Healthy back-to-school lunches made easy

Healthy back-to-school lunches made easy

Back to school means back to quick prep meals. Here’s the great news, parents: you don’t have to give up quality for efficiency

Ida Pusateri

Like most parents, I always found September to be an incredibly hectic time. With two working parents—my husband, Cosimo, was out the door at 5 a.m.—mornings were always a scramble. My daughter, Rosanna, spent what felt like hours in the bathroom getting ready, while my boys preferred to lie in bed until the last possible minute. (They were also going to two different schools at that point, to complicate things even more.) Still, no matter how much coordination it took, my kids always had a packed lunch.

My formula for a healthy lunch was some combination of an easy main, pre-cut fruit—who has time to cut?—and a snack. Back then, my kids’ favourites included chicken fingers, soups, bagels with cream cheese, and penne alla bolognese. Leftovers were always a lifesaver. Snacks were cucumbers, carrots, crackers and cheese. Often, I would pick up meals from Pusateri’s to pack for the next day; I was always comforted knowing they’d be eating meals that were fresh and homemade—sometimes even by my mother, who worked at the store. That said, like every other mom, I really looked forward to Friday pizza days.

Pusateri’s kitchen has grown exponentially since we started. We have all the staples—like lasagna and shepherd’s pie—and we now have a selection of kid-friendly meals, and vegan and keto options, like delicious keto cauliflower and mushroom risotto, which I love. My grandkids love the meatballs, mini arancini balls, Gryfe’s mini pizzas, broccoli topped with breadcrumbs and parmigiano, and barbecued chicken, which you can shred and serve with hearty salads or cheesy quesadillas. As a plus, all our containers are safe for the microwave or oven, so they’re super easy to heat on the go.

Kids will, of course, be kids. My youngest, Paolo, was the pickiest eater: only beige. It definitely challenged me to innovate and sneak in veggies however I could. At the store, we now stock simple favourites like pasta sauce (with hidden veggies) and nitrite-free deli meats. I’m a big fan of a new brand of ready meals called Nom Noms, made by a company that’s headed up by a powerhouse entrepreneur. They make irresistible wraps and dinners featuring flavours from around the world.

Whether you need no-nuts, gluten-free or vegetarian, there are so many great, healthier products available nowadays, like gluten-free granola bars, cauliflower-based “cheese” crackers that give those old square ones a run for their money, and gummies made with organic fruit.

My daughter, who now has young kids of her own, appreciates some of our healthier snack options, which have her kids fooled. She has a shelf in her pantry dedicated to single-serve snacks of all kinds, including healthy sesame snaps, vegan jackfruit puffs, which the kids think are Cheetos, and seaweed snacks.

Obviously, lunches are not just for the kids: Millennials have been dubbed the snacking generation, so they’re looking for healthier mini-meals. Pusateri’s meals tend to be geared less toward cutting calories than finding foods that give us benefits, like extra energy and protein. Knowing this, we’ve tried our best to provide elevated lunchtime offerings at our counters and in our pre-packaged area, like sushi and poke bowls, salad meals in jar and a suite of new healthy grab-and-go sandwiches. Because why should kids have all the fun?

This Month’s Recipe

Tropical Gold Smoothie

I love this mango smoothie as a nourishing fix for those busy fall days when you’re running to work or school. It does double duty as a brain and body booster, thanks to ingredients like MCT oil, coconut milk and collagen.

Serves: 2

  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 cup Black River Bartlett Pear Nectar
  • 1/2 cup Nudefruit Frozen Peach
  • 1/2 cup Califia Coconut Milk
  • 1 scoop Sproos Grass-Fed Collagen
  • 1 tbsp Nutiva MCT Oil
  • 1 tsp Turmeric
  • 1 scoop ice
  • Add all ingredients to your blender and blend until smooth.
  • Garnish and enjoy!
  • Garnish with your choice of chia seeds, fresh mango, fresh goldenberries or figs.
  • Toss in a few fresh mint leaves and kick this already kicked-up smoothie up another notch or two.

Ingredients available at Pusateri’s Fine Foods

Next month: With Thanksgiving around the corner, I’ll share my tips for a fuss-free, fab (and surprisingly healthy) meal.