Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Packing a Lunch

Packing lunches are a lot like shopping for jeans or choosing a Mexican restaurant....everyone likes different things.

I recently read the article below, and thought it might give us a little jump start as we begin this daily regime in just under 2 weeks. You'll notice this teacher/mom prefers natural foods...no trans fats, nitrates, extra sugar, etc. Whatever your preferences, a lot of option are listed.

Packing a Lunch: Healthy Food to Go

There are two philosophies in packing kids’ lunches:

1. Let kids help so that they have some agency, some choice in the process. That will encourage them to eat what has been packed, and Mom is more informed about what they like.

2. Pack kids’ lunches yourself. Then you are in charge not only of what is packed, but portion sizes. Sometimes this is important, but I would tend toward the first philosophy unless you have a strong reason to go with number 2.

Many parents find great success in making a list of foods with the child(ren), organizing it by category (main dish, vegetables, fruits, snacks, fun foods, etc) and allowing the child(ren) to choose an item from each list for the day’s lunch. If this is too complicated for you (for example, the more kids you have, the less they probably get to choose because you must streamline the packing process!), may I highly recommend this policy:

Whatever goes to school, comes back home, unless you have eaten it.

I always told my students to take home whatever they didn’t eat, “So that moms and dads know what you like, what you don’t like, and how hungry you were today.“ (Broken record teacher line right there, were you feelin’ it?) I explained that taking home the half sandwich you didn’t like because it had mustard on it and you hate mustard is a very effective way of communicating, almost like writing a note. Sometimes I even told kids to write notes about dislikes and put them into the lunchboxes! Do explain this concept to your kids; it’s a great way to stay in control even when you’re out of control because you’re not there. :)

Ideas for healthy school lunches lunch

If you’ve been struck with “lunch-packing block” in the past (you know, like writers’ block, except you can’t think of anything creative to pack instead), it is my fervent hope that you will find some new ideas on these lists that get you packin’ once again.

Healthy, Packable Foods for School Lunches
(and others who eat away from home)

* Cut veggies with dip
o Veggie ideas: cherry tomatoes, carrots, pea pods, cucumbers, cauliflower or broccoli spears, celery, fresh green beans, colored peppers,
o Dip ideas: hummus, homemade yogurt dip or yogurt cheese dip, ranch dressing, even ketchup if it’ll get them to eat their veggies!
* Apples and natural peanut butter (kids love to dip!)
* Frozen peas
* Homemade yogurt (with frozen fruit and/or granola in it)
* Fresh fruit, whole or cut depending on the child
o Bananas, oranges, apples, pears, plums, melon, grapes, cherries, strawberries, peaches, nectarines…try to stick with what is more or less in season and watch the Dirty Dozen list.
* Dried fruit
* Homemade whole grain muffins/quick breads
* Hard-boiled egg with salt and pepper (cut in half is easier to handle)
* Sandwiches (on 100% whole grain bread or homemade):how to pack nutritious lunch healthy
o Natural peanut butter and raw honey
o PB and jelly (I made honey-sweetened freezer jam this year; just be sure to watch the ingredients for high-fructose corn syrup if you buy it)
o PB and banana
o PB and pickle
o Leftover roast chicken or turkey
o Egg salad, chicken salad, or tuna salad
o Cream cheese and jelly
o PB and cream cheese
o Son’s new favorite: cream cheese with strawberry slices and raw honey
o Bean spreads (search for recipes that used mashed beans as a sandwich spread – a great way to get protein in without breaking the bank or dealing with lunchmeat nitrites/nitrates)
o Try making a wrap to switch it up, but watch the tortilla ingredients for trans fats. I make my own homemade tortillas.
* Cheese and whole grain crackers
* Cottage cheese with various mix-ins
* Homemade “lunchables” – a reader idea from Llama Momma – stack crackers, cheese slices, and meat slices for the child to assemble with apple slices and cream cheese dip.
* Leftovers that can handle the “thermos” treatment:
o Homemade soups
o Homemade mac-n-cheese
o Many casseroles
o Spaghetti and other pasta dishes
o Stir fry with brown rice
o Of course, heat on the stove before packing in the thermos. Not that I would use the microwave anyway, but mic’d food just doesn’t hold the heat long enough, no matter what.
* Potato salad
* Cold bean salad (same idea as above – you know me and beans!)
* Leftover homemade whole wheat pizza
* Homemade granola bars
* Homemade applesauce or storebought natural (no sugar) applesauce. Add cinnamon for your kids to sweeten it up a little without adding a sweetener. My kids also like cinnamon-applesauce stirred into their yogurt.

Convenience packaging options:

* Natural applesauce single cups
* Goldfish crackers, only the “Made with Whole Grain” version
* Pretzels, as long as there isn’t HFCS or trans fats in the ingredients
* Boxed cereal and milk
* Canned fruit cups
* Store granola bars…but be wise about reading ingredients
* Plain yogurt with fruit in it or organic yogurt cups
* Pita bread and hummus
* Lunchmeat, as an occasional thing unless you get nitrate-free meats
* string cheese and real cheese slices (pre-sliced)

Remember the goal....

The purpose of lunch is to provide the person with brain food and energy for the rest of the day. Learning happens all day long at school, and it’s so important that kids don’t have a “brain drain” between the hours of 1-3:00 because their lunch didn’t provide them the fuel they needed. Many kids also need energy for after-school sports or playtime. It’s okay to constantly remind your kids that good food makes you feel good, think better and get stronger.

And here are a few more links you might want to glance at:

Creative School Lunches

12 Course Lunch for Preschoolers

Gingham Lunch Card Notes

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