Memories and healthy recipes for your dinner table.

The School Lunch Dilemma

The first day of school our little guy came home crying because he wanted to eat off a tray like the other kids and because the day was too long. The school schedule I cannot change but I pulled him into a big hug and told him we would look at the school lunch schedule together and he could circle the days he would rather eat a school lunch.

Although school lunches have been revamped providing meals that are lower in fat in addition to offering more fresh fruits and vegetables, I still worry about my little guy. With a plate full of, doctored up, mac and cheese fruits and veggies are an after thought. Each morning of the day he decides to brave the cafeteria we discuss the menu and he makes his choices. We talk about the importance of  eating healthy often at the dinner table but it does not hurt to give him a gentle reminder before he is out the door and out of my watchful eyes.

I prefer that he take his lunch however, coming up with portable yet healthy and tasty lunch ideas week after week is a cumbersome task when you also have to think about safety issues and pleasing the patron not to mention his friends. The following are some tips and ideas we have implemented. By all means if you have anything to add or share leave us a comment.

THE EQUIPMENT:
– A thick insulated lunch box. Insulated lunch bags or boxes are the best choice for keeping lunches cold. If you do use paper lunch bags, double bag to create an additional layer of insulation.
– A metal thermos: for drinking or transporting hot soups or cold fruit.
– A freezer pack.
– A few reusable containers to prevent food from leaking and getting smashed, and will help you avoid using disposable items like plastic bags and foil.

THE FOOD:
– Be sure to include fruits and vegetables, protein and whole grains every day.
– Breads: use whole grain breads, pita, bagels, tortillas, flat bread, rolls and crackers.
– Try sandwich spreads such as tuna fish, egg or chicken salad or cream cheese. Mix in finely chopped carrots, bell peppers or celery.
– Make your own lunchable. Pack string cheese, cheese cubes or prepared cheese spread along with bread sticks or crackers.
– Heat frozen waffles and make a sandwich with them, using peanut butter and jelly. Or cut them into bite-sized pieces or sticks and send syrup or yogurt for dipping.
– Take leftover cooked chicken cut into strips. Pack dipping sauce such as salsa, ranch dressing, barbecue sauce, ketchup, honey mustard, or marinara sauce.
– To vamp up the traditional peanut butter and jelly replace the bread with a tortilla. Add peanut butter honey or  jam, shredded carrots and apples, or sliced banana and raisins. Roll up tight then slice crosswise into pieces.
– Nachos with containers of ground turkey, guacamole, grated cheese and tortilla chips.
– Pastas such as pasta or couscous salads, macaroni and cheese, tortellini with pesto, spaghetti with marinara sauce
– Soups including Chili with corn chips, chicken noodle and vegetable.
– Always pack fresh cut up vegetables. Include a separate container with low-fat dressing or peanut butter for dipping.
– Pack fresh or canned fruit with peanut butter or a low fat fruit dip such as yogurt with whipped cream or cream cheese mixed with jam.
– Look for fruit snacks and fruit leather with 100% fruit juice. Fruit Roll-ups are really candy masquerading as real fruit. Do not overlook dried fruit and yogurt covered raisins.
– Include fat-free milk. Fill a portable drink bottle half-full with milk; freeze overnight. In the morning top it off with cold milk.
– Look for juice that contains 100% percent fruit juice. Brands like Sunny Delight, Hi-C, Fruitopia and Capri Sun contain only 10% juice.
– Limit sweets and chips to special occasions like Monday to help them look forward to school or Friday as a job well done or birthdays and holidays.
– Replace oily chips with baked chips or crackers, healthy breakfast bars, protein bars or granola bars.

SAFETY AND TIPS:
– Prepackaged lunches and snacks are high in fat, sugar, salt and calories, and are much more expensive. Skip on the bagged stuff and use fruits and vegetables to fill them up.
– Ask for their input before loading their lunch box. Kids can be finicky. Foods they liked today they may not like tomorrow.
– Cut sandwiches into interesting shapes with cookie cutters.
– Recycle yogurt containers and fill with Jell-O or pudding mixture (before it sets), veggies or fruit.
– Add some fun by using colored plastic wraps, holiday zip-lock bags and napkins.
– To prevent soggy sandwiches pack the cheese, lettuce and/or tomato separately.
– Heat food thoroughly before pouring into the container. It is best to use a metal container. Heat the inside of the container with boiling water for 5 minutes then discard before adding hot food.
– Use freezer packs, gel pack or frozen juice or water to keep foods cold.
Pack perishables around the freezer pack.
– Leave the cookies at home. A couple of cookies with milk for an afternoon snack once in a while are treats kids look forward to. Give your kid a bag of carrots and a snack pack of oreos and guess which one he will choose? Stick with fresh fruit and vegetables and whole grain bread or crackers instead of chips and sweets.