Tasty, fresh ideas to pack for your kid’s lunch.
So you’ve got the lunch box and thermos and water bottle all ready to go. But what to fill them with? The school year is long, and peanut-butter-and-jelly gets old pretty quickly. New Seasons Market nutritionist Christi Reed shares her tips for packing a healthy and varied school lunch, plus a few of her favorite snack-time options:
- Don’t be afraid to get creative! If your little one is a PB&J acolyte, change things up. Try some local honey in their sandwich, or sprinkling in coconut shreds for a boost of healthy fat and fiber. Or swap out sunflower butter, soy-nut butter or hemp-seed butter.
- Get kids to help with lunch prep. If your child is old enough to cut, have them cut up carrot sticks or slice cucumbers into coins. Younger kids can wash off produce. Either way, it gets them involved, and gives them some say over their lunch.
- Consider some bread alternatives: collard greens, sheets of nori and tortillas make a great base for a sandwich. Or, if you do go with bread, consider offering sourdough to your kids — Reed says it’s easier to digest, and better for blood sugar balance.
- There are plenty of good sandwich alternatives, including soups (an insulated thermos will keep them warm for hours) and smoothies. Reed recommends blending some cottage cheese into a smoothie for a healthy, creamy base. You can sneak some spinach in there too, for an extra dose of fiber.
- Eat like the rainbow. Put in as many differently colored foods as you can — it’s more visually appealing than a beige and white lunch, and much healthier for kids. Reed has noticed kids are particularly partial to purple, so try beets, purple cabbage and red grapes, which are high in antioxidants.
- If your kid loves apples, then great! But switch out the varieties that you pack — Granny Smiths one day, Pink Ladies the next. The same goes for all fruits and veggies, because different varietals give kids a different nutritional profile.
- Here’s what NOT to buy: Products with high fructose corn syrup listed as the first or second ingredient or those that are high in trans-fat-heavy hydrogenated oils. And Reed recommends keeping an eye on sugar content, too; any single-serving product that’s got more than 11 grams of sugar should be considered a treat. That includes a surprising amount of supposedly “healthy” foods, including some yogurts and granola bars marketed to kids.
- If your kids are yogurt fiends, try plain yogurt with a little fruit-sweetened jam, fresh berries or maple syrup mixed in.
- Don’t be afraid of healthy fats. Reed’s a big fan of organic whole milk, avocado, nuts and seeds and organic cheese — the kind of fuel kids need to boost their energy, support their brain function and make them feel full and satisfied during a long school day.
The team of nutritionists at New Seasons teamed up with the Oregon Environmental Council to come up with some healthy and tasty recipes to liven up the lunchbox this fall. If you make this one, keep an eye out for nitrate-free and hormone-free lunch meats, and remember, once you’ve opened a package of deli meat, it’s got a shelf life of about three days. The turkey roll-up recipe should take about 5 to 10 minutes to prepare. It’s also easily adaptable if your little one doesn’t eat meat, and pairs well with a serving of chia pudding for dessert.
- Applegate Naturals Uncured Turkey Pepperoni
- Honey-Pretzel Peanut Butter from WIld Friends (Good for dipping with carrot sticks, or spread on celery)
- Veggie-Gos fruit and veggie leathers
- Back-To-Nature Harvest Whole Wheat Crackers (Only a few ingredients, which is hard to find in a cracker.)
- Crunch-A-Ma-Me freeze-dried edamame snacks
- Inka Chips Plaintain Chips
- I Heart Keenwah quinoa almond clusters
- Bubbies pickles (Rinse them first, to lower the sodium levels.)
- Pirates Booty with nutritional yeast
- And, or course, nothing beats fresh fruit and veggies! Try sugar snap peas, sliced apples and pears, and slices of jicama.
Got a back-to-school dilemma for Reed? Email her at askthenutritionist(at)newseasonsmarket.com or tweet us at @Metro_Parent — we’ll pass it along.
Roasted turkey roll-ups
4 whole-wheat, spelt or Ezekiel tortillas
8 to 10 slices of roast turkey
½ cup of hummus or cream cheese
1 ripe, peeled avocado, sliced lengthwise
1 cup of baby spinach
Shredded carrot, optional
Spread one-fourth of the hummus or cream cheese on a tortilla. Then place the spinach, turkey and finally avocado on the bottom three-fourths of the tortilla. If you are feeling creative, you could add shredded carrot for some nice texture. Fold the tortilla in on the sides, and start rolling the wrap, beginning with the end with the filling. Tuck in the filling as you roll. Slice each roll-up through the middle, on the bias. Repeat with remaining tortillas.
Christi Reed’s chia pudding
1 ½ cups coconut or almond milk, unsweetened
½ cup chia seeds
2 to 4 tablespoons maple syrup
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Grated, unsweetened coconut
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Stir until well blended. Cover bowl and place in refrigerator for at least four hours. Once pudding has set, sprinkle with your favorite toppings and serve.