Feel good convenience for THOSE mornings

You know which mornings I’m talking about. The ones where no amount of coffee can cut the fog. The ones when you no longer care if your child wears matching socks or insists on putting his underwear on backward. The ones when it’s hard enough to get breakfast on the table, never mind pack a lunch.

Last week, I had one of them. The underwear was indeed going on backward and I no longer cared whether the socks matched… We just needed a second sock. Any sock.

And then things got even more complicated. I burned his lunch.

I was so proud of myself for coming up with a creative twist on cinnamon-sugar toast. I mixed together butter, cinnamon, sugar and — here’s the twist — cocoa powder. Then I slathered it on a sliced focaccia bun and popped in under the broiler.

Then backward underwear boy distracted me. Next I knew, I had reduced my delicious creation to ash.

It is for moments and mornings such as this that I’m a big believer in what I call feel good convenience foods.

Because grocery stores are jammed with plenty of “lunch solutions” aimed at simplifying your lunch packing duties. Trouble is, most of them are junk, filled with chemicals and sugar and offering little real foods like produce and whole grains. And don’t even get me started on price.

But if you look carefully, you can find tons of convenience items you can feel good about packing. Here’s a list of some of my favorites, which I try to keep on hand for mornings that get the better of me.

  • Yogurt cups: Sure, it’s cheaper to buy yogurt in large tubs. But it’s hard to beat the healthy convenience of single-serving cups. Look for brands that are low in sugar. And if you haven’t already, try Greek yogurt, which is thicker, richer and creamier than regular. For the lowest sugar option, get plain, then accompany it with mix-ins that can be added at lunch, such as crumbled graham crackers and fruit.
  • Whole-grain pretzels: Accompany with dunking cups of peanut butter, applesauce, jam, maybe some cream cheese or chutney, and you’ve got a healthy DIY dunker lunch. You could even add sliced meats to wrap around the pretzels.
  • Graham crackers: They make a great “bread” alternative when slathered with peanut butter and jelly, or can be crumbled over yogurt for a parfait. Or slather on a mix of peanut butter and cocoa powder (and just a tiny sprinkle of sugar) for a choco-butter sandwich.
  • Mini veggies: Not only are tiny cucumbers, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes and mini bell peppers a great healthy choice, they also require zero prep. Pop them in a container with a favorite dip or spread — hummus, babaganoush, tabbouleh, tzatziki (all easily purchased) — and you’re done.
  • Sushi: Got a budding foodie? Most larger grocers now have sushi made to order in the store. My little guy likes brown rice and avocado rolls, but there are endless options. And plenty of them are vegetarian (in case the idea of packing seafood gives you the willies). I pick up a pack while grocery shopping and use it for an easy lunch for my son the next day.
  • Salsa: Buy it in single-serve cups, then just pop it in the lunch box along with some baked corn tortilla chips. Veggies and whole grains with no effort. They also sell guacamole in single-serve pouches, which are great for squeezing onto the chips.
  • Pre-cut fruit: It isn’t cost-effective to regularly buy the fruit the grocer slices and wraps. But these prepped pineapples, watermelon, mango and other healthy options can make a crazy morning a little easier. If you like, accompany with a yogurt cup or a bit of honey for dunking.
  • Small dinner rolls: Kids love DIY meals, so let them do the work you don’t have time for. Keep a bag of sliced whole-grain dinner rolls in the freezer. On busy mornings, pop a few of the rolls in a bag (they’ll thaw by lunch), some lean deli meats and some sliced cheese. At lunch, the kids can build their own sandwiches.
  • Go Mediterranean: The hummus and other Middle Eastern food folks are totally hip to healthy convenience. They are great about offering everything from stuffed grape leaves to tabbouleh, even olives and — of course — hummus in single-serve packages. Again, not cost-effective to buy regularly, but now and then they sure can make your mornings easier.

J.M. Hirsch

is the national food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs about the trials and tribulations of his son’s lunches at

. His upcoming cookbook,

Beating the Lunch Box Blues

, will be the first to be released by Rachael’s new publishing venture, Rachael Ray Books. Hirsch’s previous books include

High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking


Venturesome Vegan Cooking.

He lives in New Hampshire with his son, wife, and too many cats.

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