Today I’ve got the ultimate healthy back to school meal guide for you!
It’s that time of year…fall is right around the corner and with it comes new schedules for students young and not-so-young. Whether you’re a kid, parent, teacher, college student or just someone who notices the changing of the seasons, fall is an interesting time of year.
For many people, it almost feels like pushing the reset button, a chance to make a commitment to healthier eating.
And I’d hope that means not the same old song and dance of dieting, but instead choosing to put better options on your plate, make swaps when you can (see ideas here and here), and enjoying the occasional treat.
(Seriously, stop dieting, punishing yourself and trying to eat perfectly. It doesn’t last. Check out my Harder to Kill Challenge for a sustainable plan that actually works.)
So here’s how to make healthy back to school meal planning suck way less when you’re already feeling crunched for time:
Meal Prep is Your Friend
Once a week, plan a big meal prep day. Ideally, do this on the weekend so you’ve got some meals banked for the beginning of the week.
Time and time again, my clients tell me that being prepared at the start of the week is a game-changer. You’ll get your fridge stocked with some essentials that you can grab when things feel extra hectic. Remember, when stress is high, willpower gets eroded.
Having healthy dishes ready to heat and eat make all the difference because you’ve already taken the decision making out of it.
Recommendations for back to school meal prep:
- Cook up a dozen hard-cooked eggs and store them in their shell for quick protein. (Click here to see my fool-proof method that works every time.)
- Chop up and store all your veggies as soon as you get home. They won’t lose much nutrient value, and if it’s ready to go, you’ll be more likely to use it than let it rot in the veggie drawer.
- Roast a few trays of veggies. Mix and match. Better yet, if you have kids, let them pick which veggies are on the menu.
- Roast some sweet potatoes or white potatoes. Yes, I said white potatoes. (Click here to read more on white potatoes.)
- Use your Crock Pot. Make a stew or soup, then store for the week ahead or freeze for later.
- Make a couple pounds of burgers or meatballs. These are perfect for no-fuss protein later in the week. (Click here for my Emergency Meatball recipe.)
- Whip up a couple salsas, dressings, or other sauces to dress your meals up.
Want my free 7-day meal plan where I lay it out for you? Click below.
What About Breakfast?
Morning can be the biggest pain in the ass when it comes to putting a healthy meal on the table and getting everyone out the door on time.
My opinion is one that might not be so popular, but here it is: Breakfast food can be ANY food.
It doesn’t have to be sweet, come slathered in syrup, or resemble a miniature cake. Sweet, refined carb heavy breakfasts are a blood sugar bomb waiting to happen and may be common in Western society, but that’s not true the world over.
And it’s curious to me how brinner – breakfast for dinner – is a thing but not dreakfast. Let’s think outside the box!
My favorite fast breakfast option is leftover dinner from the night before.
I do admit that some dishes are more comforting and warming than others; I’m personally not a huge fan of giant raw salads or cold dishes for breakfast, but that’s just me. Soups, stews, meat and cooked veg mixed into some bone broth…all nourishing, filling, and totally easy.
Some easy breakfast ideas (more below):
- Egg and veggie frittata with roasted sweet potato
- Bacon and eggs with greens
- Chicken sausage with avocado and fruit
- Prosciutto, tomato, and basil mini-skewers
- Chia seed “pudding” or non-dairy yogurt – check sugar content! – with fruit.
- Leftover dinner
Back to school is often synonymous with packing snacks and lunches for kids and adults alike, and it can get downright frustrating trying to suit everyone’s tastes.
Here’s the thing for adults: If you find yourself NEEDING a snack every single day between breakfast and lunch – or else you turn into a hangry monster – it’s time to rethink what you’re putting on your breakfast plate.
You should be able to go 4-6 hours without requiring a snack to keep you going. If not, first bump up the protein on your breakfast plate and eat real, whole sources that you have to chew. Drinking your breakfast – i.e. shakes, smoothies, and loaded coffees – means they digest super fast, leaving you feeling hungry in an hour or two. If you’re adding lots of fruit or other carbs to your liquid meal, your blood sugar can still spike and crash.
