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If the thought of packing lunch every night for your whole family exhausts you, brighten up! Here are 6 tips to make lunchbox meal prep easier and 5 meal ideas you’ll love!

Bento style healthy lunchbox

Aaah, the smell of autumn and pencils in the air….

Every parent knows this time of the year comes with the dreaded question…what will I pack the kids for lunch this week? I had to get more creative recently since my older daughter’s school is now nut-free and we eat a lot of things containing nuts.

(Although I’m not sure which is worse…choosing lunches or dinners!)

With a little planning, you can pack those lunches with ease (including your own) without resorting to bulk boxes of chips and cookies.

A little meal prepping for kids’ lunchboxes can go a long way. It can be a great way to save time and ensure that your child has nutritious meals throughout the week. I don’t do a big meal prep on the weekend because that’s our only family time together. Instead, I’ll squeeze in assembly of items and I may make one extra thing each week. (Like, chocolate yogurt muffins, banana bread, energy balls.)

Grab your Lunchbox Cheat Sheet HERE for easy lunch ideas for you and your kids!

Here are some lunchbox meal prep tips for your kids’ lunches and your own:

1. Keep it simple: Start with simple meal ideas that are easy to prepare and assemble. Pasta salads, burrito bowls, sheet pan meals, sandwiches, snack lunches, cheese, and crackers are all great options that don’t require a lot of cooking or ingredients.

2. Plan ahead: Have a flexible lunch plan for the week. Pick a “main dish” for each day, then prep or buy easy sides like granola bars, whole fruit, and yogurt cups to use all week. Consider where you may have dinner leftovers that can double as lunch. Soups, stews, and chillis can be frozen and used for lunch another day, as well.

3. Involve your child: Get your child involved in the meal prep process. Let them help choose what goes into their lunchbox and give them age-appropriate tasks like washing fruits and vegetables or assembling sandwiches.


After my 8-year-old’s lunch kept coming home untouched, I asked her to make a menu so I’d know what she’d like. It had to have a protein, a carbohydrate, and a fruit or vegetable. I also ask my daughters to pick out their snacks the night before. They place the snacks in the lunchbox or in a special section in the fridge. (This is so I don’t forget to take it out of the fridge in the morning…and so my husband doesn’t eat it instead :)

4. Prep ingredients in advance: Cut up fruits and vegetables, boil eggs, or cook proteins like chicken or beef in advance. Portion out trail mix, crackers, and dry snacks in baggies ahead of time. This will make it easier to assemble lunches quickly during the week (and easy for your kids to pack their own lunch, as well. Independence is paramount to relieving yourself from some of this work.)

5. Invest in good storage containers: Use reusable containers that are easy to open and close and keep food fresh. Bento-style lunchboxes with compartments can help keep different foods separate and fun.

These are some bento box-style lunch boxes and thermoses I like:

These are glass storage containers I like:

6. Get creative: Try different combinations of foods to keep things interesting for your child. Include a variety of colors, textures, and flavors to make their lunch more appealing. Also, sprinkle in some fun fruit cut shapes or sandwich cutters – lunchers of all ages like to eat fun shapes. (C’mon, don’t you get excited to eat star-shaped honeydew in an Edible Arrangement??)

If you love Uncrustables, you’ll love these sandwich cutters!

A sandwich

I do love Uncrustables as they come in just the right PB combos we enjoy, especially the chocolate-flavored hazelnut spread. (And, for any who knows me, I could live simply off of that brand name Ferrero delectable hazelnut spread.) AND these little frozen sandwiches have truly decent ingredients (my only complaint being that I’ve gotten my family used to natural peanut butter.) BUT, they are more expensive than making them yourself - if you have a few extra minutes on the weekend, make a bunch, throw them into baggies, and freeze them.)

These are fruit cutters that have been adding fun to our end-of-summer watermelon:

So here are five ideas for balanced lunchbox meals for kids:

1. Turkey and Cheese Skewers: Skewer chunks of turkey and cheese together for a protein-packed snack. Pair it with yogurt, watermelon, a mini oatmeal muffin, and a love note. (I always add the love note :)

2. Ham and Cheese Roll-Up: Roll up a slice of ham with half a slice of muenster cheese. Serve it with unsweetened applesauce and raw carrot sticks.

3. Sunflower Seed Butter and Strawberry Wafflewich: Spread sunflower seed butter on a waffle, top it with sliced strawberries and make a sandwich. Include hard-cooked egg whites and cucumber slices as sides.

4. Chicken Salad in Whole Wheat Pita: Fill a whole wheat pita with chicken salad. Serve it with red grapes and cucumber rounds.

