16 Things You Can Make Weeks Ahead to Help Make Packing School Lunches Easy

A little while back, I wasn’t too keen on freezing food. I felt that the texture and taste of frozen food that has been thawed and reheated wouldn’t be the same as having a freshly prepared meal. And then I started packing school lunches and struggled with time every morning as I rushed to prepare a fresh and nutritious lunch for my daughter. I learned that if you want to send your child with healthy wholesome lunches everyday while keeping your sanity, planning and preparing ahead is a must! This year I am hoping to reduce my stress in the morning by making and freezing certain items. I have been experimenting with freezing and defrosting techniques and am quite happy with what I have learned thus far.

Below I have compiled a list of 16 things that can be frozen but still taste great once re-heated or cooked:

1. Tomato Pasta Sauce

I enjoy making my own tomato sauce because I know exactly what is going in it. Besides that, homemade tomato sauce smells and tastes far better than any sauce that you can get at your local grocery store and it is probably cheaper to make your own as well. This summer I came across fresh garden tomatoes. I used them to make tomato sauces in combination with other farm fresh produce such as kale, red bell pepper, carrots, and herbs for added flavour and nutrition. After cooking the sauce, I let it cool then poured it into several Tupperware-style containers. If you make meatballs you can throw in a few meatballs into your sauce container and freeze them together as well.

Check out my recipe for Tomato Sauce.

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2. Tikka Masala Sauce

My children LOVE Chicken Tikka Masala. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it is similar to Butter Chicken but with a lot less butter. For those of you that make this dish at home, you know the sauce takes some time to prepare. A couple weeks ago, I made a large batch of sauce and froze a bit to test it out. I love that I can now make the chicken fresh the night before, and heat it with the defrosted sauce in the morning. Vegetarians can add paneer (cubed Indian cheese) or potatoes and peas into the sauce as a substitute for chicken. Here is my recipe for Tikka Masala Sauce.

3. Mashed Potatoes

I didn’t think frozen mashed potatoes would turn out too well once defrosted, and reheated. To my surprise after a quick stir, the texture and consistency was almost the same as freshly made mashed potatoes. To make mashed potatoes more nutritious I sneak in vegetables by adding puréed carrots, cauliflower, or even broccoli to it. My kids love it and with a protein such as baked chicken breast or salmon, it makes for a well-balanced meal.

4. Quick Breads (banana bread, zucchini bread, corn bread, raisin bread, etc.)

Quick breads are easy to prepare and make a great addition to lunch or snack. Once baked and cooled, slice the bread to desired thickness and layer each slice with a square piece of wax paper before placing in a plastic container or large Ziploc bag. The wax paper prevents the slices from sticking to one another. To defrost, just take out the amount you need and leave it in the refrigerator overnight.

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5. Smoothies

Kids love smoothies and parents love them because smoothies give us a chance to sneak in some vegetables such as carrots, beets, or spinach. Freeze your smoothie in individual popsicle molds or small plastic jars, and defrost in the refrigerator the night before. Pour into a flask in the morning and pack the smoothie with an icepack.

6. Chicken Nuggets

I have yet to try making chicken nuggets at home, but I always have Yorkshire Valley Farms Organic Chicken Nuggets or Life Choices Chicken Nuggets in the freezer for those busy days. With a quick google search, I found that if you were to make your own chicken nuggets, it is best to freeze them uncooked, and then bake them straight from your freezer rather than defrosting them.

7. Meatballs

Meatballs are definitely a lunch favourite! The great thing about meatballs is that they freeze well whether they are raw or cooked, with or without sauce. Freeze cooked meatballs in jars with your favourite tomato sauce for quick spaghetti and meatballs. All you have to do is boil some noodles for an easy, warm lunch, perfect for those cooler school days. HERE is the recipe to make the meatballs pictured below, or give this recipe for sweet and sour meatballs a try!

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8. Falafels

Falafels (basically vegetarian meatballs), made with chickpeas and herbs, are a versatile choice for lunch. They can be served on top of a salad, in a wrap, in a pita pocket, or with rice. I make falafels quite often and I tend to make a large batch so that I can freeze half (uncooked) for later use. Falafels freeze well. There is no need for defrosting; they can be reheated in the oven, straight from the freezer.  Although, to cut down on baking time, I would suggest you defrost.

