When your child starts moaning, “PB&J again?!” what’s a mom to do? Here are school lunch tips from the book, 44 Things Parents Should Know About Healthy Cooking for Kids, by Chef Rahman “Rock” Harper. Chef Rock has a few tricks up his sleeve to take the lunchbox from boring to brilliant, and maybe even turn your kid into a school lunch sophisticate. He also throws in a few bonus ideas for after school snacks that will keep them away from the junk and full until dinnertime.
1. Cook ahead, creatively
“I like to make a dozen muffins on Sunday and use them throughout the week for lunch or for after school snacks.”
Making healthy muffins is easy. Find your favorite muffin recipe and use whole wheat flour when possible. Make sure you throw in some fruits and nuts the kids like such as blueberries or raspberries, pecans, or walnuts. Use healthy oils and replace sugar with alternative sweeteners like agave nectar or honey. If the kids get tired of the same flavor, I just freeze a few for another day. Don’t be afraid to get creative. I had some leftover carrots and pineapple one day and decided to use them in a muffin with agave nectar, flaxseed, and wheat flour. The kids killed them!
“Smoothies are a great way to integrate fresh fruit into their diet and make a delicious after school refreshment.”
Make it a hands-on project by letting your kids pick their own fruits and have them wash and remove the leaves and stems. Let them toss the fruit and any additions like skim milk or honey into a blender and let ‘er rip! They will be thrilled to call something so delicious their own!
3. Sweet, not sugary
“Too much sugar is no good, but it doesn’t mean you can’t make something sweet for an after school treat.”
We like to make brown rice crispies with cocoa, honey, and almond butter. The kids just love them!
4. Make your own chips
“Store-bought chips are often loaded with fat, salt, and artificial ingredients, even the baked varieties. I like to make my own chips. It takes a little bit of work, but they are well worth it.”
Slice russet potatoes 1/8 inch thick. Toss with olive oil and season with sea salt. Bake in a single layer on a baking sheet at 450 degrees F until crisp. You may serve these with a low-fat dip or alone. For variety, use different kinds of potatoes, like sweet or purple, and play around with seasonings to expose your kids to different flavor combinations – hot and spicy, smoky, Indian, even Italian seasonings! Your kids will thank you.
5. Don’t be afraid to give kids “grown up” food
“Many kids love to do what grownups do, so give them the chance to have an adult meal.”
If your child likes sushi, send him to school with sushi, but it is best to avoid varieties with raw fish as it can be difficult to maintain the proper temperature. If you’re adventurous, make a veggie roll using some carrot, cucumber, avocado and brown rice. Many stores now sell nori and bamboo mats in their international section.
6. Heat things up
“Most of the food that we serve our children for lunch is cold, but don’t be afraid to change that if you can.”
Think of your kids’ favorite dishes and find a way to fit them into a lunch box. Cheeseburger macaroni with lean meat, whole wheat pasta, tomatoes and low-fat cheese is a great lunch meal. My son loves tacos so we give him a few whole wheat tortillas, cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes along with some heated beef and brown rice in separate thermoses. It is very important that hot items are heated above 165 degrees F and do not get cooler than 140 degrees F before eaten at lunch. It’s even better if your kid has a microwave at school, so do some research.