5. Pizza Kabobs: Assemble tortellini, pepperoni, grape tomatoes, and green bell peppers on skewers to create pizza kabobs. Include marinara sauce for dipping and serve with red grapes.

Remember to consider your child’s preferences and any dietary restrictions they may have, or the school has when planning their meals. With a little bit of planning and preparation, you can ensure that your child has healthy and delicious lunches throughout the week.

Grab your Lunchbox Cheat Sheet HERE for easy lunch ideas for you and your kids!

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  • Writer's pictureTheresa Gentile

Your morning routine can set the mood for the rest of your day and can impact your productivity, so if you're looking to lose weight, establishing some essential morning routines can be just what you need.

You already know how beneficial it's been to establish a bedtime routine for your kids, but do you know how crucial healthy behaviors and routines are to your weight loss efforts? Research has shown that those successful at maintaining weight loss often eat the same foods, engage in consistent exercise, and don't skip meals. They've practiced behaviors over and over again until the task became automatic.

There have been several studies observing the weight gain seen in children over the summer months due to, in part, a lack of consistent structure and routine. It stands that a similar observation may be made in adults.

With a few tweaks to your day, you can be on your way to making that morning yoga class or meal planning a consistent part of your lifestyle. The best place to start -- your morning routine!

Try tackling these areas if sustainable weight loss is your goal:

1. You sleep in

I get it - the kids finally slept past 7 am on a Saturday. Or, even's summer! And everyone is enjoying the hot, lazy days. But your fat cells love feeling lazy, too. Your circadian rhythm not only helps you arise in the daylight and sleep blissfully during the night, but it plays a part in regulating how efficient you are in calorie-burning. We burn a bit more of our calories during the day than we do at nighttime.

Rising early also helps lets you seize that quiet, solo time of the day. The most productive people utilize this time of day to get ahead. Not just because there are fewer interruptions, but because our brains are most alert and awake at this time.

So, practice healthy sleep behaviors and set a consistent time to go to bed at night and rise in the morning.

Start with one healthy behavior to add to your morning; try some stretching, a morning walk, or plan out your meals for the day.

I like to do my weekly meal planning in the morning when it's quiet; preferable with multiple recipe books spread out on my deck table with a hot cup of coffee watching the birds go crazy in the morning.

(See my article about the importance of sleep and weight loss and see the healthy sleep tips here.)

2. You're not active in the morning

It's not necessary to be active in the morning versus another time of the day, but people who get a head start on physical activity tend to be more successful at weight loss. It could be that by tackling this early in the day they are guaranteed that it gets done no matter how the day turns out.

Being active early in the day may also be associated with sustained weight loss because it gives you that 'health halo' for the rest of your day.

3. You skip breakfast

So, our circadian rhythm - that amazing, master clock in the brain's hypothalamus - is synchronized to a 24-hour day by the light/dark cycle. But, in certain tissues, it's synchronized to our feeding/fasting cycles. This essentially means that eating in sync with daylight optimizes metabolism.

We are evolutionarily built to eat during daylight and we burn more calories in daylight, as well. Even our digestion is better in the morning. (We actually produce more bile acids and nutrient transporters in the morning to help break down our food.)

Not only does eating breakfast help with weight loss by encouraging our metabolisms to work better, but it can also help ward off hunger later on in the day.

When you eat a satiating breakfast of lean proteins and fiber-rich carbohydrates, you're preventing those blood sugar swings that cause you to be hangry and overeat at your next meal.

4. You're not frontloading protein

Maybe you are having breakfast, but it's all carbs. Quick and easy bagels, morning muffins, toast, croissants...

These carb-heavy, low-fiber foods are great for quick energy, but they won't hold you very long. You need that satiating heart-healthy protein and fat to keep you satisfied.

These carbohydrate breakfast foods raise your blood sugar quickly - and what goes up, must come down. That's when you feel that dip in energy - that slump during the day. And the cycle of quick surges in blood sugar and insulin release has a negative impact on weight loss.

What you need paired with those carbs is a protein food. The protein helps blunt the glucose response in the blood.

A recent small study observed that participants with diabetes who took a whey protein supplement before each of their 3 meals for the day had better blood sugar control during the day than those who did not.

5. You're getting in your own way

Now, there are a lot of ways this can happen but, very often, I see people who overate the day before and now feel that there's no use in starting fresh again today. It's easy to tell yourself excuses like, "What's one more day of eating unhealthy?", "I'll just start again on Monday", or, "This one meal won't matter in the big picture."

