Katie Morford takes lunch seriously, especially when it comes to making lunch for her three daughters, who are entering elementary, middle and high school this year.
"It's a big job to feed kids, and packing a lunch has all these built-in challenges," Morford said. "It has to be to-go, so you have to keep it hot or cold and keep it from getting mushy."
The registered dietician, who lives in San Francisco and writes a family food blog called "Mom's Kitchen Handbook," shares her kid-tested tips and recipes in a new cookbook, "Best Lunch Box Ever."
For busy parents, Morford said the secret to packing a healthy lunch is to think ahead, which means making sure the bread box has enough whole-grain bread and whole-wheat tortillas, the fridge is stocked with eggs and leftover chicken and yogurt, and the produce bin has some cherry tomatoes, peppers and melon.
And then you have to plan some more.
"For me, it was about figuring out what I could do in advance, on the weekend and the night before," she said. "And learning that I could rely on my kids to help."
One of Morford's time-saving tricks is to spin off dinner leftovers like pasta into tasty dishes for the next day's lunchbox, such as "Oodles of Sesame Noodles."
"I will make more of a dinner salad, and then scoop out extra and have them already in those containers," she said. "Or I'll roast an extra chicken or make more brown rice."
On the weekends, Morford spends up to an hour working ahead on preparation, then carves out about five minutes after each dinner to prep and package.
In the morning, while she puts together the entrees — heating up some black beans, topping them with cheese and packing it in a thermos — her kids work on their own side dishes of fruit and vegetables.