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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Healthy Lunch Ideas for Kids: Cross Post from Jeanette's Healthy Living

Parent Grapevine Editor's Note:  We are pleased to introduce what we hope will continue as a regular part of our blog, a Feature Blogger posting on a topical issue.  Today we are happy to welcome Jeanette, someone I've known for over 40 years (yikes, maybe I should keep that detail quiet).  We met when my family moved from Texas to Maryland, and she was the first other Asian I ever met outside my family.  She was in second grade and I was going into sixth grade.  We recently reconnected via Facebook - (Yeah) - and discovered our shared passion for blogging and photography.  Jeanette's blog concentrates on Healthy Living, sharing amazing recipes and tips for how to live a healthy life.  She recently cross posted my article about our experience with cancer on her blog:  Jeanette's Healthy Living.  Without further ado, here's Jeanette's tips on preparing a healthy lunch for your school-age child:

It's a Wrap!  Lunch Wraps!
Now that school is in full swing, I find myself scrambling for healthy lunch ideas for my 8-year old who refuses to buy lunch at school. As I was doing some "research" for this post, I learned that there are lots of picky eaters out there! I am so glad to hear I'm not the only one.

Unlike some schools, our school cafeteria has a really terrific, healthy menu offering. Over the past several years, the menu has been completely overhauled and we are fortunate enough to have a fabulous woman at our school, who prepares meals mostly from scratch each day.

One of the choices on this week's menu was homemade chicken strips, served with sweet potato wedges, hummus, carrot/celery sticks and fruit salad. There was also a homemade veggie burger (gluten free) served with baked chips and quinoa salad, and Falafel (also gluten free) served with hummus, tzatziki, and quinoa tabouleh salad. Not bad for an elementary school menu.

With attention surrounding the link between childhood obesity and adulthood diabetes and heart disease, and the recent news that childhood obesity may be linked to a strain of the cold virus, parents and school administrators are becoming more health conscious, and focusing on the school lunch menu.

Unfortunately, my son just doesn't like buying lunch, so each morning it's a struggle (and stressful!) to figure out what I can muster up for him to bring. I decided it was time to come up with a list of healthy lunch ideas to make it easier on myself, and hopefully others of you who are dealing with the same problem.

The typical lunch my son brings includes either a sandwich or soup, and a fruit and/or vegetable. The lunch period is short, so one of the challenges is providing a nutrient dense meal that is appealing. I know whether or not I've been successful based on what comes home in the lunchbox...hopefully nothing.

For purposes of keeping it simple, I've divided these lunch ideas into three categories: Sandwiches, Hot Lunches, and Salads.

Sandwiches are probably the most popular option. However, as I was talking to some friends, it became apparent that there was no consensus on any particular combination that worked for everyone, not even within the same family. So, I decided to list some options, so feel free to pick and choose what works best for your child.

Sandwiches are basically comprised of 4 parts: the bread, the protein, the toppings, and possibly a condiment. The idea is to include a healthy bread or alternative whole grain option, a protein, a vegetable or two, and possibly a condiment. More importantly, the goal is to try to make something your child will actually eat.

Healthy Bread Choices
• Whole grain bread (use dinner rolls for fun)
• Whole wheat pita bread
• Whole wheat tortillas
• Whole grain crackers, whole wheat pita chips, baked corn tortilla chips

There are some great "white whole grain bread" options out there for kids who don't like "brown bread". White whole grain bread is made using white whole wheat flour, which comes from white spring wheat versus the traditional red wheat. It is lighter in color, milder in taste, and a great way to introduce whole grain breads to a "white bread" fan.
Whichever bread, chips or crackers you buy, read the ingredient list to make sure it has a minimal number of ingredients that you can't pronounce (the general rule of thumb I use is if I can't pronounce it, I don't buy it).

Proteins Options
• Nut or seed butter (I like almond butter; Trader Joe's also has a tasty sunflower seed butter)
• Antibiotic-free, preservative-free turkey or chicken (ask at your deli counter)
• Roast chicken (leftovers from dinner are great)
• Sliced or shredded organic cheese (if possible) or antibiotic-free ("BST-free") cheese
• Hummus
• Vegetarian refried beans (no lard)
• Bean salad

• Romaine lettuce, baby spinach leaves, arugula
• Sliced tomatoes
• Thinly sliced onions
• Sliced cucumbers
• Red bell pepper strips
• Sliced avocado (sprinkled with lemon or lime juice to keep it from turning brown)


• Low-fat mayonnaise or non-fat Greek yogurt (mix in some curry powder, minced chipotle pepper, or Sriracha chili sauce for something spicy)
• Pesto
• Sun-dried tomato pesto
• Yogurt ranch dressing
• Russian yogurt dressing

