When thinking about bag lunches, memories of the school cafeteria instantly come to mind. Whether it was in a bag or a lunchbox emblazoned with a superhero, usually what was inside was not very inspiring: a mushy peanut butter and jelly sandwich accompanied by a warm drink and a “dessert” cake or cookie that your classmates offered to take off your hands for something even less appetizing.
A child’s lunch plays a vital role in meeting the daily nutritional standards, but finding healthy, cost effective meal that kids will actually enjoy can be a challenge. The truth is, packing a “healthy” and delicious lunch comes down to simple substitutions and a little preparation.
What should go into a healthy bag lunch?
Carbohydrates are not evil; you just have to remember to serve the right ones in moderation. When building a sandwich reach for whole-grain breads, pitas and wraps that are full of fiber rather than white bread. Or, you could forgo the entire sandwich and create a dish using brown rice, whole-wheat or buckwheat noodles.
Most kids may not immediately take to whole-wheat pasta, so try and mix-it up with a multi-grain or semolina pasta and gradually make the full transition to whole-wheat. For protein, stick with leans meats such as chicken, fish, or turkey.
Jessica Seinfeld’s recipe for chicken nuggets – a kid favorite – incorporates a choice of broccoli, spinach, sweet potato or beets. Deceptively delicious!
Another great source of protein are nuts. Jenya Hampton, a local nutritional consultant and natural health care professional, suggests a nut tuna pate as a side dish.
Of course, kids need tons of fruits and vegetables, so try and incorporate them into the bag lunch. Carrots with some dip are great, but consider kale, leeks, olives or rhubarb. You could even make your own dipping sauce.
The end of the meal snack is what all kids really want and you can still pack nutrients into them, just don’t let them know. Instead of a sugar-filled candy bar try an applesauce muffin or chocolate pudding made with avocado served over fresh fruit.
Now that you’re the grown up packing lunches for you kids, think beyond the soggy sandwich. Your kids will thank you for it.
Nut Tuna Pate
From Jenya Hampton, Natural Food Specialist
1 cup sunflower seeds (Soaked, drained and rinsed) *You can do this before you go to bed
½ cup almonds (Soaked, drained and rinsed)
½ cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup minced celery
2 tablespoons minced red onion
2 tablespoons minced parsley
½ teaspoon sea salt
* Place sunflower seeds, almonds, and water in a food processor and process until contents are the consistency of tuna, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
* Transfer to a small mixing bowl and stir in the celery, onion, parsley, lemon juice, and salt. Mix well.
* Stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator, Nut Tuna Pate will keep for five days.
Avocado Chocolate Pudding
from Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious
Prep: 5 minutes Total: 9 minutes
Serves: 8 to 10
¼ cups trans-fat-free soft tub margarine spread
1 cup avocado puree*
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ cup cornstarch
* In medium saucepan, melt the margarine over low heat. Stir in the avocado puree, sugar, cocoa powder, and vanilla.
* Cook, mash well with a silicone spatula to smooth out any lumps of avocado. (Until the mixture thickens 3 to 4 minutes)
* Take off the heat, gradually stir in the cornstarch.
*How to make Avocado Puree
Prep: Cut in half lengthwise, take blade of chef’s knife into the seed, twist to loosen, and remove. Scoop the flesh out of the peel.
Puree: Mash well in a bowl with a fork until very smooth, then puree in a food processor or blender for 2 minutes (“grind” on a mini-food processor)
When storing, squeeze air out of bag before sealing.
**You may need to add a teaspoon or so of water to cauliflower, carrots, and broccoli to make a smooth, creamy puree.
from Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious
(With broccoli, spinach, sweet potatoes or beets)
Prep: 10 minutes Total: 20 minutes
1 cup whole-wheat, white, or panko (Japanese) breadcrumbs
½ cup flaxseed meal
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
1 cup broccoli, spinach, sweet potato or beet puree
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast or tenders, rinsed, dried and cut into small chunks
½ teaspoon salt
Nonstick cooking spray
1 tablespoon olive oil
* In a bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, flaxseed meal, Parmesan, paprika, garlic and onion powder on the paper or foil, and mix well with your fingers.
* In a shallow bowl, mix the vegetable puree and egg with a fork and set the bowl next to the breadcrumb mixture.
* Sprinkle the chicken chunks with the salt. Dip the chunks into the egg mixture and then toss them in the breadcrumbs until completely coated.
* Coat a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray and set over medium-high heat. When hot add oil. Place the chicken nuggets in the skillet in a single layer, and cook until crisp and golden brown on one side (3 to 4 minutes) Turn and repeat (4 to 5 minutes).