Every once in a while, we here at Lunchsense like to do, yeah, you guessed it—lunch. Many adults hurry through, or dismiss it altogether; but, for our children, this noontime meal remains a treasured respite from the rigors of reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.
Most will tell you they really look forward to it. Visit your school’s cafeteria sometime—you’ll likely be greeted by a swirling jangle of sliding, metal chair-legs, eager, chirping voices and a heart-quickening buzz of unleashed energy. You’ll also find a ton of wasted food. This is often the result of over-packing, but it’s just as frequently caused by fickle tastes or “bor-ing” options.
Many kids love lunch-time, but the food—not so much. “Come on, Dad—ham and cheese again?”
In an effort to make sure my kids are properly refueled for their afternoon lessons, I try to mix-up the menu a little bit, and I enlist their help in deciding what’s sure to get eaten. Here are a few of their (somewhat) surprising favorites:
- Hummus, cheddar and fresh spinach wrap. I didn’t discover hummus until I was in my early 30’s, and now it’s one of my favorite snacks. My kids love it in wraps and with tortilla chips. It’s a solid source of dietary fiber, folate and some essential minerals. It’s also very low in cholesterol. The nutritional value will increase significantly if you find a good recipe and make your own rather than purchasing the pre-made kind. Be sure to read the label if you opt for store-bought. I use whole-grain wraps, of course; and ever since I showed my sons some old Popeye cartoons, they’ve found spinach (fresh, not canned) more appealing.
- I call it a “Yunch.” It’s simply a cup of low-fat yogurt, granola and some mixed berries. What’s not to like? Works great for quick breakfasts too. Protein, vitamin B-12 and riboflavin are among the vital nutrients found in yogurt. Try to use “plain” and be careful of sugar content when selecting a brand-name. The berries (one of the world’s healthiest foods) and maybe a smidge of honey should make it plenty sweet.
- Tuna salad pita pocket. This traditional standard gets the job done. Some kids have an aversion to it (probably the smell of a freshly opened can), but my boys really enjoy my own special recipe. I go light on the celery and add a couple of tablespoons of sweet pickle relish. I use fresh chopped greens and a whole-grain pita when assembling. There are healthier choices, but white albacore tuna is another great source of protein that is low in saturated fat. It also packs a nice B-6/B-12 punch with a decent niacin kicker. You should use your mayonnaise cautiously to limit the damage, and don’t add any salt.
- Tofu pâté. If you haven’t tried it, your kids probably haven’t either, and you’re all missing out. Tofu, while nutritious, gets a bad rap from the meat-eaters of the world; and truthfully, it is a poor facsimile of meat (Tofurkey?!?), but the pâté tastes really good. I buy the packaged, “Toby’s Mild Jalapeno” variety because they introduced me to the stuff. It’s like a combination dip/spread that can be scooped up with tortilla chips, or spooned into pitas and wraps. It also works great with a bagel, instead of cream cheese. My sons gobble it up however it’s served. The tofu itself is mostly flavorless, adhering to the spices used in preparation. I’d recommend sampling some different combinations. It may not taste anything like meat, but if used properly, tofu can offer an excellent, alternative protein.
- “Ants on a log” and an apple. I’m talking about celery sticks smeared with peanut butter and dotted with raisins (or craisins), of course. It’s healthy, simple and fun—what could be better? Unassuming celery does its nutritional job with plenty of dietary fiber, vitamins A, C, K, folate, potassium and some manganese for good measure. The apple and raisins provide another vitamin boost and additional carbohydrates. The peanut butter is the protein, but check the sugar and sodium contents; and utilize portion control to limit the unavoidable intake of fat. Note also that if your kiddos take peanut butter in their lunches, they should steer towards the “peanut” tables in the cafeteria, and wash their hands thoroughly afterwards.
It’s easy to take a less involved approach to your kids’ lunches. The creative energy isn’t always there, and neither is the time. But, letting younglings fend entirely for themselves in the lunch-room can be nutritionally dangerous, and it misses a great opportunity to model healthier living. They really need the midday nourishment, so put your heads together—find out what they like, teach them what’s good for them, and make sure their lunches are about more than just socializing. The quicker you can get your kids eating right, the sooner they’ll start developing healthy habits that will last their whole (long) lives. And, that’s just using your Lunchsense.