Article published in FourPointsNews on Sept 3, 2014:
It’s the begging of a school year and our life’s are back in the frenzy of early morning alarms, churning quick breakfasts and packing lunch boxes.
Back in my childhood, in our lunch bags we carried a placemat, a plate, cutlery, napkins and ‘tiffin’ boxes with healthy homemade food. It was obligatory for us to have good table manners, etiquette and adopt good eating habits even for this short mid day meal.
Today when we walk into school cafeteria’s we see many kids not always making balanced food choices and not really conscious of what they are eating, wasting or throwing. Despite the convenience of easily available school cafeteria food, packaged, prepped and processed food, we discover many disadvantages besides the advantages.
Concerns of peanut and other allergy issues, high sodium and high sugar content, processed food having low nutrients, high calories and high fat content, accessible junk food options and imbalanced lunch portions are making parents go back to the classic ways of preparing real nutritious food and packing healthier lunches.
But going through the additional task of packing lunches every morning with healthy meals is not easy and convenient for busy parents. And if one has to adopt a variety to keep things interesting for kids it’s an extra ordeal. Hence to make life easy, start to make a quick list of ideas for packing lunches boxes and stick it in your pantry or on the refrigerator. Below are a few lunch ideas to jump start your process.
An important first, when you choose lunch bags for kids is make them involved in the buying process so that they are happy with the colors etc. since they have to be comfortable taking it to school every day or at least often. But besides the aesthetics, also use practicality of it being insulated, or buying an additional thermos and icepack. Another idea to keep kids happy and eating their healthy lunches is keeping them involved in grocery shopping for food and helping pack lunches.
A good lunch should have a healthy entrée, side, snack and drink.
Water is the best drink to pack for healthy lunch, but for variety you may add milk or juice sometimes. Frozen water bottles also work as good ice packs.
Snack: Packing a snack helps the mid day munchies for kids and adults. But this is especially important for younger kids who have a snack time scheduled in their school day. Good snacks are fruits like apples, pears, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, bananas; veggies like baby carrots, small sweet peppers, baby cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, celery; or options like granola bars, nuts like almonds, cashews, pecans, walnuts; dry fruits like raisins, craisins; or beef jerky, pretzels, popcorn, crackers, trail mix,….
Sides: Yogurt with fruit, Greek yogurt, go-gurt, and apple sauce (when frozen and packed they also work as icepacks), fresh fruit ( cut fruit dipped in lemon juice/vinegar/soda stays longer crisp without getting brown), cheese and crackers, boiled corn on cob, sweet potato chips, kale chips, baked or grilled vegetable kabobs make good sides.
Your healthy entrées can be made from left over dinners, or be prepared the previous night or made in bulk on weekends and portioned out for the weekdays or made in the mornings according to personal convenience.
Entrées: Sandwiches- Tuna salad sandwich, chicken sandwich, cold turkey slices and cheese sandwich, hummus and bell peppers sandwich, hummus tabouli and feta sandwich, peanut butter mint chutney and cucumber sandwich, cheese and roasted broccoli sandwich, PBJ, boiled egg sandwich, bagels with cream cheese with sun dried tomatoes, poboys made with chicken nuggets, crab cakes, fish sticks, shrimp poppers, falafels etc. Grilled cheese and vegetables Panini, subs with meat or vegetables, mini sliders, Sloppy Joes, etc. The list is endless if you keep making creative variations.
Thermos options- To keep thermos food warm rinse the thermos for few minutes with boiling hot water before adding the food. Chili, beef stew, vegetable soup, chicken noodle soup, lentil soup are great to go in a thermos. Not just warm, but even cold food is good in thermos like cold pasta or cold noodles. More options are spaghetti with meat balls, ravioli, warm ramen noodles with vegetables, vegetable fried rice, egg fried rice, couscous, and more.
Wraps and Burritos- If sandwiches get boring, these are a great alternative. Beans and cheese burrito, left over chili wrapped in burrito, wraps made with Rotisserie chicken leftovers; meat kabobs in a roll, left over BBQ meat made in to a wrap with lettuce and tomatoes, cheese quesadillas, egg quesadillas, light pita bread pizza, pita pockets with meat and avocado, chick pea salad in pita pockets, savory pancakes, crepes etc.
Finger food – There are the fun and convenient food popular with kids. Chicken nuggets, fish sticks, popcorn chicken, meat kebabs, veggie kebabs, crab cakes, vegetable patties, meat and potato cutlets, tuna cutlets, koftas , meat balls, vegetarian kofta balls, grilled tofu, tortilla chips with salsa or guacamole, sushi rolls etc.
Lastly some kids even enjoy fresh and healthy salads! You can pack dressing on the side or pack premade salads in mason jars.
The things to avoid is packing highly processed foods like pizza, hot dogs, cake, cookies, sugar drinks, and potato chips in lunch boxes which are high in calories and sugar. But since anything eaten in moderation is ok, one can occasionally pack them in intervals to keep lunches interesting!
Hoping this can trigger healthy habits in our school kids, and keep kids active and energetic, with better food discipline through the school year!
Birjis Adeni Rashed is a food writer, culinary educator, critic and consultant. She blogs and shares her recipes on www.hotsweetspicyrecipes.com; http://www.bollywoodfilmcritic.blogspot.com/; www.facebook.com/hotsweetspicyrecipes; www.twitter.com/HtSwtSpcyRecipe