I overheard a mom at the playground tell friends how she'd prepped weekly lunches for the whole family for the first time—and how nice it was to have prepared lunches ready to send with her child to school and to take to work. I couldn't agree more! Starting the week off with prepared meals makes it so much easier to eat healthy all week—not to mention avoiding more morning chaos getting ready.
But I've met parents who say meal-prep would never work at their house because of picky eaters. I've got quite the "selective" eaters of my own, so I get the challenges. Meal-prep is still an option if you deconstruct or break down ingredients in the recipe to create a simpler, more kid-friendly version. You don't need to prepare two separate meals, because becoming a short-order cook will leave you with no time—just look at the ingredients a little differently.
Here's how I pack my girls' Cobb salad bento lunches while making mason jar Cobb salads for my husband and me. The deconstructed version is one my girls eat time and again. It's the same ingredients (with occasional substitutions made) served two different ways, prepped and packed at the same time. Everyone has lean protein, veggies and fruit. Packing healthy lunches doesn't get much easier than that!
Pictured: Classic Cobb Mason Jar Salad
1. Start with the Dressing
For you: Add blue cheese dressing to the bottom of the mason jar to avoid soggy salad.
For the kids' lunch: Combine oil and vinegar in a small dip/dressing container.
2. Add the Veggies
For you: Layer chopped tomatoes, red onion and cucumber into the mason jar.
For the kids: In the bento box, toss together some extra tomato and cucumber with romaine lettuce and add to the bento with the container of oil and vinegar.
3. Add the Protein
Turkey & Ham
For the kids: Stack turkey and ham slices on top of each other, tightly roll up and slice crosswise into 4 to 6 rounds. Place in a container in the bento box.
For you: Make another stack of turkey and ham, chop and add to the mason jar.
For you: Chop a hard-boiled egg and add to the mason jar.
For the kids: Place another hard-boiled egg in a container in the bento box.
For you: Crumble or chop some cooked bacon and add to the mason jar.
For the kids: Add a whole piece of cooked bacon to the bento.
4. Add Some Extras
For the kids: Peel, halve and pit 1 avocado and cut into cubes. Toss with lime juice in a small bowl. Place half of the avocado in a container in the bento box.
For you: Add the remaining avocado to the mason jar. Top the mason jar salad with crumbled blue cheese and chopped romaine lettuce.
Related: 1-Day Back-to-School Kids' Meal Plan
Meal-Prep Tips for Packing Lunch
Kids Not a Fan of Salad? Try This Simple Swap: Tossing some extra lettuce, tomato and cucumber with a little vinegar and olive oil is a simple salad most kids will eat, but if not, cucumber slices are another option to help you work in veggies.
Boil Some Extra Eggs: If you're boiling one egg, you might as well boil a few. Hard-boiled eggs make a great protein-rich meal addition or afternoon snack.
Packing for Picky Eaters: Don't think your picky eater will touch avocado? Substitute any fresh fruit; cube or slice to fit in a lunch compartment.
Holley Grainger, M.S., R.D. is a culinary nutrition and lifestyle expert and the “Mommy Dietitian in the Kitchen” who instructs families on how to make practical, doable and delicious meals.