Healthy School Lunches
Healthy School Lunches.
Wow! Can you believe that summer is nearly over and school will be starting in a week or two for most students.
I hope you all had a great summer with a vacation or two, some time to relax and time to enjoy the family.
With school comes the favorite of all -- school lunches.
Recently, USA Today reported that the government is calling for dramatic changes in school meals by raising nutrition standards for meals served at school for the first time in 15 years.
"This is the "first major improvement" in the standards that "we've seen in a generation, and it reflects the seriousness of the issue of obesity," says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
About a third of children and adolescents — 25 million kids – are obese or overweight. Extra pounds put children at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other health problems. An analysis in 2005 found that children today may live shorter lives by two to five years than their parents because of obesity."
This is extremely good news for parents concerned with their children's health. Even so, many parents (and children) still prefer to send healthy school lunches from home where we have more control.
This is especially true if your child has a food allergy.
The whole idea with food is to get the kids to eat it. With all of the insulated, stylish or characterized lunch boxes available, lunches from home have gotten more creative.
And while our goal is to make healthy school lunches more nutritious, there are so many good ideas floating around out there that there is no reason to let your healthy school lunches get ho hum and boring.
Studies have shown that kids eat fun lunches better.
First thing to remember when preparing healthy school lunches, is to keep foods safe:
- Start with a clean lunch box. Rather than having to scramble in the morning to find where the lunch box had been left, make sure that it is a part of the evening dishes, washed and ready to go in the morning.
- Hot. If you send something hot, put it in a thermos. They are available in all sizes.
- Cold. If you send something cold, put an ice pack in the lunch box. Many of the new lunch boxes come with an ice pack. If not, they are readily available and inexpensive.
Or just fill a small plastic bottle part way with water and freeze it - stick it in with the school lunch.
One study showed that a third of students that brought yogurt, meat, mayonnaise or other things that needed refrigeration did not include an ice pack.
An alternative to an ice pack is to freeze their juice box (for healthy school lunches use 100% juice - they are readily available) overnight. As it thaws throughout the morning it will act as an ice pack.
- The sturdiest of all sandwiches and the king of healthy school lunches, is the good ole PB&J - Peanut Butter and Jelly. This sandwich packs a nutritious wallop with high powered peanut butter. You can make it even more nutritious with honey instead of Jelly. Even if you have to call it a PB&H!
It will make it through the most strenuous conditions.
Tip Spread a very thin layer of peanut butter on the second piece of bread as well to keep the jam or honey from soaking into the bread. Much nicer.
- Some children like bananas on their peanut butter sandwich instead of jam or honey. Just place slices of bananas on the bread, it is delicious and can play an important part in healthy school lunches. Try one yourself just to see.
- A plain cheese, or meat and cheese sandwich can be made more fun with a little imagination.
MIX UP THE LOOK
Years ago I purchased a sandwich press from a home party that cuts off the crust and makes it round - so you don't have to purchase those stale sandwiches that may have been sitting around for weeks - you can make them yourself.
You can also purchase sandwich shaped cutters at the grocery store which make each half look like a heart, or a dinosaur, or whatever. Very fun.
Most kids can't resist eating a little dinosaur sandwich they find tucked in their healthy school lunches. They won't even know it's healthy.
- TWO TONED BREAD
Make two toned bread with a small cookie cutter with any shape you desire. To do this use one piece of white bread and one piece of whole wheat bread.
Cut two small shapes out of both breads with the same cookie cutter, then put the white cutouts in the brown bread, and the brown cut outs in the white bread.
This is lots of fun for holidays, such as a little ghost or pumpkin for Halloween or Christmas trees or bells for Christmas.
- BREAD ALTERNATIVES
Change the bread. Instead of plain sandwich bread try using pita bread, bagels (the thin bagels are fabulous), crackers or tortilla wraps.They won't know it is the same sandwich.
- HOMEMADE LUNCHABLES
One of the healthy school lunches that has really worked for me is homemade lunchables. Just cut a piece of lunchmeat into four squares, or fold four thin slices into squares, wrap them in plastic wrap and put them in a small square container.
Cut a slice of cheese into four pieces and do the same. Wrap 8 crackers (whatever kind they like) in plastic wrap and add it to the container.
Finish the lunchable off with a few carrot sticks and a small container of ranch dressing, or apple slices and peanut butter for dipping.
- SANDWICH ROLL
Another idea is a sandwich roll. If using lunch meat, why not try rolling a slice of meat (or several if using the thin slices) and a piece of low-fat cheese and a same sized whole wheat tortilla.
Add a little mustard if your child likes it. Roll it all up, then wrap it in plastic wrap. To make it fun and festive you could even tie it with a ribbon or raffia.
- PIN WHEELS
Take this a step further and make pinwheels. Make a sandwich with two pieces of whole wheat bread which you have cut the crust off, then flattened with a rolling pin.