I recommend chewing your breakfast calories and including dense animal protein sources like eggs, meat, poultry, or fish to stave off cravings, keep you full, and hold the hangry monster off until lunch. (How much protein? 3-4 eggs or 4 to 6 ounces of meat for breakfast as a starting point.)
Sometimes, though, I get it: You want a snack or the kiddos need one for the school day.
With that in mind, I recommend a snack that has protein, carbs, and fat to provide satiety and prevent blood sugar swings.
Here’s some paleo-friendly and gluten-free healthy back to school snack options you can mix and match:
- Paleo Valley 100% Grass-Fed Beef Sticks (use code STEPH to save 20% site wide!)
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Roasted seaweed sheets (nori)
- Salsa and grain-free tortilla chips
- Bean-free beet hummus
- Pork rinds (from pastured animals)
- Kale chips
- Veggie sticks
- Dehydrated fruit chips or fresh fruit
- Grain-free granola
- Coconut “chips”
Healthy Back to School Lunches and Dinners
The motto here for healthy back to school lunches and dinners has to be: keep it super simple, especially in the beginning!
Don’t overdo it and overcommit yourself or you’ll find it impossible to stick to. Go slow.
Once you’ve wrapped your brain around it, you can start getting fancier if you want. Remember, it’s OKAY not to make a complicated recipe from scratch every single night.
Below are 30 healthy back to school meal options for you when life gets busy! Make one each day for the next month and you’ll be well on your way to a bag of tricks you can pull out any time.
- Breakfast Sausage Scotch Eggs
- Breakfast Stuffed Peppers
- Paleo Pizza Egg Muffins
- Paleo Chicken Sweet Potato Frittata
- 3-Ingredient Banana Pudding
- Vanilla Berry Chia Pudding
- Thai Larb with Pork
- Emergency Meatballs
- Honey Chipotle Meatballs
- Crispy Buffalo Chicken Fingers
- Simple Paleo Tortillas (fill with sliced turkey, veggies, and smashed avocado then roll up)
- Paleo Lemon Tahini Tuna Salad
- Strawberry Avocado Summer Salad
- Holy Guacamole Salad (add grilled steak or shrimp)
- Cold Zucchini Noodle Salad with Tomato and Olives (add grilled chicken)
- Buffalo Chicken Salad
- Citrus Basil Chicken Salad
- Tuesday Night Chicken
- Green Chile Chicken
- Easy Pan-Fried Lemon Chicken
- Chicken Enchiladas
- Bitchin’ Bowl
- Easy Sunday Beef Stew
- One Skillet Paleo Dinner
- Slow Cooker Mocha-Rubbed Pot Roast
- Crispy Skin Salmon
- Lamb Kebabs with Carrot Salad
- Paleo Pulled Pork Stuffed Squash
- Pork Chile Verde
- Shredded Beef & Onions
One final option that’s really helpful for us are the wide variety of pre-prepped meal options that get sent right to your door like Sun Basket. The shopping and most of the prep is done for you.
Instead of fighting the crowded supermarket or spending time planning the recipes, simply cook and eat.
They even have family portions which gave the two of us leftovers. Cook once, eat twice.
Here’s a recent box we enjoyed from Sun Basket (clockwise from top left):
- Chinese five-spice steak stir-fry with cauliflower “rice”
- Southwestern grilled chicken salad (with a flexible gluten-free option)
- Turkish lamb kofte with tahini sauce and smashed cucumber salad
I’m notoriously hard to please with stuff like this, and Sun Basket’s exceeded my expectations. Give them a shot!
I hope this post has inspired you and given you the confidence to cook healthy meals for your busy back to school season.
There are plenty of resources to help you from free, pre-made meal plans all the way up to delivery at your door.
Remember: Perfection isn’t the answer. Do your best and don’t sweat the small stuff!