The buses began to flood the streets this morning as our children returned to school. With the return to school comes school lunches and we always look for lunch ideas. The most important principle for a school lunch is to find foods your child will want to eat that are healthy and at the same time fun.
Involve your child in making the lunch as this will increase the likelihood the lunch will get eaten. The last thing you want is for your child to come home with a full lunchbox, ravenous when he or she walks in the door after a full day of school.
Lunch has become far more difficult since we can no longer send any snacks with a hint of nuts to school. Many schools, or classes, are ‘nut free zones’ due to allergies. This means that the traditional PB and J standby is a thing of the past.
Rightfully, many schools are trying to instill is healthy eating. My grandchildren are not permitted to bring cookies or chips to school. Each lunch has to have a protein, a vegetable and a fruit. Convenience foods, like healthy granola bars are a no-no because they all have nuts (please tell me if you find one that is nut free and kosher!). Oh, and we can’t send humus! Ugh!
With these guidelines, creativity has become essential. So here are some ideas. None of my ideas are magic, but they create a conversation about school lunches and get you thinking.
Leftovers have become lunches that the children don’t mind eating lukewarm. These include spaghetti, penne pesto, meatballs, couscous, rice dishes, macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, fish and pizza. I usually warm these in the microwave right before the children leave for school and the kids usually eat it. Of course it is always a good idea to make tuna, potato, macaroni or egg salad. These can be eaten in a sandwich, with crackers, or alone.
Turkey and fish sandwiches made with creative spreads are popular as well. Mix ¼ C mayo with 1 tsp of pesto or olive spread and it makes a good spread for sandwiches. Of course, sandwich meats are always an option, but I like to avoid these due to the high fat content.
The children love it when I heat up lahamagene (mini meat pizza) or bourekas in the morning and wrap them in foil to keep them warm.
Some children like cream cheese sandwiches on pita bread. Up the ante with sliced cucumbers, greens or a second spread. Of course, cheese slices and crackers work well if they are presented in a fun way. String cheese is a great option.
Try a flavored cream cheese or lox spread on your favorite wrap. Or better yet, mix cream cheese with salsa and then thinly spread on the wrap. Add chopped greens and roll tightly. Cut in half or thirds and make sure the wrap is closed when placing it in the storage container. We bought lots of small containers to fit in the lunch box and use them for the food.
Wanna be ambitious? Make fish sticks, fish patties with a dip, vegetable fritatas, or pizza rolls. Honestly, anything your child eats at home is a good option for a school lunch. To nurture healthy eating, try and substitute one ingredient. But Don’t – DO NOT – give your child a new food for lunch.
Our lunches must include vegetables and fruits. So we cut cucumbers or green peppers, cooked broccoli or brussel sprouts from the night before, or canned corn. The kids like seedless grapes and berries, apple slices, peaches and bananas. In the winter clementine oranges are popular. I try and keep individual size fruit snacks (like mandarin oranges) on hand for the days when the household is low on fruit. Dried fruit is always good to send, especially apricots.
Shhhh! Children like food to be fun and look fun. To keep them interested in healthy foods, try and surprise them with something unique in the lunchbox. What will Sito (Arabic for Grandma) put in our lunchbox today? It may be a grilled cheese sandwich cut into star shapes, or a heart. Or I may use carrot slices to give a sandwich eyes. Spread chive cream cheese on a cracker and top with cheese slices cut into fun shapes.
I have no magic answers for school lunches. New ideas happen almost every day. I change bread, spreads, fillings, mix and match. Sometimes the children will eat the same thing for a week and won’t touch it again for a month.
Key principles for a good lunch are maintaining a proper balance for a healthy meal (protein, fruit and a vegetable), keeping the kids involved in deciding what they will eat and making the food fun and attractive.
I’d love to hear your ideas. Let’s start the conversation!