Start the School Year Right With Healthy Lunches
Start the School Year Right With Healthy Lunches ~ By Wendy Mitchell
Finding new, healthy lunch ideas for kids can be difficult if we don’t “think outside the [lunch] box.” Getting outside of the sandwich, piece of fruit and drink mindset we grew up on is the key to being creative in the kitchen when preparing your child’s lunch.
Families strive to teach kids healthy eating, but tofu sandwiches and carrot sticks don’t seem so appealing when the kid next to them is chowing down on a Peanut Butter-n-Fluff sandwich with Oreos for dessert. Have a discussion with your child about why this is not healthy.
To pack a healthy, fun lunch that will be the envy of other kids’ eyes, make it colorful, visually appealing, and add lots of variety. Call it a healthy smorgasbord, but when kids have a number of little things to choose from they will be more apt to eat each food group, rather than get bored with the “same old, same old.”
A child’s lunch needs to be well-balanced. Be sure to include a variety of foods from each food group. Check out My Food Pyramid for recommended guidelines.
For a well-balanced meal, pack one of the following:
Protein: Meat, cheese, fish, eggs, peanut butter***
Grain: Bread, wrap, bagel, cereal, pasta, rice
Dairy: Milk, yogurt, cheese
Fruit & Vegetables
Shake It Up
Using variety will keep your kids excited about lunch time and they will wonder what surprise is next. Start with the grains; rotate between breads, bagels, wraps, or crackers rather than just a sandwich every day.
An easy recipe for Chicken Salad is to boil one chicken breast, chop and toss with one diced celery stalk, a half of a diced apple, and about six large grapes, cut in half. Stir in one tablespoon of low-fat mayo. This makes enough for three or four servings. Serve chilled on any whole grains listed above.
Whole grain Triscuits can be topped with light cream cheese and jelly for a great snack-type lunch.
Try topping celery stalks with peanut butter or cream cheese for a healthy lunch idea. Use celery hearts so they are less stringy. You can also peel the stalks with a potato peeler.
The key to a successful lunch is creativity and variety.
Instead of sending them with a regular old peanut butter sandwich and a piece of fruit, cut the sandwich into a fun shape with a cookie cutter. Cut up some strawberries and serve them with a strawberry yogurt dipping sauce.
Using wooden skewers is a fun way to serve fruit. Cut fruit with star or heart-shaped cookie cutters for fun snacks. A great tip so apples don’t turn brown is to brush them lightly with a little bit of lemon juice.
You’re Hot Then You’re Cold
Leftover dinners are a quick and easy meal for school as well. Warm up the thermos by filling it with very hot water for a couple of minutes while you heat the leftovers in the microwave. Mac-n-cheese, noodles with meat sauce, soups and stews all make a great hot lunch.
Alternate between hot and cold foods daily so kids won’t get bored with sandwiches every day. This also is an easy way to get all food groups in when serving lunch in a thermos that can easily fit into a lunchbox.
Plan out weekly lunch menus if you have time to keep track or print out this one below:
Monday-cold: Mini Peanut Butter Wraps with Heart-Shaped Fruit (see photo)
Take a whole grain wrap and spread a thin layer of peanut butter on it. Drizzle a bit of honey. Roll up then cut into 2 inch slices. Use a cookie cutter and cut the fruit into fun shapes.
Tuesday-hot: Mac-n-Cheese with Hot Dog Bites
Make hot dogs according to package directions. Boil a hot dog, cut into chunks and toss with pasta. Use whole grain pasta whenever possible.
Wednesday-cold: Stars & Hearts Sandwiches with fruit kabobs (see photo at top of article)
Make your child’s favorite sandwich and cut it into fun shapes with large cookie cutters. Make fruit kabobs by cutting up apples, oranges, strawberries of whatever fruits your child likes.
Thread pieces of fruit onto a wooden skewer alternating various types of fruit. Cut skewers with kitchen shears to make sure it fits into the lunch container. Serve with strawberry yogurt on the side for dipping sauce.
Thursday-hot: Taco Mania!
Make tacos for dinner according to package directions. Set some aside for kid’s lunches. Reheat in the morning for their thermos. Wrap taco shells, shredded cheese in Ziploc bags so they can make their own tacos at lunch time. Serve with fruit and veggies on the side.
Friday-cold: Chicken Salad Squares with baby carrots-n-ranch dip
Make chicken salad according to above recipe. Serve on large sized Triscuits. The fruit and protein are in the recipe, the grain is in the Triscuit crackers, serve a Dannon Danimals for dairy and all you need is veggies on the side for a full balanced meal.
Making healthy, fun lunches for your kids will show them you care and it will entice them to finish their lunch. This will in turn enable them to better focus on the task at hand; school work.
• Be sure to check with your school to see if they are a nut-free school. Some schools are no longer allowing children to bring nuts or peanut butter for lunch or snack due to other children’s nut allergies.