Mix it up–How (and what) to pack in your kids’ school lunches
With the school year well underway, I am once again falling into my robotic daily lunch packing routine.
Just like the year my daughter ate only salami sandwiches, she now only eats a half bagel with cream cheese, a cheese stick, a bag of pretzels or Gold Fish crackers, some grapes or apple slices, and a fruit leather or cookie.
And let me just say that “eat” is actually just a fantasy on my part because in truth, the fruit and some other things usually come home. My fifth grade daughter says it’s because she doesn’t have time for lunch because there is so much social pressure to get outside for recess – but this is the topic for another blog post.
Back to the food. I am bored of making her the same lunch day after day – but it’s easy – and in the morning before I’ve tossed back enough mugs of coffee I need “easy.”
However, I am going to try to branch out. I am starting with tips offered up by one of EdNews Colorado’s awesome wellness experts. Cathy Schmelter is a registered dietitian, school health consultant working under An Ounce of Nutrition, and author of the book “Cutting thru the Nutritional Jungle – A Survival Guide to Feeding Kids” for parents of elementary school-aged children. You can ask her any question you want by clicking on the EdNews home page and filling in the field on the right.
Here are her tips on what to pack in your child’s lunchbox:
- Fresh and local fruits and vegetables To start with, farmers’ markets are still in full swing until about November, so finding whole fruits and vegetables is an easy addition. Plus, it is a fun adventure to have with your kids. Add some baby carrots, sliced cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, melon, fresh-picked berries and more to their lunch ensemble.
- For the health conscious Families are moving away from high-fat, high-cholesterol, loaded with salt meats and cheeses and opting for more powered-by-plant proteins including one of my favorites – beans. Beans are loaded with protein, iron, calcium and fiber and are naturally low in calories and fats. Plus they are budget-friendly. Good lunch ideas with beans include bean burritos, lentil soups, succotash, baked beans and even mini bean burgers.
- Cultural cuisine Cultural cuisine allows you to go beyond the traditional bread-topped-with-bread sandwiches and look to the international breads of the world, including pita pockets from Greece, corn tortillas from Mexico and flatbread from ancient times. Kids like to discover unusual grains from around the world including tabbouleh, quinoa, wheat berries and orzo.
- Cooking at home Not the same drudgery that it once was, cooking is stylish again. Cooking with kids not only encourages them to eat what they make, but also to have fun and make something they can be proud of. If you’re looking for lunch ideas try some fall soups (tomato, corn, peas or squash), homemade dips (hummus, guacamole, tahini, salsa and chutneys) with veggies, potato wedges, pita chips or baked kale chips. Or some no-bake salads including watermelon salad, pasta or potato salads (with oil, vinegar and Dijon mustard) or a fresh bean taco salad.
Or, here’s an even easier solution brought to us from Annie Brown, Boulder mama, foodie and author of the new blog Life in the Mixr. I believe her daughters are in fifth grade and middle school now. Three years ago she figured out the magic solution to reducing school lunch making stress.
”Ah ha! I know the magic solution – have them make their own lunches!” Annie writes.
Here’s how Annie pulls this off. Her daughters know that each lunch must contain one serving of the following:
- Vegetable The usual: carrot, cucumber, red bell pepper, cherry tomatoes
- Protein The usual: tofu cubed and to-go packet of soy sauce, peanut butter/honey sandwich, ham rolled up with cheese cubes, leftover beans/rice or pasta
- Fruit The usual: whatever is in season
- Healthy salty snack The usual: Pirate’s Booty, tamari almonds, pretzels, seaweed
- Little sweetie The usual: homemade cookie, small piece of chocolate
- Bottle of water No fruit juice
Lunch for the next day is made after dinner. The girls divide and conquer. Each girl takes two items to make. The breakdown is usually “fruit and little sweetie” and “vegetable and healthy salty snack” and they split making the protein.
Read the rest of Annie’s lunch blog post here. For Annie the payoff has been worth it.
Today I have two girls who not only know their way around the kitchen, but they also understand what makes a balanced meal. And with them making their own lunch, I have more time to write really sappy love notes to sneak into their boxes before they head off school.
How sweet is this? Share your own packed lunch suggestions or challenges by making a comment on this post.
EdNews Parent editor Julie Poppen is a former daily newspaper journalist who has covered a multitude of school issues in Fort Collins, Boulder and Denver. She is also the mother of a newly minted fifth grader in Boulder Valley. Read her blog Confessions of a Partially Proficient Parent on the parent page at EdNews Colorado, where she also writes news stories and oversees the opinion blog called Voices.