Monday, October 11, 2010

Thinking Outside the Lunchbox

We've covered breakfast in a recent blog with a breakfast cookie. Now, onto lunch.

So many parents complain about making the lunches, especially after seeing what comes home in the lunch bag at the end of the day. I hate throwing food away, too!

I only have to make 1 lunch so I don't feel it's a big deal. I know people who have multiple lunches on the assembly line each morning so the task can be a bit more daunting, especially if they all don't like the same thing.

As a kid, I loved tuna sandwiches and plain old peanut butter. I used to buy lunch once a week when they served spaghetti and salad or pizza (little did my taste buds know just how disgusting the pizza was). My son never buys lunch and doesn't care to. I know they are trying to improve the school menus but truly, I know enough teachers who suffer severe nausea on a daily basis from the "aromas" wafting from the cafs. Nuf said.

What's a parent to do? We are brainwashed by the food industry to pack items like "Lunchables" (code for processed, high-sodium, the anti- food) and 100 calorie snack packs (code for processed and overpriced). Whatever happened to packing as my friend Gina calls it, "a piece of fruit"? An orange or an apple, remember that in your lunch bag?

My son is not a "lunch meater" (did I just coin a new phrase?) so I have to be creative. Here is what I have made for his lunches over the last 2 years:

  • cold whole wheat spaghetti drizzled with olive oil and parsley
  • peanut butter and fluff on whole wheat bread
  • whole wheat tortillas wrapped with cheese
  • egg noodles
  • homemade chicken soup in a thermos
  • homemade pizza or bakery pizza strips
  • homemade spinach calzones

That's pretty much the running list. Snack items include:

  • Triscuits or Wheat Thins
  • granola bars
  • string cheese
  • sliced cheddar cheese
  • homemade muffin or cookie
  • always a vegetable; either sugar snap peas, cut up carrots, celery, cukes, peas, green beans or salad
  • water bottle and sometimes a 100% fruit juice. Sometimes I let him buy the sugar laden chocolate milk

Readers submitted their own ideas on the Facebook fan page. I'm including some extras that I wish my son would eat!

  • Gogurts (freeze and throw in the lunch in the a.m)
  • hummus and crackers or pita bread
  • edamame
  • egg, chicken, tuna, turkey, or ham salad
  • lean cuts of deli meat in a sandwich (Hormel Naturals makes a very healthy turkey & ham; no nitrates or preservatives. You will pay slightly more than your usual deli meat.)
  • apple slices and peanut butter (if allowed in school)
  • Nutella on whole grain bread (for me that is DESSERT!)
  • Sunbutter ( a great peanut butter substitute if your child has an allergy or the school has banned PB products) sandwich, or as a dip for apple slices.
  • any kind of leftovers from the night before. Kids don't care as much as you think about having HOT food. Or use a Thermos.
  • refried beans spread on a whole wheat tortilla with cheese, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, salsa
  • Laughing Cow cheese or cream cheese used as a spread with shredded carrots, sliced olives, leftover cooked chicken in a wrap
  • Tri-colored pasta salad with shredded carrots, celery, broccoli florets with Italian dressing
  • dried fruit, raisins, cranberries, apricots, banana chips
  • Greek yogurt with granola (the Greek stuff is so rich and creamy and packed with protein) or topped with mini chocolate chips
  • your child's favorite fruit either whole or cut up

Other Tips:

  • Use your kid's creativity and let him/her make lunch. Challenge them to use at least 3 colors in the rainbow in their lunch and you are sure to be packing in some good vitamins!

  • Don't pack massive quantities of one thing. They only have so much time to eat. Picking on a few items will hopefully guarantee that they are getting a variety of nutrients.

  • Use an ice pack to keep cold stuff cold

  • Ask your kids what other kids eat at school to either, 1. Get ideas or 2. Help you feel better about what you are sending in : )

  • Remember, your kids' tastes will change so keep trying new things and don't give up or you'll both be in the same food rut for years to come

  • Make sure you have a good mix of protein and carbs to keep their brains and bodies at optimal speed for a great day of learning

Foods to Avoid Like the Plague:

  • Ramen noodles: Devoid of nutrients and extremely high in sodium

  • Lunchables or anything that comes in a can or plastic package. I just think homemade is the way to go, as much as you can. Do what is best for the child and not necessarily the easy/lazy way out.

  • Happy Meals. Yes, I have heard that some parents deliver these to their kids at school. I can't even go there right now.

  • Any junk food: Twinkies, Yodels, candy bars, Doritos, potato get the idea. I think putting these in a kid's lunch on a daily basis is a recipe for disaster. NOTE: I do not believe in depriving ANYONE of sweets. Give them a cookie or baked good that is homemade. At least you know what's in it, right?

Please share your lunch tips here and what works for you. We can all benefit from each other's wisdom : ). Thank you so much to all the Facebook fans who helped contribute to this article!


Annie said...

Hi Becky, You are such a good mom!! Hey, I don't have kids but I thought PB was banned from all schools? Tells you how much I know, Hahaha! Great ideas.

And by the way, the coconut milk in the Choc Zucchini Muffins is actually a kind of yogurt. It's the SO Delicious Brand sold in Whole Foods. If you are going to make these, also keep in mind b/c they're muffins - they are not very sweet. If you think your son may not like them this way, just add 1/4 to 1/3 cup more granulated sugar. :)

Becky's Big Bytes said...

Funny, a good mom, or a crazy, psycho mom!! The pb is not banned everywhere, depends on which school. Very strange. In kindergarten, no pb, but once he got to first, no problem.
Thanks for the tips on the muffins. I think it'll be fine the way it is : ). Now I have a reason to go to Whole Foods tomorrow. Thanks!!

Elizabeth, blogging for SunButter said...

Hello, Becky ~
What a great list. As a SunButter blogger, I'm proud you included our products. From what we see and hear around the country, peanut butter school rules are all over the map. Some schools have "nut-free" tables in their lunchrooms, where the key is to educate the staff members that even though SunButter looks like peanut butter, it's completely nut-free and safe for kids with nut allergies. As a fellow "psycho" mom, I especially appreciated your Foods to Avoid list. Thanks for a delicious post!

Becky's Big Bytes said...

Thanks Elizabeth! I guess we are in good company then : ). I couldn't see your blog. Can you send me a link? Would love to "follow" you. Thanks!!

Elizabeth, blogging for SunButter said...

Good morning, Becky. It is on the site, here:

We have new posts on Thursdays (usually! you know how that goes).
Looking forward to more of your delicious posts.
Thanks and take care.