It’s 7 a.m., the school bus will be there in 15 minutes and suddenly, a thought blasts to the front of your pre-caffeinated brain – you haven’t made your child’s school lunch yet. Before you reach for pre-packaged food with a bunch of ingredients that defy pronunciation, consider these fast, easy and healthful solutions to the everyday lunch box dilemma.
Today’s Dinner is Tomorrow’s Lunch – Many of your family’s favorite dinner-time meals translate easily into satisfying lunches. A good quality thermos goes for around $15, fits easily into a lunch box and keeps hot foods hot and bacteria free. Pasta dishes like macaroni and cheese can be pumped up nutritionally with veggies like broccoli and carrots and protein sources such as chunked chicken, salmon, tofu or even hot dogs. Nuke in a glass dish (never plastic) and spoon into the thermos for a great lunch. Chili and homemade soup are also thermos-friendly options, or turn leftover rotini, penne or macaroni into cold pasta salad quickly and easily. Throw in an apple or a box of raisins and you’re good to go.
Give the Classic PB&J a Healthy Face-Lift – Many school cafeterias are nut-free due to allergies, but if you don’t have to worry about packing peanut butter in your child’s lunch box, consider substituting some healthy options to this all-time favorite. Choose a hearty bread like nutty oatmeal or twelve-grain. These will not get soggy the way white bread does and also pack a fiber-filled punch. Look for a low-sugar, natural peanut butter that doesn’t need stirring or try organic almond butter, instead. Sugar-free jams come in a ton of fruit flavors, or you can try one of the many fruit butters available in health food stores or farmer’s markets. Apple butter is a great cabinet standby but kids go for strawberry and pumpkin butters in a big way too. You can also use sliced bananas as a yummy topping. All of these variations of the classic PB&J sandwich will resist spoilage in high temperatures, however, you should strive to keep your child’s lunch box at around 40 degrees or lower.
Give Lunch a Middle-Eastern Flair – Anything that can fit between two slices of bread will also make a great lunch when stuffed into a pita pocket. Tuna fish, egg or chicken salad can be layered with lettuce and tomatoes as well as tasty add-ins your child loves. Dried cranberries, sliced avocado and red bell peppers can be folded into the mix for colorful, healthy touches. Keep your greens washed and sliced for quick, easy access and don’t forget to include a beverage like water or skim milk. The added sugar in most juices or flavored milk will undue a nutritious lunch’s benefit before you can say recess.
Sandwiches Rule at School – Tasty and quick to prepare, sandwiches are a fast and easy way to create a nutritious lunch – provided you have healthful ingredients at the ready. Sliced chicken and turkey, low-fat cheese, lettuce, tomato and avocado work great together on a hearty bread like rye or whole wheat. Don’t worry about adding mayonnaise; its acid content actually protects food from bacteria. Consider mixing the white stuff with mustard for a tangy change of pace. Of course, tuna fish makes a great sandwich but make sure not to pack this kid-friendly standby more than once a week, so as to limit your child’s mercury exposure.
Berry Satisfying – Lots of kids turn their noses up at salad but will go for a satisfying bowl of fresh fruit. Combine strawberries, bananas, blueberries, cantaloupe chunks and sliced apples with walnuts or almonds for a yummy bowl of health. You can also turn your fruit bowl into a classic Waldorf salad by adding chicken chunks for protein, or include a container of Greek yogurt to complement this sweet and healthy salad alternative.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.