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School Lunchbox Meal Ideas

It’s here- the new school year! Bringing lunch from home is great if it is feasible for your family. It can be tricky coming up with school lunchbox ideas that include variety, foods your kids will eat, and foods that will stay good until lunchtime. I recommend getting a lunchbox that can Child with lunchboxaccommodate a refrigerated pack to keep certain foods cold.

Here are 5 ideas, one for each day of the week, that are dietitian approved:

Sandwich Lunchbox

You can’t go wrong with the tried and true staple.

  • Whole grain or 100% whole w­­­heat bread, nitrate- and nitrite-free lunchmeat, real cheese (steer clear of the heavily processed ones that come individually plastic-wrapped), lettuce, tomato, mustard.
  • 2 mini oranges
  • Whole wheat pretzels

Vegetarian Tortilla Wrap Lunchbox

Although it’s vegetarian, it’s not lacking in protein.

  • Use your kid’s favorite tortilla wrap (spinach, whole wheat, etc), and fill it with hummus or pureed black beans or lentils, sliced red and green peppers, and shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese.
  • To make a bean puree:  Saute ½ of a white or yellow onion in olive oil in a small skillet. Add pre-cooked lentils, beans, or canned beans and season with salt, pepper, and cumin. Cool after cooking, and stir in chopped cilantro and a little of your favorite salsa. Puree or fork mash the mixture.
  • Tortilla chips
  • Grapes

Lettuce Wrap Lunchbox

Kids like assembling their own foods, and although this might seem outside of the norm in terms of “kid food”, they are delicious.

  • 3 pieces of whole romaine lettuce leaves (approx 6” long ), 3 strips of baked, grilled, or otherwise cooked chicken or steak, thinly sliced carrots, and a mini Tupperware container of Asian salad dressing (be aware that many Asian dressings contain peanuts. If your school is 100% peanut-free, try French or Catalina dressing instead).
  • Clif Z bar or Larabar
  • Dried cranberries
  • Milk

Bagel, Nut Butter, and Jelly Lunchbox

 Again, you can’t go wrong with this kid favorite.

  • Use a whole grain bagel or a whole wheat English muffin. If your school is peanut-free, instead of peanut butter, try sunflower seed butter, almond butter or cashew butter. Add your kid’s favorite jelly (I recommend organic preserves that have less sugar- check at the farmers market too), and even a little drizzle of honey.
  • Carrot sticks
  • Whole grain Goldfish crackers
  • Milk

Cracker and Cheese Assortment

With the right sides, this does make a good meal.

  • Whole grain woven wheat crackers (i.e. Triscuits)
  • Brown rice cake or rice crackers
  • Whole grain round crackers
  • Two types of cheeses, sliced into 2”x2” squares, such as cheddar, swiss, muenster, or whatever you have in the house.
  • Shelled edamame
  • Banana

Each of the above meals includes (at minimum) a source of protein, a whole grain, a fruit, a vegetable, and a dairy serving. Give your child’s lunch experience a special touch by including a little note from you or dad, or put a sticker on one of the baggies or containers. And remember, fueling your child’s body and brain with healthy foods before and during school promotes better learning and school performance.

*Tip to encourage your child to eat the above lunchbox meals:  Share these meal ideas with your child’s friends’ parents. Kids tend to eat better in social settings where they see other kids eating and trying different things.

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Healthy Barbecue for Parents and Kids

Grilling season is going to be wrapping up in the next few months, but not before one of the biggest grill-out holidays of the season:  Labor Day! Summer barbecues are a time to celebrate with good food. You can still have good food and be healthy at your barbecue.

Parents with both of their children sharing food at the Barbecue

Here are some healthy barbecue pointers that I follow for myself and my family:

Choose organic meats. My picks:

  • Organic chicken breast or drumsticks (the drumsticks are only $3.00-$4.00 for 5 large pieces at Trader Joe’s)
  • Organic, local, grass fed ground beef from Fruitful Yield (at about $5.00 per pound, it doesn’t cost much more than non-organic)
  • Trader Joe’s 100% beef, nitrate- & nitrite-free hot dogs
  • Applegate brand organic hot dogs, which can be found in many grocery stores

Choose whole grain or 100% whole wheat hot dog and hamburger buns

You can find these at any grocery store, and really, they don’t taste different. Especially with all the yummy grill flavor coming through, and of course condiments.

Choose produce from the farmers market

Add some veggies to your grilling repertoire. Right now in season there is plentiful corn on the cob, eggplant, yellow and green zucchini, onions, potatoes, fennel, all colored peppers, mushrooms, and more. If your kids are old enough, ask them to help wash and even chop some of the veggies for you into large pieces. Toss the veggies in olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill them, turning them once. After removing from the grill, drizzle a little balsamic vinegar over them and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve in a large dish- beautiful with all the colors!

Make fruit skewers with yogurt dip

Again, get your kids involved by having them help wash, portion, and skewer a variety of fruits. Be creative and make a rainbow of colors with different fruits. You can make a simple fruit dip with vanilla yogurt (or any fruit flavored yogurt really).

Try pasta salad instead of traditional potato salad

You can make a delicious, healthier version of pasta salad by using whole wheat pasta or quinoa, an olive oil and vinegar dressing, and plenty of veggies, olives, fresh herbs and spices to flavor it.

Manage portions

Of course, there will likely be a variety of not-so-healthy food choices at any barbecue. Make just one plate of food, and make it reflect the Healthy Plate Model:  half of the plate filled with fruit and veggies, the other half split between whole grains and protein. Have a small dessert and drink water instead of soda.

Very important

Avoid over-cooking or charring foods on the grill, as this results in formation of cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). You can avoid these by cooking on lower flame for longer, pre-cook the meat a bit to decrease time needed on the grill, and trim off any charred pieces you do get.

Happy grilling!

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