Deconstructed Meals: A Back-to-School Time Saver

A busy evening that requires an easy dinner or a lunch when the usual sandwich won’t do. These are the times for what my family refers to as “deconstructed meals.” These lunches and dinners may not present like traditional “meals,” but for particular kids and demanding days they satisfy (and for this dietitian mom, they get the job done without slacking on nutrition). With a blueprint for bringing together a deconstructed meal, and the right tools, you can assemble a combination of foods (and nutrients) that get the job done too.

Chicken Fajita Bowls
Chicken Fajita Bowls

The Blueprint

Keeping in mind that the goal is to avoid actually cooking, but rather to pull together foods that work in combination to create a nutritious meal, consider the following options. Whenever possible, use your meal planning strategies to ensure leftovers are available to (like frozen soup from that day you did have time to cook).

Proteins: turkey breast, lean roast beef, canned tuna/salmon, edamame, non-fat/plain Greek yogurt, reduced fat cheese eggs, beans (or a frozen, leftover, hearty bean soup), cooked chicken, lean beef

Fats: hummus, tapenade, avocado, dry roasted/low or no salt nuts, pumpkin seeds, hemp hearts, olive oil

Starches: brown rice and other grains, whole wheat noodles, whole grain crackers, wraps and breads, frozen potatoes

Produce: fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables and greens, low sodium canned vegetables (rinse well)

Misc: spices and sodium-free spice blends, Sriracha, salsa, black bean dip

The Example

Wondering how this can come together? Here is a common scene in my home. Using the following ingredients, we make dinner happen:

  • Low sodium canned black beans (rinsed well)
  • Defrosted, frozen corn (or cut off the cob when we have leftovers)
  • Cubed avocado
  • Olive oil
  • Dash of salt, pepper

Once we have these ingredients ready to go, we:

  • Top pre-washed greens with them to create a southwestern inspired salad
  • Begin with a small bowl of brown rice or quinoa and to make a power bowl
  • Scoop them into a whole grain tortilla to make a burrito
  • Set up a tex-mex mashed potato bar using frozen, microwavable mashed potatoes

…and the leftovers? They get mixed together and packed along with tortilla chips for school lunch the following day!

The Tools

Whether you are putting together an on-the-go meal or one to be enjoyed at home, you still need the right tools. Bento box style lunches require either one divided container or several small along with reusable snack bags. You may also benefit from purchasing individual servings of nutritious dips (hummus, guacamole) and taking advantage of healthy convenience items such as whole grain microwavable pouches and pre-cut produce, cheese and more.

The List

When you make smart choices for convenience and nutrition, you’ve won half of the battle. These are a few of the staples I’ve found to be great to have on hand:

  • Sargento Balanced Breaks
  • Cabot pre-sliced 50% Sharp Light Cheddar cheese
  • Bagged pre-washed lettuce
  • Ore Ida Steam n Mash Potatoes
  • Microwaveable rice pouches and cups
  • “Steam in bag” edamame
  • Frozen vegetables
  • Guiding Stars rated, low sodium/lean lunch meat
  • Baby carrots, sugar snap peas, grape tomatoes (3 colorful veggies and no cutting needed!)
  • Single serving hummus and guacamole