While I’m not a kid anymore, I do feel the pull of back-to- school during August. As a child, it meant getting brand new school supplies: a book satchel, crayons, tablets, pencils, spiral notebooks, etc. They were clean and perfect, smelled good and offered the promise of a year of surprises, new teachers and new friends. And, my favorite new item, a lunch kit, complete with a thermos! I loved the idea of fun lunches from home.
There was also anticipation of delicious school lunches! Yes, you read that correctly, delicious school lunches. When I was a kid in school, these lunches were good. Dedicated “lunch ladies” came to school every morning and baked homemade yeasty rolls, and cooked a flavorful lunch from scratch. The fragrances of lunch always filled the building. Those aromas, the rolls baking, onions and garlic being sautéed, chicken roasting and potatoes being cooked were stimulating young appetites. Was the food sophisticated? No. Was it honest? Yes. Was it processed? Never! And it was good.
Having a nutritious and delicious lunch while at school is very important to a child’s ability to learn, exercise and handle the stresses of school. Lunch time is not just a 25- or 30-minute period when a child is separated from learning in the classroom. It may very well be the most important meal of the day. Unfortunately, school lunches have declined considerably since I was a kid, with schools opting for foods that are heavily processed and cheap. However, as I mentioned in my previous article, that trend is beginning to change. Yoo hoo!
For kids whose schools have not changed over to a healthy and delicious lunch program, taking a lunch from home is a good way to enjoy a nutritious lunch. I’ve decided to give you some ideas for 5 days of lunches that children like and which will give them the nutrition they need.
Monday: How about some hummus in a whole wheat pita pocket! Accompany this with some raw veggies (carrots, celery, red peppers, cherry tomatoes) with a little cup of seasoned low fat yogurt (or tzatziki sauce) to dip them in. Dessert: red seedless grapes.
Tuesday: Pasta! Cook short pasta, like farfalle, penne, orecchiette or rotini, and mix it with olive oil and a little lemon juice. Add some shredded carrots, chopped red peppers, chopped scallions, chopped celery and some tiny grape tomatoes. Top it with a good sprinkling of parmesan or shredded mozzarella cheese. Dessert: an apple or banana is always good.
Wednesday: Chopped Salad with tiny chopped lettuces, carrots, celery, tomatoes, corn kernels, boiled egg, and chopped avocado (after chopping avocado be sure to wash it with lemon or lime juice so that it won’t turn brown) and finally
, some shredded cheddar cheese and chopped pieces of chicken, roast beef or ham. Make a dressing with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil to pour over it. [Note: When you get takeout, save the little plastic cups that condiments come in. Those cups are perfect containers for sending the salad dressing.] Accompany this with some whole grain crackers. Dessert: a piece of fresh fruit that is in season. In early autumn, you can use peaches or plums. In winter, the best fruits are citrus.
Thursday: Let’s make this one a day to celebrate the flavors of Mexico! Make a quesadilla with some cheddar or jack cheese (don’t worry about it being eaten at room temperature, it’s still good!) along with a container with guacamole, one with tomato salsa and some tortilla chips. Dessert: Melon chunks.
Friday: Kids love plain tuna straight from a can. I recommend you buy tuna packed in water. Send the tuna in a container along with a wedge of lemon to squirt on it. Include some whole grain crackers and a tossed salad. Send dressing for the salad in a small container. Dessert: Chunks of fresh pineapple.
The best beverage to drink with lunch is a bottle of water.
That should get you started. Keep in mind that for the best nutrition
, use whole grain products. They also taste better. In this menu I have not included any processed foods, i.e., American cheese, cold cuts, bottled dressings, etc., for one simple reason, those foods have a lot of calories from salts, fats and sugars, but little or no nutrition. Those foods won’t keep your kids going. So use only whole products – fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grain breads and pasta, and only chicken or meat that you have cooked yourself. Everything on this 5-day menu is good at room temperature. If your child has a thermos, then you can add soups (that you make at home) and stews to your menu. You can also send drinks that need to be kept cold, like low fat milk.
To help you start, I’m including 2 recipes with this article. One is for Vegetable Quesadillas and the other is for Hummus in Pita pockets with Cucumber & Yogurt Sauce. I trust that you and your children will enjoy both of these.
Finally, I hope you have a great school year!
Click here and here for Chef Bobo’s delicious Quesadilla and Pita Pocket recipes!
Spoons with the Chef
by Robert “Chef Bobo” Surles, Executive Chef at The Calhoun School