And While We’re Talking about Cooking . . . Ten Tricks for Better Eating at School!

Jun 8, 2012

As we know all too well, teaching is not the kind of job where we get to run out to grab lunch. Even if we sometimes do, the grab is more like a mad dash in the 15 minutes between recess duty and teaching… without any time to actually eat said lunch.

We have great intentions at the start of the school year to bring super healthy, full-of-fresh-vegetable-mega-salads for lunch every day. But as the year goes on, we start to slip. We just want to make it through, and Fruit Snacks and Peanut Butter Crackers slowly but surely become our main sources of Vitamin C and protein.

I recently talked to a group of teachers about how they pull off healthy eating—and saving time! Here are 10 great tricks they shared with me.

    1. Cook in batches. Kate cooks a pot of turkey chili every Sunday (in the slow cooker!) and brings it in all week long. She doesn’t even have to think about what to take for lunch anymore because she has put the situation on autopilot. When Kate gets sick of chili, she offers to swap lunches with someone who also is sick of eating the same thing five days per week.
    2. Shop and prep once a week. It may be fun to peruse the grocery store when we have all the time in the world to dream up the ultimate dinner party, but most teachers I know like to get it done all at once—with an eye toward eating at school. Jenny says, “I always do my week’s worth of grocery shopping on Sunday afternoon,” and Anna tells us, “I hard-boil 10 eggs (I eat two per day for breakfast), I make one entrée for lunch (enough for five days), and I make entrée for dinner (enough for five days)!”
    3. Pack your food the night before.  This prevents the pre-caffeinated, pre-dawn “What on earth do I have to eat in this house?” fumble-and-rummage syndrome. Jenny says, “I prepare all of my food the night before I take it to school.  I put it all in my lunch bag and store it in the refrigerator until the morning.  When I leave for school, I grab it and I’m on my way!” Talk about a stress saver!
    4. Invest in good containers. Finding a dripping bowl of chili juices all over the set of essays you just graded is not fun. Been there, done that. Instead, get leak-proof containers or reusable snack storage bags that truly work. Invest in a great lunch bag and storage options! Shelby recommends products by Built and Kinetic Go Green Glasslock.
    5. Stockpile at school. Many teachers keep a stash of basics in the fridge of the teacher room. Ami says, “I store a few foods at school, like salad dressing, lettuce, a few other veggies, hummus, and wraps—so then I can make wraps or salads the days I don’t bring my lunch.  Bonus if you share that/split the responsibility with a close co-worker!”
    6. Ensure you can eat it hot or cold. I love quiche. It is the perfect food in my mind. Full of protein, it can be eaten hold or cold, civilized with silverware or shoved in your mouth with your bare hands. Add something to your lineup that doesn’t always require a trip to the microwave on the other side of school or that you can eat as you check your email. Here is my favorite recipe.
    7. Prepare for the snack monster. You know it as well as I do. 4 PM hits, and you must.have.a.snack. To keep you from running to the vending machine or scooping M&Ms by the handful from the school office on a daily basis (ahem, guilty as charged), store a stock of healthy snacks in your desk. Granola bars, Clif Bars, nuts (if your school allows them), and dried fruit make for good, healthy after-school snacking. If your family asks if you want a back-to-school present, tell them to give you a huge tote bag of snacks for the year.
    8. Know your back-up plan. There are days when we just won’t have it together enough to pack a healthy lunch, so have a back-up plan. Mine is Amy’s Frozen Lasagnas buried in the back of my freezer. For some of you, it might be a deli sandwich or takeout. Whatever your back-up plan, know it, have it, and be ready to use it. Here’s how Shelby does it: “My friend and I would go to Target when Lean Cuisine was on sale and buy 10 each. We put all of them in the freezer at the our school and every 1-2 days we would move one into the fridge so that we could reduce the microwaving time during busy overcrowded times.
    9. Get a buddy. Ami describes how she and a co-worker help each other out, “I like having lunch buddy” systems with other teachers I work alongside. For example, my co-worker brings me lunch on Monday, and I bring her lunch on Tuesday. It’s nice because when I cook dinner on Monday, I just make extra and bring it for her (and myself on Tuesday). She does the same for Monday—both of us have a day where we don’t have to think about lunch at all and get to try something new.”
    10. Have your equipment ready. Shelby gives us two great examples of keeping simple tools on hand, “Nearly every day I bring a grapefruit, and keep a knife and grapefruit spoon at work and just use wipes to clean them off each day, which is super healthy and super easy. Grapefruit also doesn’t need to be refrigerated during the day, so it’s a good daily bring, and I also keep a hand crank can opener in my personal items at work so I can open and heat up canned soup which is always an easy and healthy option.” A can opener at school?!? I love it!

While you may not be able to revert to the days when someone packed your lunch for you (and if you have that, well, good for you, but please stop bragging), you can make your life a little easier by following these great tips from Kate, Ami, Anna, Jenny and Shelby.

Together Teacher Discussion Question

How do YOU eat healthy at school? Favorite snacks? Good recipes? Smart strategies? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.