Saturday, January 8, 2011

Lunch Packing Ideas

by Leanne Ely,, Copyright 2002
Used by permission

     Over the years, the school cafeteria has become a place of too many choices--from franchise fast food offerings to the usual stuff we grew up with--most kids don't know how to pick a healthy lunch or are not inclined to do so considering the many tempting offerings.

     The alternative is packing your child's lunchbox and is probably one of the healthiest things parents can do for their school-aged children. Like anything else, lunch is a time to balance your child's meal. Having a decent protein/carbo ratio in your child's lunchbox, will help him or her finish the day with energy to spare. And while sandwiches are okay, the Ultimate Tortilla Roll-ups (see recipe) is perfect lunchbox fare. Not only are they easy to make and pack well, kids truly love them. There are hundreds of variations on this theme, too -- you don't have to just stick with any one recipe.
Tortillas make great transportation for almost any filling--experiment a little bit and try different things--even your basic PB & J takes on new meaning when wrapped in a tortilla.

      Most kids feel their lunch box isn't quite packed unless there are chips aboard--not the healthiest food around. Baked tortilla chips are a good option or even better are baked Pita Chips (see recipe). Not only are they healthy and inexpensive, they're simple enough to make that your 5th grader can crank out a whole slew of them for the week. If you're going to make chips, you might as well throw in a little dip and some veggies. Basic Black Bean Dip (see recipe) could be made in mass quantities and frozen in little plastic containers to save time. It couldn't be easier to make, but it's even easier to thaw. The only trick is getting the container home!

     Don't skimp on the fruit. Bananas are great for lunchboxes -- convenient, a great source of potassium and come in their own carrying cases. Pack it on the very top though, and wrap it in a couple of napkins for protection-nothing worse than a bruised and mushy banana.

       And for a great dessert, pack a Puffy Grain Chewy Bar (see recipe), a much healthier alternative to the marshmallow-laden rice crispie bars. This is another easy recipe the kids can make themselves. 

But what about a beverage? Where's the juice, soda or milk? According to the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) drinking too much juice (yes, even 100% fruit juice) can contribute to the problems of cavities, childhood obesity, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems, such as excessive gas and bloating. Get your child into the good habit of drinking water. Try freezing a small bottle of water instead of the usual juice and flavored drinks. Most children don't drink enough water and packing that frozen bottle is a smart move.

     By the time lunch rolls around, the bottle has served two purposes: hydrating your child and keeping his lunch cold. Besides, those goofy blue ice thingies always seem to leak their blue stuff everywhere. Packing a healthy lunch isn't a big deal and something you can easily train your child to do. As a matter of fact, children who learn to pack a healthy lunch are the kids who learn to make responsible nutritional decisions as they grow up --good habits that will serve them for a lifetime.

*Curds and No Whey -- no kidding! Try drizzling a little honey over the top of that cottage cheese and some cinnamon. Kids think it's great. 

*Cue the Carrots--the produce department keeps making it easier for busy moms. Those little carrots are indispensable for packing it right and the price is reasonable, too.

*Cheese on a String--or whatever other type of cheese, ready to go in the cheese section of the dairy case.

*All Dried Out--like just a handful of raisins for example. Get the itty-bitty boxes and encourage your child to put them on their cottage cheese. It's really good that way!

*Apple This Way--quarter the apple and sprinkle with cinnamon in a baggie. You won't have to hear about it turning brown and the flavor is just like apple pie. Put a little plastic container with some peanut butter for dipping in there too, and you've got some protein thrown in on
the side, too.

All Recipes are from Healthy Foods: An Irreverent Guide to Understanding Nutrition and Feeding Your Family Right (Champion Press)

The Ultimate Tortilla Roll-Up
Makes One flour tortilla -- *health food stores have a sprouted wheat tortilla that is delicious.
1/2 ounce low-fat cream cheese -- you can use less
1 ounce chicken breast without skin -- tuna, or whatever you have on hand
2 slices tomato - chopped
1 romaine lettuce leaf -- shredded
1 green onion -- minced fine (optional)
1 teaspoon vinaigrette -- whatever you have on hand. 

