Thinking Outside the (Lunch) Box - Tips & Recipes - MetroFamily Magazine
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Thinking Outside the (Lunch) Box – Tips & Recipes

by Jennifer Sharpe

Reading Time: 3 minutes 

Need new lunch box ideas for a new year? Petra Lusche, a local family nutritionist and founder of the family-focused nutritional support system Happi Lives (www.happilives.com), has stepped up to provide healthy ideas for the lunch box—to make school lunches as tasty as they are fun.

“Lunch is a time for a child to recharge both mind and body,” Petra explains.  “The nutrition that parents provide during lunchtime replenishes their children with the energy and nutrients they need to learn throughout the rest of the day.”

Petra encourages parents to include a carbohydrate, protein, fruit or vegetable and dairy in each meal to provide sustainable energy to keep children going all afternoon. “A quick lunch can be a Waldorf sandwich with a fruit yogurt, cut up vegetables with dipping sauce, and flavored water,” Petra says. “For the Waldorf sandwich, mix 1/4 cup each of diced apple, halved grapes, and chopped celery in a bowl with a bit of lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Place a piece of favorite cheese and turkey or chicken inside a whole-wheat pita, and top with the fruit mixture.”

Get Creative with Carbs

Start with a simple switch from white to wheat bread, and build from there. Let adventurous eaters choose their own new bread flavor. For a change of taste, consider flatbreads, wraps, pitas or bagels. Crackers also work as a carbohydrate source. Similar to breads, there are endless cracker flavors and options. Look for whole grains and natural flavors.

Protein Power

Protein sources include meats, avocado, nuts and legumes such as in hummus. Many dairy items also double as proteins, such as eggs, cheese and Greek yogurt. Petra recommends using a steamer for cooking hard-boiled eggs, and an egg mold to create fun shapes. “Remember, kids are visual eaters, so the more fun you make it—think interesting shapes and bright colors—the more likely they will be to give the meal a try.”

If peanut butter is not an option, consider alternative nut butters such as almond, cashew, pecan or walnut. To go nut-free, try sunflower seed butter, which tastes very similar to peanut butter and spreads easily.

Fabulous Fruits & Veggies

A melon baller transforms cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon into kid-friendly round spheres. Don’t forget fun utensils! Fruit and vegetable pieces suddenly become fascinating when they can be eaten with a special toothpick, chopsticks or fingers, making lunch a tactile sensory experience complete with fine motor skill development.

Fruit and vegetable shapes can also be created with cookie cutters and eaten as fun finger foods, or try Petra’s Build Your Own Kabobs concept.

“Pack 5-8 pretzel rods with cubed cheese, bite size pieces of fruit and vegetable, and cut up pieces of meat.” Petra adds, “I like to include pieces of pineapple, cherry tomatoes, grapes, banana, zucchini, sweet potato, mozzarella cheese and grilled chicken or hard-boiled egg. To keep fruits and vegetables from turning brown, add a pinch of sugar/salt and a squeeze of lemon juice and store in an airtight container.”

Using letter and number cookie cutters make lunch a learning time too!

Kale chips are a different, colorful way to add another vegetable into the lunch box. Other leafy greens can be made into chips as well.

Keeping It easy

The bottom line is that the school lunch period does not last long. Take steps at home (such as peeling fruit such as clementines or cutting items into bite-sized pieces) to make the meal easier to eat. Ensure that lunch boxes and container lids are easy to open, and that your child is able to open any packaged foods that you include. Remember, a child’s learning ability is only as good as his or her fuel source, so finding ways to provide a fun, well-balanced lunch is crucial for school success.

Ready to jazz up your child’s lunch? Try out these great recipes:

Kale Chips

  • 1 kale head, de-stemmed and chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 2-3tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2tbsp lemon juice
  • Rock salt and pepper to taste
  • Additional Seasonings to add: Cayenne Pepper, Garlic, Lemon Pepper, Cumin, Curry… the sky is the limit!

Preheat oven to 350-375. Gently mix all of your ingredients (the kale + everything else) in a large bowl with your hands until everything is nicely seasoned and coated. Place on a greased cooking sheet, place in the oven for 10-15 minutes, flipping kale half way through. The chips are done when the kale is nice and dark and slightly brown on the edges!

Fruit and Greek Yogurt Burrito

Mix 1/2 tbsp honey with 1/2 cup low-sugar (under 12 grams) vanilla Greek Yogurt and 1/2 cup fruit of your choice. Some of my favorites include strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. Stir until well blended, and scoop half the mixture into a whole-wheat tortilla. Wrap like a burrito, and (if necessary) secure with a pretzel stick. Makes 2.

Miniature Egg Quiches

Whisk 5 whole eggs, 3 egg whites and 1 cup low fat milk in a medium bowl. Add 1 cup diced vegetables (think bell peppers, tomatoes, and mushrooms) with 1/4 extra sharp cheddar, 8 slices diced turkey meat and salt and pepper to taste. Divide the mixture into sprayed miniature muffin tin and cook at 325 degrees until the tops just turn brown, about 25minutes. Flip quiches out and let cool for at least 5 minutes before putting into a lunchbox.

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