At Annabel and Luke’s school today, some moms and I were discussing the school lunch dilemma. How much food should we send? What will our kids actually eat? How do we offer them variety without making ourselves crazy? How can we encourage healthy eating?
It seemed like my kids were the best eaters of the bunch. I highly doubt that’s my doing–I tend to think with kids and eating habits, you get what you get, and then you keep trying! I’m lucky that my kids eat salad and live for fruit, but I know that’s not always the case. So here it is, I’m no guru, but I thought I’d try to offer my best school lunch solutions:
Firstly, invest in some re-usable containers, like a small thermos, a package of small, flat tupperware, and my favorite, a sandwich cover. Our school sold the wrap-n-mats last year, and I bought two, alternating days of using and washing. And a must-have is a re-usable water bottle, like the ones from Sigg. Let’s face it, using baggies might be easier, but in the long run, we’ll be teaching our kids an important environmental lesson about re-using and reducing waste. Also, we’ll be teaching them responsibility because they have to remember to stick the darn things back into their lunch bags and bring them home!
Here are some non-pbj ideas for sandwiches:
* mini-bagels with cream cheese or hummus
* cheese sandwich
* peanut butter and honey (and banana!)
* tortilla roll-ups with lunch meat, flavored hummus, and cheese
* veggie delight: whole wheat tortilla, ranch dressing, sliced red pepper, spinach, and cheese
You don’t always have to pack a sandwich. I mean, Annabel ate pb&j three times a week last year, but it does get a little old. I like to create what I call, “Hodge-podge” lunches, which means I stick about 3-5 different random things in different containers. Today, Annabel’s lunch contained: 4 baby carrots, 4 whole wheat tortilla wedges, a container with several dollops of hummus, string cheese, and a handful of graham cracker bites. What did she come home with (besides her containers)? Three of the carrots and one of the tortillas. Not bad, huh? And this took me only 5 minutes to throw together the night before!
Here are some protein-packed ideas for you:
* canned, rinsed black beans
* string cheese or cubed cheese
* chick peas (garbanzo beans): rinse and drain a can, put on a jelly roll pan and season with garlic salt, and bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes or so, shaking the pan frequently to ensure all sides get crunchy (a GREAT potato chip alternative!)
* hard-boiled egg whites (the yolk tends to gross out my kiddos)
* tofu: Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Kids, eating tofu? Tofu takes on the flavor of whatever you season it with. For you tofu-virgins, I buy the extra-firm, slice it thinly, season it with season salt or garlic, and fry it in olive oil or sesame oil till it’s crispy. My kids love it! You can serve it with warm angel hair noodles and some soy sauce!
Here are some thermos ideas for you. Make the meal in the morning and it’ll stay warm till lunch. If your school refrigerates lunches, ask the teacher to please leave the thermos in your child’s cubby or desk:
* soup (my kids’ favorite is Italian bean and pasta soup***–my recipe at the end of this post seriously makes enough for weeks, so make it ahead of time and freeze a bunch!)
* whole wheat pasta with olive oil and parmesan/ or pasta with marinara sauce
* mac and cheese
* grilled cheese: sounds a little gross, but I have a friend who makes grilled cheese in the morning, slices them into “sticks,” and keeps it semi-warm in the thermos. Her kids LOVE it!
* French toast sticks
* leftovers: stews, lasagna, whatever your kid will eat!
Here are the other staples that I alternate in my children’s lunches:
* yogurt drinks: the Yoplait Kids ones have the least sugar out of the ones at my grocery store
* sliced fruit
* ants on a log: celery with peanut butter and raisins
* cold leftover pizza
* applesauce in small containers
Trying to feed our children healthy, varied foods can be tough, I know. But if we want to increase their palettes, then we need to get a bit creative and keep introducing new, healthy foods. Look through the list above again; I’d venture to guess that you have over half of the items already in your pantry or fridge. Now get cooking, and let me know which ones are big hits at your house!
Italian Bean and Pasta Soup
2 -3 cans cannellini beans, drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion chopped
2 – 3 carrots, peeled and chopped or sliced
2 – 3 celery stalks, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups chicken (or vegetable!) stock
1 can diced tomatoes
salt, pepper to taste
1/2 lb small dried whole wheat elbow macaroni
olive oil and parm cheese for serving
In saucepan over medium heat, saute onion, carrots, celery and garlic in olive oil, about 8 minutes. Add liquid, beans, tomatoes, salt and bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 1 hour.
Remove 2 ladlefuls of beans/veggies and blend in a blender, then return puree to pan. (I always puree the veggies, like tomatoes, that my kids say that they don’t like to eat!). Season with salt, pepper and reheat gently.
Cook pasta to barely al dente. Add to soup. Simmer a few minutes. Serve with cheese and olive oil.
***If you make ahead, only add pasta when reheating.