     Lay tortilla flat and spread cream cheese all over. In a small bowl, toss lettuce, tomato and optional green onion with vinaigrette. Set aside.

      Lay chicken out evenly over cream cheese. Spread lettuce mixture evenly on top of the chicken.  Roll up like you would a sleeping bag and secure with a toothpick or just place on a plate, seam side down. If this is for a lunch box, wrap securely with plastic wrap.

      Per serving: 373 Calories (kcal); 11g Total Fat; (26% calories from fat); 16g Protein; 54g Carbohydrate; 21mg Cholesterol; 483mg Sodium 

Chips for Dips     Serves 12 (as an appetizer)
12 corn tortillas -- or pita, whole wheat tortillas, whatever non-stick spray (health food stores have ones without the propellant or use an oil pump).  Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet generously with non-stick spray.

      Stack the tortillas and cut them into 6 even pieces, sort of like a pizza.  Place on the cookie sheet and lightly spray the tortillas. Bake for 8 minutes or so checking to make sure they don't get too brown. Let cool and serve with humus or Black Bean Dip. Put a generous portion of veggies out with the chips, too. 

     NOTE:  Make sure you only use the non-stick sprays from the health food store. The others are full of propellant and unless you plan on flying your food, propellant doesn't belong there. Or buy an oil pump that uses air to help spray. Available at Wal-Mart and other stores, for under $10. Great investment.

      Per serving: 56 Calories (kcal); 1g Total Fat; (9% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 40mg Sodium 
Basic Black Bean   
Dip serves 12 (as appetizer)

1 black beans, canned (15 oz.) -- drained         
1 can green chili peppers -- drained                  
1/4 cup salsa -- use what you have                    
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. garlic, pressed
1 squeeze lemon

     Dump it all into a food processor and whirl like mad. When it's done, blop it into a bowl and serve with any type of chip that turns your key. But preferably with a healthy one you made from these recipes.

      Per serving: 14 Calories (kcal); trace Total Fat; (11% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 58mg Sodium
Puffy Grain Chewy Bars     (Serves 12)
1 cup each: Puffed kamut, brown rice, millet from the health food store or use 3 cups regular puffed wheat from the grocery store. Or try Kashi cereal.
1/2 cup peanut butter -- or almond butter
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon molasses, blackstrap

      Dump the cereal in a big bowl. Heat the honey, peanut butter and molasses together. Pour into cereal mixture, working quickly to get it mixed. Press very firmly into a 13 X 9 inch pan. Let sit for as long as you can wait (the longer, the harder) and then dig in.

      Per serving: 108 Calories (kcal); 5g Total Fat; (42% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 51mg Sodium

      NOTE: Variations of a theme: Try using brown rice crispies in place of the puffed rice, and toasting the millet and kamut on a cookie sheet (425 oven till toasted) for a crispy texture instead. For more variety, use this recipe as a base and add raisins, chopped dates or  chopped nuts.

Tip from Cheri Bales, Schoolcraft, Michigan
Maria Gracia - Get Organized Now!,
      Since my husband often prepares our boys' lunches for school, I have set up an organized system using small bins.
      In the freezer (bin 1) are ready-made sandwiches -- a half sandwich for the younger child and a whole sandwich for the older child.

      In the pantry (bin 2) is a Tupperware container with a fruit selection -- applesauce, fruit cups, etc.

      In the fridge is the yogurt box (bin 3).

      And finally, in the cupboard is the dessert box (bin 4) with granola bars, pudding cups, or other sweet and/or healthy treats.

      When my husband prepares the lunches, all he has to do is grab one item from each bin per child, and add in the milk.
      In fact, it's so simple that my eight year old has begun getting both his and his brothers' lunches ready!

Note from Lois: Fill Tupperware midget cups or snack baggies with peanuts, cashews, raisins, dried apricots, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, granola, etc.  The cups also work great for salad dressings, peanut butter or dips.  Also bake banana bread, other nut breads or cookies.  Wrap individually for lunches and store in the freezer, so they're easy to grab when you need them for any lunches away from home!