Q: My daughter starts school this fall and I'm not sure what to do about her lunches. She is a very picky eater. Do you have any suggestions?
A: Summer is winding down and school is back in session. A new school year marks the beginning of 180 or so school lunches to plan and prepare.
The most convenient option is to purchase the lunches prepared in the school cafeteria. These meals are reasonably priced and adhere to set nutritional guidelines set by the Department of Agriculture. You can read more about the school lunch program on the USDA website, usda.gov. My advice is to check out the lunches that are served at your daughter's school and see if it is an option for your family.
This is not a good choice for everyone. Like your daughter, some children are very picky eaters. Others have food allergies. For those kids, packing a lunch is probably the best option.
Thinking outside the brown bag
About Chef Hosch and Ann
Chef Hosch and Ann are a husband-and-wife team devoted to healthy and gourmet cooking and catering. Ann is gluten intolerant and an occupational therapist, who has worked as a cook and baker prior to meeting Hosch. Chef Hosch is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, N.Y., and brings more than 25 years of experience and passion to his culinary arts. His work as executive chef in hospitals has honed his skills for anyone with special diets as well as cooking for large crowds. Chef Hosch and Ann specialize in creating fabulous foods for all tastes and diets.
A peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a package of cookies, some carrot sticks and a juice pouch is the menu that comes to my mind when I hear the term "brown bag lunch." These are basic, convenient foods that do not need refrigerated. Brown bag lunches might fill an empty tummy but they are not all that tasty or nutritious. Many of the calories come from sugar. They are high in fat, high in salt and do not provide enough nutrition to get through the afternoon with optimal energy and no low blood sugar crashes. I hope this article encourages you to think beyond the traditional brown bag menu when you pack your daughter's lunch.
Cold things cold - hot things hot
From both a safety and a culinary standpoint, lukewarm is not an ideal temperature for food. Some food items are okay at room temperature (bread, chips, cookies, crackers, peanut butter, nuts etc.) but most foods should be kept either hot or cold. Fortunately, there is an almost unlimited selection of cold packs, thermoses, plastic containers, insulated lunch bags and bento boxes available on line and in retail stores. If you use the right equipment, food can be kept at an ideal temperature for hours.
Ideas for lunch
My first suggestion, especially if you have a picky eater, is to get them involved in planning and packing their own lunch. If they are involved in the process, they are more likely to eat what they packed.
Make the menu interesting and fun. Rather than a plain, old hum drum sandwich, how about a kabob? Sandwich ingredients can be cut into bite sized pieces and placed on a skewer rather than slapped between two slices of white bread. Or alternate fresh fruit or fresh vegetables with cubes of cheese.
Use up leftovers or prepare simple foods with lunch specifically in mind. A thermos of homemade macaroni and cheese served with a side of cherry tomatoes, olives and fresh pepper slices makes a nutritious, tasty lunch.
For traditional sandwiches, vary the types of bread you use. Don't just stick with white bread. There are all kinds of sandwich pockets, wraps, tortillas, biscuits and muffins to choose from. Spread cream cheese on a waffle, top with sliced fresh berries, peaches, nectarines or bananas; fold in half. Who says waffles aren't for lunch? Add the same ingredients to a tortilla, roll it soft taco style and you have a nutritious "sandwich." Why not send taco or pizza fixings in your child's lunch?
You will find both in the Lunchables selections at the grocery store. You will also find chicken sliders, mini hot dogs, chicken soft tacos, chicken nuggets, and a variety of sandwiches. You can pack your own lunchable type meals using healthy, fresh ingredients. This type of lunch fits perfectly in a bento box.
And a few words about bento boxes ...
Bento boxes are a very popular modern day trend that originated centuries ago in Japan. A modern day bento box is typically made of plastic or stainless steel. It is separated into several compartments so you can pack different kinds of food in the same container. Bento lunches can be as simple or as elaborate as you choose. Following is menu suggestion for a bento box lunch. This is one of thousands of possible combinations. To spark your creativity, check out bento boxes on Pinterest and Facebook for ideas.
Turkey, cheese and hummus wrap
Turkey cheese and hummus wrap
1/2 sandwich wrap
1 ounce slice of cheese
2 ounces of fresh turkey or chicken
1 ounce of hummus
Spread the hummus evenly on the sandwich wrap.
Place the turkey and cheese on the wrap and fold over.
2 apples; any variety
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or your child's favorite nuts
1/4 cup dried fruit
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
Core the apples and cut into chunks. Drizzle with lemon juice to prevent the apples from getting brown. Mix in the nuts and dried fruit. Add the yogurt and gently stir until the pieces are coated.
Let your daughter choose one more menu item from a selection of healthy foods. Keep fresh fruit, nuts, raw vegetables, whole grain crackers, granola bars and other healthy foods on hand.
Don't forget to choose a healthy beverage to go with this healthy lunch. Water is an excellent choice. Fruit juices should be a once in a while treat because they are loaded with sugar. Milk can be kept cold in a thermos or with an ice pack or purchased in the cafeteria.
These suggestions should give you some ideas to get started planning healthy lunches your daughter will enjoy.
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