Spread the bread with a thin layer of cream cheese and add a piece of ham or turkey (cheese too if you want). Roll it into a log shape, then carefully cut it into pinwheels. Wrap the pieces, still in log shape, in plastic wrap.
- FINGER FOOD
For a change from a sandwich try placing cubes of cheese, string cheese, carrot sticks, baby tomatoes, grapes, apple slices, orange slices, cubed ham, etc. along with pretzels or breadsticks.
Every child I have known has loved dipping their food. A puddle of syrup on their plate to dip their dollar-sized pancakes in is much more appealing than the traditional.
The same is true with healthy school lunches. You can purchase 50 little multi-purpose mini cups with lids made by Diamond that will take you through a semester.
Fill them with fun dips: fruit dip (mix 1/4 t. cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg in a 6oz container of vanilla yogurt), cheese dip, bean dip, guacamole, hummus, peanut butter, ranch dressing, cream cheese, nutella.
Slightly thin any of these by adding a few drops of water and stirring thoroughly.
For dipping - send sliced up fruit, whole strawberries, whole bananas, cheese sticks, bread sticks, carrot sticks, celery sticks, let your imagination run wild.
- MINI PIZZA
For a fun and fast pizza use half of a whole-wheat English muffin, add a little tomato sauce or pizza sauce, then add mozzarella cheese. Toast it in a toaster oven or in the oven and Presto! A pizza for lunch.
Let the kids help by adding their own healthy toppings - mushrooms, ham, basil, bell pepper.
Let it cool all the way before wrapping it in plastic wrap, or place it in a small paper bag in their lunch box.
Many kids love salad. There are fabulous plastic containers made just for salad that have an ice pack in them, and often a place for dressing, sometimes they even have a spot for the fork . Watch for them - if your kids like salad it may be a worthwhile purchase.
If not, just stick a salad in a small bowl and include it in their lunch box along with an ice pack.
You could also send homemade pasta or potato salad. Cook the pasta or potatoes and instead of adding mayonnaise use olive oil . Add cut up veggies such as tomatoes, cucumbers, etc, and add some turkey or ham for a nice variety.
Be sure to add an ice pack to the lunch box.
- CHILI OR STEW
Nice warm chili is comfort food on a cold day. Use a thermos container that will keep the food hot, pack a small container with cheese to sprinkle over the top, and a few whole wheat crackers.
To make a quesadilla just place a whole wheat tortilla on a microwavable plate, cover it with cheese and cook it for one minute or until the cheese melts. (Or do it on a cookie sheet in the oven.)
Allow it to cool. Cut it like you would a pizza. Wrap it in plastic wrap and send it with a small container of ranch dressing.
Another important element of healthy school lunches is drinks.
- Purchasing milk at the school is always a great idea.
- 100% fruit juice instead of fruit drinks are not only more nutritious but don't contain added sugar.
- If you put a bottle of water in the lunch be sure to open it first as young children may have a hard time getting it open. Tighten the lid so that it doesn't leak but not so tight that it can't be reopened by little fingers.
- An extra treat occasionally could be a smoothie that you have placed in the lunch box thermos.
Make Strawberry Ice by blending 1 cup strawberries, 1 cup orange juice, and 1 cup ice.
Another refreshing drink is make by blending 1 cup chopped honey dew melon pieces, 1/4 cup apple juice, and 1 tablespoon honey.
- An Herbal Drink is another different but delicious and extremely healthy option that kids love.
It supports the immune and digestive systems and helps build strong, pliable bones. It be sent either cold or warm, depending on the day.
To make this drink you will need:
- 1 t. fennel
- 1/2 t. cloves
- 1/4 t. cinnamon bark chips
- 6 cups water
- 1 t. peppermint leaf
- 1 t. chamomile flower
- 1/2 t. red clover
- 1/2 t. nettle leaf
- 1/2 t. oatstraw
- 1 t. stevia
- Simmer the fennel, cloves and cinnamon in the water for 15 minutes. Remove it from the heat.
- Add the other ingredients. Cover and steep (let it sit) for 20 minutes.
- Strain the herbs through cheese cloth. Serve warm or refrigerate and serve cold.
You can purchase all of these herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs.
Healthy school lunches are not complete without dessert (although they may already be full after eating their fabulous lunches).
There are many healthy options to consider. Try:
- air popped popcorn
- baked chips
- trail mix
- fresh fruit
- fruit in natural juices
- dried fruit
- homemade oatmeal cookies
- fruit muffins
- low fat pudding
- graham crackers
- rice cakes
- Soda Pop
- Chips or Cheetos
- French Fries
- Try to watch the sugar content as well as artificial coloring and preservatives.
There are so many other things we could have included in this list of healthy school lunches. Leftovers from the previous day are often appropriate - just keep in mind the safety factor and include an ice pack when necessary.
Be creative. Stick in a little love note some days. Even though the kids are small (or some may not be so small) they will know you love them.
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