Here are some possible combinations (please modify to fit your child's tastes):
  1. Whole grain bread with almond butter, honey and sliced bananas
  2. Whole wheat pita bread or tortilla with hummus, shredded cheese, sliced tomato, spinach or romaine lettuce, sliced avocado, and finely shredded carrots
  3. Whole wheat tortilla rollup with yogurt "cream cheese" mixed with finely minced scallions, carrots, celery, salt and pepper, then topped with shredded lettuce and tomato slices
  4. Whole wheat tortilla rollup spread with refried beans mixed with salsa, topped with sliced avocado (sprinkled with lemon juice to prevent browning) and shredded cheese
  5. Whole wheat tortilla rollup sandwich with turkey, lettuce, tomato and non-fat Greek yogurt mixed with some basil pesto, sun-dried tomato pesto, or Sriracha chili sauce
  6. Whole wheat pita stuffed with chicken salad (made with low-fat mayonnaise or non-fat Greek yogurt, finely shredded carrots, minced celery, and a little pesto, or curry powder)
  7. Whole wheat pita stuffed with chickpea salad
  8. Whole wheat tortilla or pita bread with grilled vegetables, a slice of cheese and pesto
  9. Whole grain roll with fresh mozzarella, pesto and tomatoes
  10. Pumpkin bread, zucchini bread or carrot bread (try using white whole wheat flour in place of 1/2 the white flour in the recipe), spread with nut butter and topped with banana
 Hot Lunches
  1. Fried brown rice with mixed vegetables (broccoli, peas, carrots), and edamame (add leftover roast chicken if desired)
  2. Ten-Minute Chili (see recipe below) with baked corn chips
  3. Black beans and rice (substitute brown rice for a healthier alternative)
  4. Whole grain pancakes or waffles with maple syrup or honey
  5. Falafel balls (Costco's and some supermarkets carry this), hummus, tzatziki, whole wheat pita bread
  6. Whole grain pasta with marinara sauce, pesto, Puttanesca Sauce, or fresh tomatoes, olive oil, basil (or pesto), and shredded baby spinach
  7. Soups packed in a small thermos (minestrone, chicken noodle, lentil, black bean, miso with brown rice and tofu), whole grain bread or crackers
  8. Macaroni and cheese (Annie's is a good option)
Salads and More 
  1. Cold soba noodles with steamed broccoli, sugar snap peas, blanched carrots, and soy sesame dressing (1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons sesame oil, 1 teaspoon agave nectar)
  2. Whole grain pasta salad with yogurt ranch dressing or pesto, steamed broccoli or peas, cherry tomatoes (add chicken if desired)
  3. Green salad with shredded carrots, tomatoes, black beans or chickpeas and yogurt ranch dressing
  4. Fireworks black bean salsa, guacamole, and salsa with baked corn chips or whole wheat pita chips
  5. Brown rice vegetable sushi (some supermarkets carry this)
Fruits and Vegetables (try to include 1-2 servings) 
  • grapes
  • apple slices
  • banana
  • clementine
  • cherries
  • pineapple chunks
  • strawberries
  • blueberries
  • blackberries
  • raspberries
  • carrot sticks
  • celery sticks
  • cherry tomatoes
  • cucumber spears
  • steamed edamame
  • red pepper slices
  • jicama sticks
  • steamed broccoli florets
  • steamed sugar snap peas or snowpeas 
What do your kids bring for lunch? We would love to hear from you.

Ten-Minute Chili
adapted from The McDougall Quick & Easy Cookbook by John A. McDougall, M.D. and Mary McDougall
  • 2 15-ounce cans kidney or black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups marinara sauce
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • dash of cayenne pepper, optional 
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve.

More Lunch Ideas: 
Whole Foods Market: Build a Healthy Sandwich
Wendolonia on BlogHer.com: Lunch Box Ideas for Back to School
A Veggie Venture's Sandwiches, Wraps & Tortillas
US News and World Report: Hungry for Healthy School Lunch Ideas?
The Globe and Mail: Packing healthy school lunches that make the grade

Articles on the Importance of Nutrition and Healthy School Lunches:
Fooducate's Schools, an Important Part of the Nutrition Puzzle
CTbites' School Lunch Makeover: From Farm To Fork
Committee on Education & Labor: Lawmakers Inroduce Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Child Nutrition

Articles on Childhood Obesity and Disease:

American Heart Association: Overweight in Children

1 comment:

  1. Children always like surprises. The same pattern of cooking should not be followed every time. Each time, new style of food should be introduced to them so that they will be tempted to taste it each time. The main thing needed here is that the food cooked should be healthy. Salads and sandwiches are very good since they contains the vegetables present in it.
    healthy living for kids


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