9. Homemade Broth & Soups

Store-bought broth is excessively high in sodium and bouillon cubes are full of chemicals, preservatives, and salt, which is why I prefer making my own broth. Yesterday I made some chicken broth at home using a whole chicken (without skin) and leftover vegetables and herbs that I had on hand. I froze the broth in little jars, leaving room at the top for expansion. Homemade chicken (or vegetable) broth is something you will be thankful that you have when cold and flu season hits. To use, let your jar defrost in the refrigerator overnight. To make chicken noodle soup for lunch, just add already-cooked chicken, vegetables and noodles to your broth and bring everything to a boil, before packing in your child’s thermos. Click HERE for my chicken broth recipe.

10. Whole-Wheat Waffles or Pancakes

Once a week I like to serve my kids a hot breakfast for lunch which usually includes a healthy waffle. Similar to quick breads, waffles are best frozen in between sheets of wax paper to prevent them from sticking to one another. Let your waffle defrost overnight and toast them in the toaster before packing it with the rest of your child’s lunch. I usually pack scrambled eggs, ham, fresh fruit and yogurt with the waffle and my daughter’s lunchbox comes back empty each and every time. You will find my recipe for whole-wheat banana waffles HERE and my recipe for whole-wheat pancakes with flax, HERE.

11. Muffins

My son loves muffins! He will eat them for breakfast, snack and as a part of lunch. Because of him, I am always making muffins at home. Instead of baking a fresh batch of muffins in the morning or late at night, try making a bigger batch of muffins and freezing half. Once, defrosted and heated, the muffins regain their soft and crumbly texture. Try out these healthy oatmeal and berry breakfast muffins!

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12. Bean Chili or Baked Beans

Bean chili and baked beans are both full of protein and fibre. This hearty addition to lunch will keep your child full for hours. Once cooled, freeze individual portions in small jars with enough room at the top for expansion. To use, defrost in the refrigerator overnight, and then reheat on a small pot on the stove before packing in your child’s thermos container. Serve chilli topped with shredded cheese or sour cream alongside cornbread (which can also be frozen) or whole-grain tortilla chips.

13. Veggie Lasagna

Prepare your lasagna in bakeware that is freezer-safe , preferably one with a lid such as the bakeware by Pyrex. Alternatively you can also use disposable aluminum trays with lids. Freezing in bakeware allows you to move your lasagna from the freezer into the oven without hassle. Just make sure to bake it the night before and reheat in the morning. This might seem like a bit more work but already cooked lasagna defrosted and reheated doesn’t taste as great as a freshly baked one.

14. Bean Burgers

If you are pack vegetarian lunches, you know that it can sometimes be difficult to make sure that your child is getting enough protein. This is not the case when it comes to these Black Bean & Quinoa Veggie Burgers, that your child will be sure to love. The best part of freezing them is that it helps the burgers stay intact during the cooking process. Cook or bake them straight from the freezer and serve them in a bun with all your child’s favourite toppings.

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15. Whole-Wheat Naan

If you are a family that loves naan, you will be glad that you have some ready to cook! I recommend rolling out each naan in between two sheets of wax paper and freezing raw. To prepare, just place the frozen naan on a pan preheated to medium and cook for about two minutes on each side or until cooked thoroughly. Pack it with your child’s favourite curry, fresh fruits and veggies and a yogurt for a balanced meal. You can find my recipe for whole-wheat naan here.

16. Pizza & Pizza Crust

Kids love pizza and fortunately for us parents, pizza crust and even pizza that has been already baked, freeze beautifully. Cut your finished pizza into individual portions, then wrap them tightly in saran wrap. To defrost, place in your refrigerator overnight and then simply re-heat in the morning. Pizza crust is a great choice to have on hand. Pack it with tomato sauce, grated cheese and chopped up ham in a bento-style lunchbox, for a homemade version of “Lunchables”.

Check out the recipe for these naan pizzas here.

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  • If you want to freeze small portions of sauces and other things, you can do so in ice cube trays. Here are some examples of what you can freeze: gravy, pesto sauce and homemade or store-bought apple sauce.
  • Freeze carrots tops, unused celery stalks, fresh herbs, and chicken bones to use for making broth or stock.
  • Freeze fresh fruits for use in smoothies throughout the winter months.

If you have any freezing ahead ideas or suggestions, please share them by commenting below.

Feature Image: womensforum.com

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