And it won't. But if you continue doing that every, say, Thursday through Sunday, that's 12 days out of the month that you may be overeating. (Or, 40% of the month)

See how it can add up?

Instead, brush off the last overeaten meal and start again the very next meal. Not on Monday, or next week. But now.

And practice that until it becomes routine.

Don't let the lazy days of summer push your weight loss goals aside! Join my 8-week accountability group starting July 1, 2022 for group goal setting, accountability, meal plans, exercise regimes, and challenges. Check it out HERE!


Wyatt HR, Grunwald GK, Mosca CL, Klem ML, Wing RR, Hill JO. Long-term weight loss and breakfast in subjects in the National Weight Control Registry. Obes Res. 2002;10:78-82. doi:10.1038/oby.2002.13

Gorin AA, Phelan S, Wing RR, Hill JO. Promoting long-term weight control: does dieting consistency matter?Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2004;28:278-281. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0802550

Arlinghaus KR, Johnston CA. The Importance of Creating Habits and Routine. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2018;13(2):142-144. Published 2018 Dec 29. doi:10.1177/1559827618818044

Franckle R, Adler R, Davison K. Accelerated Weight Gain Among Children During Summer Versus School Year and Related Racial/Ethnic Disparities: A Systematic Review. Prev Chronic Dis 2014;11:130355. DOI:

Smith K, Taylor GS, Brunsgaard LH, et al. Thrice daily consumption of a novel, premeal shot containing a low dose of whey protein increases time in euglycemia during 7 days of free-living in individuals with type 2 diabetes. BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care 2022;10:e002820. doi: 10.1136/bmjdrc-2022-002820

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  • Writer's pictureTheresa Gentile

Pumpkin pancakes that lower your cholesterol? Say no more! If you're eating right for your heart and are craving pancakes, this may be the perfect, easy, weekend meal.

Pumpkin - you either love it or hate it. I love it and all the fiber-packed nutrition that pumpkin offers. I love coming up with ways to make healthy food easy and tasty so my whole family will enjoy healthy foods.

These particular pancakes pack an extra heart-healthy punch - they're made with oat flour. The heart-healthy fiber in oats is beta-glucan, a kind of soluble fiber. Foods with oat fiber have been shown to lower bad levels of cholesterol, or LDL-cholesterol. Soluble fiber in oats may also lower non-HDL cholesterol as well (apo B), which carries bad cholesterol through the bloodstream. Oat fiber, combined with other sources of soluble fiber in the diet can help decrease the risk of heart disease.

What other foods contain heart-healthy fiber?

This heart-healthy, beta-glucan fiber can also be found in barley, yeasts, seaweed, algae, and some types of mushrooms (like reishi, shiitake, and maitake).

If you love pumpkin and oats, make sure to try my so-healthy-you-can-eat-for-breakfast Healthy Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies.

And if you're in the mood for more fiber-rich oats and chickpeas in a portable, yummy energy ball, try my No-Bake Protein Energy Balls.

How much beta-glucan fiber do you need each day to help lower cholesterol?

3 grams of beta-glucans per day can help lower blood cholesterol levels by 5-8%, according to an approved health claim by the FDA. You can get 3 grams of beta-glucans from 1.5 cups cooked oatmeal, 3 packets of instant oatmeal, or about 1 cup of cooked pearl barley.

What are other health benefits of beta-glucan fiber?

This soluble fiber, along with insoluble fibers can help modulate blood sugar and promote insulin sensitivity. Oat and barley-containing foods slow the absorption of glucose after a meal. This means less insulin needs to be released to bring down your blood sugar. And, remember, insulin is our prime fat-storage hormone. The less we need to release, the better.

So, I’ve given you plenty of reasons to try these pumpkin oat pancakes. Tell me what you think!

Easy Pumpkin Oat Pancakes

Dry ingredients

1 ½ cups old fashioned or quick-cooking oats, blended to a powder

3 Tablespoons sugar

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

¾ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Wet ingredients

1 ½ cups buttermilk

¾ cup pumpkin puree

3 Tablespoons melted butter

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Blend oats in a blender or food processor. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.

In another bowl, whisk and thoroughly combine the wet ingredients.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and gently whisk together until just combined.

Prepare a griddle over medium heat until hot.

Spoon 1/3 cup batter onto the griddle and cook until you see the tiny bubbles on the top of each pancake and some have popped open. Then flip the pancake and cook until lightly browned and fluffy.

Serve immediately or keep warm in a 200 degree F. oven.

Serve with pure maple syrup, butter, or plain Greek yogurt for extra protein.

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