Secrets of the School Lunch Box: Fresh Healthy Meals Kids Will Actually Eat
By Lynn Walters
Issue 92, January, February 1999
Mornings are usually quite a challenge. Getting your children dressed, fed, and out the door to school can fill every second of available time. Yet you also have to find the time to make their lunches. Luckily, it's possible to create nutritious, attractive, and delicious meals very quickly, with the proper planning.
Rule number one: Remain flexible. Even as a food professional, I am continually challenged by my children's changing appetites. One time I found something that they liked, and I made it for two weeks straight. They do not ever want to see that lunch again. On the other hand, a friend of mine has made cream cheese and green olive sandwiches every day for two years for her 11-year-old daughter. Every morning this mother cheerfully asks her child for lunch requests. The answer is always the same. The point is that appetites vary in children, just as they do in adults. Making healthy and appealing lunches is partly about cooking. But it is also about having a sense of humor. Within reason, try and accommodate your children's requests and desires.
Do not ignore the guidelines of good nutrition, however. Growing children should eat a variety of foods, including protein, carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables. I was almost 35 before I finally experienced the tremendous benefit of eating protein for lunch every day. The long-lasting energy that protein provides helps children stay alert throughout the afternoon. Protein-rich foods include beans, nuts, tofu, tempeh, meat, and cheese. Good carbohydrates include whole grains, cereals, and breads. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain important vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
What follows is a week's worth of easy, healthy lunch suggestions. Mix and match as you and your child desire.
Tofu salad pockets (recipe follows)
Red bell pepper strips
Apple, quartered, cored, and put back together (this makes eating easier and minimizes browning)
Hearty bean soup (send it in a small thermos, with a spoon)
Carrot and celery sticks
Dried apple rings
Nori rolls (vegetable sushi, purchased or homemade)
Mini rice cakes
Fresh pear, quartered, cored, and put back together
Thursday Tortilla wrap (cooked hot dogs - preferably chicken or tofu - rolled up in a tortilla)
Cherry tomatoes and jicama slices
Wild rice salad (recipe follows)
Orange, sectioned or cut into wedges
Small reusable containers, whether plastic tubs or lovely Japanese lunch boxes, work well for most sandwiches and other hard foods without the waste of disposable bags. Check to make sure that your children can open the containers easily. Ziploc(tm) bags are useful for wet fruits, vegetables, or pickles.
Tofu Salad Pockets
8 ounces soft tofu
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
J teaspoon turmeric
3 tablespoons celery, minced
1 teaspoon parsley (optional)
G teaspoon salt, or to taste
Pinch black pepper
Lettuce or spinach leaves
2 pieces pita bread
Mash the tofu with a fork. Add the mayonnaise and turmeric. Stir well. Add the vegetables, parsley, salt, and pepper and mix lightly. Cut the pita bread in half. Lay a lettuce or spinach leaf flat inside each pita half. Fill with tofu salad. Makes 4 pockets.
Wild Rice Salad
1 cup wild rice
3½ cups water
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup golden beet, peeled and julienned
½ cup carrot, diced or cut into thin half-moons
¼ cup celery, thinly sliced
1 cup sugar snap peas, strings removed
½ cup pecans, lightly toasted and chopped
Cook the rice in the water and salt. Drain and cool. In a large bowl, add the beet, carrot, and celery to the rice. Blanch the peas in boiling water for two minutes, or until they turn bright green. Immediately drain the peas and plunge them into ice-cold water. (This will keep them a beautiful emerald green.) Drain the peas again and add to the rice and vegetables. Then add the pecans and stir until well mixed. Serves 4 to 6.
Lynn Walters is the coordinator for the program Cooking with Kids, a food education curriculum in the Santa Fe Public Schools. The author of the book Cooking at The Natural Cafe; in Santa Fe (Crossing Press, 1992), she lives in New Mexico with her husband and two children, Peer (10) and Lily (7).