocado, coconut or light olive oil. Add 4 cups fresh or frozen cauliflower rice and spread to an even layer. Do not touch for 3-4 minutes or until you begin to smell a roasted cauliflower smell. Toss the cauliflower around to get it all lightly browned. Remove and chill for meals throughout the week.
All of these components can be stored and used for up to 5 days.
How to Use Healthy Meal Prep Components
- Snack Lunch: Chicken cubes or lunchmeat, cheese cubes, veggies and dip, apples and nut or seed butter, regular or gluten-free crackers
- Salad in a Jar: Layer your favorite salad dressing recipe, crunchy chopped veggies, grains, cauliflower rice or noodles (or leave out), plant or animal protein, crunchy things like bacon or nuts, cheese and lots of greens to fill a quart jar. When ready to eat, shake to distribute dressing or turn jar over to make the most beautiful layered salad. This is my husband’s go-to lunch.
- Easy Dinners:
- Grain Bowl: Make a bed of cooked grains then layer protein, roasted veggies, raw veggies, avocado and a crunchy topping of seeds or nuts.
- Seasonal Salad: Toss cooked sliced chicken with seasonal fruit, mixed greens, crumbled feta or goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette for a delicious salad.
- Quick Soup: Saute onions, garlic, carrot and celery (those pre-chopped veggies will be your BFF right here) in a little butter or olive oil then stir in 1 1/2 quarts chicken broth, a couple of handfuls of uncooked regular or gluten free noodles and any other chopped veggies. Shred some chicken and stir in just to warm.
- Easy Tacos: Mix with your favorite salsa (or DIY this easy one) and tuck into tortillas or crispy taco shells with a little cheese and shredded lettuce
- Creamy Chicken Salad: Stir mayo, chopped celery and green onion plus your favorite seasonal fruit into chopped cooked chicken to make delicious chicken salad for sandwiches. For something different, make the seasonal salad above but use chicken salad instead of simple cooked chicken.
My New Favorite Back to School Healthy Meal Prep Breakfast Idea
You can make this with any seasonal fruit. For fall fruits (pears, apples, quince) you may want to cook them with a little maple syrup or orange juice to soften them a bit or leave them uncooked but chopped small for more of a muesli feel. Of course, you can also use any toasted nuts or seeds you love, you can add coconut or you can leave all of this out and just do fruit. Tip: Look for rinsed quinoa or, better yet, soaked quinoa. Rinsing removes the somewhat soapy tasting protectant on the seeds but soaking both rinses the seeds and also makes them more digestible.
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 can full fat coconut milk
pinch of sea salt
- Combine quinoa with 1 1/2 cups coconut milk in a medium saucepan.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer until there is no liquid present when you tilt the pan.
- Remove from heat, remove lid and drape a clean kitchen towel over the pan. Replace the lid over the towel and let it sit for 5 minutes.
- Fluff with a fork. Divide between 4 jars and drizzle with additional coconut milk. Top with berries and chopped pecans.
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