The school bell is ringing and after a summer of healthy meals, you and your back to school student may be dreading the school lunch. Although schools claim to be making strides nutritionally, the bottom line still remains that much of what is being served is over processed and really not very tasty.
One thing I have noticed as a parent is that my child does not receive enough food and he is an active growing boy. There has to be enough adequate protein for the child as well as complex carbohydrates to stimulate the brain for the rest of the school day. I have called my child’s school on several occasions to ask why he is not receiving enough food, for he has arrived home claiming ‘starvation.’
I tried to explain that three chicken nuggets on a plate do not constitute adequate protein as they are mostly frozen puffs of air. I was told he could ask for more food. Yet when he did ask, he was denied. Other days, there was just simply no one to ask.
He often brought his lunch from home, but this year we are avoiding cafeteria lunches altogether. Here are some ideas to pack a healthy brown bag lunch for your hungry student.
Sandwiches are still the staple. Make sure your children have theirs on 100% whole wheat bread. This will eliminate the sugar spikes that often occur with the ‘wheat’ bread the school supplies, which is basically processed white bread and buns with caramel coloring. A dense whole wheat bread, layered with lean turkey and sliced cheese will keep your child scoring A’s while the rest of the children are drooping.
Fill up a plastic thermos with the warm stuff on cold days. Homemade or soups from the health food section will warm up your princess and many are great sources of vitamins. Try chicken noodle, tomato and broccoli soups.
Fill another small thermos with the cold stuff. A small salad with your child’s favorite dressing is a great addition. If they really like broccoli, then fill it with broccoli and put some ranch dressing in a very small container for dipping. Don’t forget about carrots and celery stuffed with peanut butter, cream cheese or pimento cheese.
Add a little crunch. Homemade pita chips made from 100% whole wheat pita bread is so much more nutritious than greasy bagged chips and so very easy to make. Simply split pita loaves into triangles and lightly spray with a little non-stick spray. Then sprinkle with sea salt or garlic powder or nothing at all. They can be dipped into homemade hummus or a form of homemade Pico de Gallo or simple sour cream.
Do not forget a healthy beverage. Try one of the Vitamin Waters by Glaceau. Refrigerate the night before. Make a few ice cubes out of the beverage. That way, when the ice melts in the thermos, it will not dilute the flavor. Stay away from sodas-they are usually prohibited at schools anyway. Personally I would avoid the school milks as they are often lukewarm and milk can aggravate allergies and colds in the fall and winter. Avoid juice packs as most of them are purely sugar, and pure juice itself can lead to spikes and drops in the afternoon. Stick with the flavored waters, or plain bottled water.
Say cheese. A great side in the brown bag or lunchbox is a small container of cubed cheese. I have found this to be a big hit. Go with cheddar or Monterey jack or even mozzarella. Kids love cubed cheese and will be a better calcium supplement than the ‘warm’ school milk.
Pack a little dessert. No you don’t have to pack an éclair or cream-filled doughnut. But include a small cookie or two. Homemade oatmeal cookies are not overly sweet and provide much needed fiber.
Don’t be stingy and include a fruit. Stick in an apple or banana. Even if they don’t have time to eat all of it, they can eat the fruit on an afternoon recess, staying away from the empty nutritional snacks the school sells for fundraisers.
Other add-ins. For extra items and change of pace, a small container of peanut butter (provided your child has no peanut allergies) with some small cheese crackers will appeal to most kids. If they like boiled eggs, include one of those or send a few deviled egg halves as a side. If they get bored with the daily sandwich, then make a wrap in a whole wheat tortilla. If they really want those chicken nuggets, then bake them in the morning and put them in the warm thermos with a pack of honey mustard and a side thermos of salad or raw veggies. And be generous….pack more than three, please.