Create: Back to School with Taste
Bento Buddies lunch kit and Milano lunch bag courtesy of The Container Store, 209 N. University Ave., Little Rock, (501) 660-7828, containerstore.com.
photography by Janet Warlick
No question about it, kids’ lunches are challenging! Between no refrigeration and no time to eat, it is tough to figure out what to put in the lunchbox … keeping in mind that it will be thrown against the wall and dropped several times before it is opened hours later. Oh, and your kid has to like it, and it has to be healthy, and in a BPA-free plastic container to hold it all!
Here are a few tips:
• Choose easy-to-eat, finger foods for all age groups, i.e. slices of apple — not a whole apple. Think “dry and crunchy” not “soft and wet.” The issue is often that by lunchtime the food is unappetizing.
• Check the portion size by putting all the food from a typical lunch onto a plate. If it is more than your child could possibly eat, reduce the portion. Consider the amount that your child will actually eat. Don’t pack more than that — too much food overwhelms children.
• Introduce your child to nutrition labels, and use them as guidelines for choosing lunch items. Try to offer a balanced meal — remember, there are no “bad foods,” just bad choices.
• Limit the number of items. Children, especially young children, are overwhelmed by too much choice. Pack three items — four if they bring their own drink — for example, a sandwich, a fruit and a cracker or sweet item.
• Use an age-appropriate method for letting your child choose what goes into their lunch; ask: “Do you want PB&J or ham and cheese? Grapes or an apple? Goldfish crackers or banana muffin?” Be the parent, and offer good food choices!
• Involve your children, when possible, in choosing and preparing lunch items.
• Aim for a balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates so your kid is alert for the afternoon. Balancing the type of calories your child eats is just as important as the quantity of calories.
This month’s recipes come from our kids’ collection and all have been enjoyed by many kids and adults. Simple enough to be made by kids and busy parents, adults are often surprised at how good they are and pleased that they are nutritious as well.
Lunch Tips: Tortillas or pita bread hold up better than sandwich bread in a lunch box. Pack condiments separately so the bread does not become soggy.
Kid Menu Idea 1:
Ham Cheese Tortilla with Cinnamon Applesauce
Ham Cheese Tortilla
1 small whole-wheat tortilla
1 ounce Monterey Jack cheese, grated or sliced
1 or 2 slices of ham
Carefully heat stovetop grill or a frying pan large enough for the tortilla. Place the tortilla on a clean surface, and place the ham on the tortilla. Add the cheese. Fold in half, and pat it closed. Place it on the hot grill. Toast on one side, turn it over and cook the other side until the tortilla is browned and the cheese melted.
3 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Just a little water, apple juice or cider
1 handful of raisins or dried cranberries, optional
Peel, core and chop apples. Put apples, sugar, cinnamon and water or juice in a medium saucepan. Cook covered over medium heat for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in raisins or dried cranberries, and cool slightly. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Kid Menu Idea 2:
Chicken Pita Sandwich with Grapes or Orange Sections
1 small (kid-sized) boneless chicken breast or 2 chicken tenders
1 pita pocket bread, whole wheat preferred
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
shredded lettuce, bell peppers of any color, celery, cheese, etc., … or nothing if you just like chicken.
Carefully cut the chicken breast into four or five thin strips. Dip the chicken into the soy sauce or honey or lemon or all three, depending on what you like.
Heat a stovetop grill or non-stick skillet to medium high. Cook the chicken until browned on all sides, about 8 to 10 minutes all together. Transfer the chicken to a plate with a paper towel on it. Cool for 5 to 6 minutes.
To assemble, cut the pita bread in half and gently open the pocket. Fill with chicken and your favorite extras. Wrap in a piece of foil or better yet in a plastic sandwich box. That way it won’t get squished in your lunch box. Pack some grapes or orange sections as an accompaniment. Makes two half-pita pockets.
Variation: Make Your Own BBQ Sauce! Omit the soy sauce, lemon and honey, and grill the chicken plain. Then drizzle with BBQ sauce and stuff into the pita. Experiment with the following ingredients to develop your own BBQ sauce recipe.
Molasses • Salt • Mustard • Pepper • Sugar • Vinegar • Tomato sauce • Garlic powder
Shanon’s Sweet Corn Salsa
Everyone likes the contrast between the sweet and savory in this riff on salsa.
3 large tomatoes or 1 box grape or cherry tomatoes, chopped
4 cups fresh corn, cut from the cob, about 4 ears
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 stalks celery, minced
1 scallion, white and green parts, minced
1 15-ounce can low-sodium black-eyed peas, rinsed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons sweetened rice vinegar
Blue corn chips, to serve
Combine all ingredients, except chips. Taste, and add a bit more oil or vinegar if necessary to balance the flavor. Chill, and serve with blue corn chips. Serves 10 to 12 as a dip.
Adapted from the recipe submitted by Shanon Greer, Little Rock, AR
Lunch Box Oatmeal Cookies
Here’s a sweet recipe that is not over the top. Using reduced-fat peanut butter and egg whites keeps the fat content low. Making the cookies smaller, just a teaspoon of dough, keeps the calories low.
½ cup butter, room temperature
½ cup reduced-fat peanut butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 egg whites
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Beat butter and peanut butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed about 30 seconds. Add sugars and baking soda. Beat in egg whites and vanilla. Beat in flour. Stir in oats. Drop by teaspoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet, and bake for 7 to 8 minutes until edges are golden. Cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute then transfer to wire rack. Makes about 40 cookies
Source: Kid Favorites Made Healthy by Better Homes and Gardens
Muffins make great snacks. Make the mini version, and freeze a dozen.
1 cup flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
½ cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup plain low or non-fat yogurt
¼ cup butter, melted & cooled slightly
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped strawberries, fresh or frozen
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12-muffin tin with paper muffin cups.
Mix together flours, sugar, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, mix eggs, yogurt, butter and vanilla. Toss strawberries into flour mixture. Pour yogurt mixture into flour mixture, and stir just to combine. Spoon batter into muffin cups. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes until tops are golden brown. Makes 12 muffins.
Variation: Substitute 1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen, for the strawberries, or use a combination of both.
Variation: Makes about 48 mini-muffins; bake for 8 to 10 minutes at 375.
Adapted from Stonyfield Farm
Items that hold up in a lunch box and can be eaten at room temperature:
Hummus with carrots, celery, bell peppers, pita chips
Peanut butter or other nut butters with bananas, strawberries, blackberries or blueberries in a whole wheat pita bread or in a tortilla
Fruit — apple slices, grapes, orange sections
Dried fruit – cranberries, mango, apricots
Crackers – graham, Ritz, saltines, goldfish
Mini energy bar – try to avoid cereal bars that are mostly sugar
hummus with carrots, celery, bell peppers or pita chips
corn salsa and baked chips
muffins – strawberry or blueberry
Questions? Reach Faith via e-mail at email@example.com.