Ideas For Packing
A Healthy School Lunch
For eight hours a day, your kids are at school learning, playing with discovery toys and socializing. Next to the last bell ringing to let them out for the day, the best part of their schedule is lunch time. It's the only time they can relax and re-energize for the second half of the day. Most of the excitement is about what they have in their lunch boxes -- that responsibility falls on you. Somehow, you have to incorporate whole grains, protein, fruit, vegetables, and dairy, but you also want to give them something to look forward to eating. There are ways of doing that without a recipe book -- but they're limited. Here are a few ideas for packing a healthy lunch your kids will love.
One of the obstacles for packing a lunch for school is refrigeration and heating. You need to send something that can sit safely at room temperature for a few hours. There are not many of those, but a one-dish pasta salad is a pretty safe bet if you're not using eggs or mayonnaise. With pasta salad, you can load it up with smoked or cured meats that can go without refrigeration, whole-grain pasta, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers and hard cheese. As a substitute for meat, you can use black beans or navy beans to give your salad protein and fiber. Using a vinegar-based dressing (like Italian) to season it is best -- the acid kills bacteria that can cause food to spoil. All you need is a peach to make it a balanced meal.
Bacon isn't considered the healthiest of meats, but if you get center-cut bacon, it's leaner than other cuts of bacon and has more protein than turkey bacon. It also doesn't require refrigeration, so it travels well in a lunch tote. If your kids need condiments, don't dress it with mayonnaise, which needs to be refrigerated. You can send along mayonnaise packets that don't require refrigeration. Another option would be to add a smear of avocado on your tortilla before assembling the bacon, lettuce and tomato. With a side of strawberries and string cheese, all the nutrition requirements are filled.
Ham & Cheese Sandwich
Some ham is safe left unrefrigerated because it's cured and cooked. The safest hams are dry-cured, like Prosciutto, but most are OK for sending in a school lunch. Hard cheeses are also fairly safe sitting in a locker between breakfast and lunchtime. Because there's so little water in the hard cheese and dry-cured ham, bacteria has a hard time growing. Dress a ham and cheese sandwich with mustard, which doesn't require refrigeration, either. With a slice of tomato and a leaf of lettuce on whole grain bread, a ham and cheese sandwich with a piece of fresh fruit is a well-balanced meal.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are probably the most brown-bag-friendly sandwiches you can make for your kids. They're packed with protein and, with whole grain bread, it provides nearly endless energy -- and they don't require any refrigeration! The problem is that nut allergies have steadily increased across the nation, and a lot of schools have banned peanuts and tree nuts from being brought onto school grounds. However, there are a lot of peanut butter substitutes that are safe to bring to school. Sunbutter is mashed-up sunflower seeds. It's very similar in flavor and texture to peanut butter and contains the same amount of protein and fat. Soynut butter is also a good alternative to peanut butter -- it has a little bit less fat but it also has a little bit less protein. Add an apple, a bag of baby carrots, and packaged string cheese and all the nutrition requirements are met.
Like dry-cured ham, dry-cured meats such as pepperoni and salami are great for lunches because bacteria will not grow in them. Layering the meats with provolone cheese, lettuce, and tomato on a whole grain loaf and drizzling them with Italian dressing makes a sandwich hardy enough for older kids who need lots of protein and safe enough to keep in a lunch tote until noon. Slip in sliced cucumbers and a banana and you have all of the meal components for a healthy lunch.
Hummus & Veggies
For more adventurous eaters, hummus with cut-up carrots and grape tomatoes along with whole grain pita is about the most perfectly balanced lunch you can get when cooking and refrigeration aren't options. The hummus, made up of mashed chickpeas and sesame paste, is an excellent source of protein, while the pita fills the grain requirement, and the carrots and tomatoes take care of the fruit and veggies requirement. If your kids prefer a sandwich, you can put the hummus and shredded carrots, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers inside a pita pocket.