Healthy Lunch, Happy Child

As another school year pokes it's ugly face into the room, it's time to gear up ourselves and our kids for the next 180 days.

I don't have kids yet, but I used to be one and lunch was the only part of the day I looked forward to because it was something I could control.

I think it's important to educate your little ones on making good choices in the school cafeteria. Every day in middle school, I got friendly with pizza, fries, ranch dressing, and fruit punch. Occasionally some corn would enter the scene, but not often. While my more sophisticated friends were choosing the bottled water, I’d head straight for the drink machine and wait for a can of fruit-flavored sucrose water to pop out.

Not until high school did I pay attention to what was on the menu du jour. Fries were great, but I’d feel sluggish during history class in the afternoon. Cookies were totally awesome, but I’d feel the sharp pangs of hunger well before the 3:00 bell. My mom is great, but I wish someone had schooled me on proper nutrition at lunch time early on.

Kids need good food and things they know and feel comfortable eating. It makes no sense to send along an alfalfa sprout and Swiss sandwich if Ned really doesn’t like sprouts.

1. Let your child pick out his or her own insulated lunch container, cups, etc. Funky colored plastic wrap, cool cups with straws and lids, brown paper bags he/she can decorate. All of these items can be found at the Dollar Tree or other discount store!

2. By making the food enticing, colorful, and appealing to the eye will more than likely get your child to eat.

3. By freezing a water bottle or juice box, this can serve as the cold pack in the lunch box. Simply put it in a plastic bag or wrap with paper towels to prevent potential leakage onto food (or the cute note you added at the last minute).

4. Empower your kid to help you. Getting involved in choosing, making, and packing the lunch is practice for later…when you’re able to unleash them to make lunch themselves. Your child knows what he/she likes.

The following are just a few examples of things to send Alexander and Whitney off to school with:

Supreme Pizza Pasta Salad
Serves 8
Adapted from Rachael Ray's 30 Minute Meals 2

2 plum tomatoes, diced
20 basil leaves, chiffonade
½ medium red onion, sliced
8 white mushrooms, sliced
34 slices turkey pepperoni, sliced into strips
8 oz reduced-fat mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 lb pasta (wagon wheels, stars, rotini, ABCs, etc)
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 tsp oregano
1 Tb tomato paste
1/3 cup Kraft fat free Italian dressing

Combine all ingredients, chill, serve.
Combining the tomato paste with the dressing helps distribute and incorporate it better into the salad.

100% Wheat Bread (makes 2 loaves)
1 ½ cups warm water (100-110 F)
1 ½ cups warm milk (100-110 F)
1 ½ Tbsp+ 1 tsp salt
½ cup honey
5 Tbsp oil
6 2/3 cup whole wheat flour

1. mix yeast, salt, honey, oil, and milk with water.
2. mix in flour
3. let rise 2 hours with lid slightly ajar
4. Refrigerate from 7 to 11 days
5. If using immediately after rising, shape dough into loaf, buns, balls, etc.
6. Place in loaf pan or on a baking sheet and let rest for 1hr 40 minutes.
7. Bake at 350 F for 50-60 minutes
8. Cool completely before slicing

Special Sandwiches
4 slices whole wheat bread
2 tsp low-fat mayonnaise
2 tsp no sugar added peach or apricot jam
2 slices (2 oz) no salt added ham or Canadian bacon
2 slices low fat or no-salt Swiss cheese

Spread bottom halves of bread with mayonnaise. Spread the top halves with jam. Tear each slice of meat in half and arrange on the bottoms. Tear each slice of cheese in half and arrange on the top. Add lettuce, sprouts, cucumber or carrot slices, if desired. Alternatively, use a slice of Bibb or Boston lettuce instead of bread.

Sugar Cookies makes 20 cookies
4 oz Smart Balance buttery spread, room temperature
¾ cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp kosher salt
¼ cup egg substitute
1 1/3 cup whole wheat flour

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or Silpat.
2. Cream the Smart Balance and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer or by hand mixer until light and fluffy. Add vanilla, baking soda, salt, and beat at medium speed until incorporated. Add egg substitute and beat until incorporated.
3. Add flour and mix slowly, just until blended.
4. Scoop dough using ice cream scoop, melon baller in 1-inch increments. Roll ball of dough between palms until smooth. 5. Space evenly on cookie sheet. Using a drinking glass, flatten each ball to about ¼ in thick.
6. Bake cookies 12 minutes or until cookies are golden and somewhat firm to the touch. Let cool completely.

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About the author

Nikki Miller-Ka

Nikki Miller-Ka

Ms. Miller-Ka is a classically trained chef with a BA in English from East Carolina University and a Culinary Arts Associate Degree from Le Cordon Bleu-Miami.

Formerly, she’s worked as a researcher, an editorial assistant, reporter and guest blogger for various publications and outlets in the Southeast. She has also worked as a catering chef, a pastry chef, a butcher, a baker, and a biscuit-maker. Presently, she is a food editor, freelance food writer, and a tour guide for Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours.

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  1. Good tip!

    Boy, does that pasta salad look good. Everything looks good, but I reallllly love the pasta salad.

  2. Nik, those a great healthy recipes. If you ever choose to go that route, you'd make a total BA mom. Those are all cool little tips to steer the kids away from fried tittly winks at school.

    Ah, so the sugar cookie recipe surfaces :) Very easy, and it looks very good. I'm going to jot that one down and try it next time. Enjoy the weekend buddy.

  3. Okay, Two bucks a day times three adds up...PLUS, this stuff looks way better. My kids would be the envy of their peers. And yes, Dollar Tree has great stuff. Definitely bookmarking this site!

  4. Pasta salad may be the perfect food. When I was in high school, I was a vegetarian, so I had to walk all the way to the hippie health food store for a whole-grain bagel and some veggie spread for lunch. I did luh me some fries, though.

  5. Excellent post Nikki. You may not have kids but it's obvious that you care about their well being. Me too. Your advise about helping kids learn what's good for them by allowing them to help prepare their school lunch is right on. You rock!

  6. Thanks everybody!

    Emiline: I love pasta, too. I eat it all of the time. I'm surprised I haven't joined in on any Pesto Pasta Nights yet. I've got a whole pound of the little wagon wheels in my fridge waiting to be covered in something.

    Adam: That's swwet of you to say. I need to post the pic of the cookies. They were pre-tty good. Some kids actually came to the class and were asking questions about all of the food. Kids are so super cool (well, if they have super cool parents backing them up)

    Mrssaditty: Thanks for stopping by! I hope my tips help you and your little ones. It can help big ones too! Adults take lunch to work sometimes. They forget healthy lunch attitudes and just go for frozen meals or the 3-martini lunch special at Moe's down the block.

    Heather: We couldn't leave campus. There was a KFC across the street and my class was forbidden to go over there. Class of 98 mucked it up for us.

    Teresa: I cannot WAIT to have kids. I had an awesome childhood and I want to be able to bestow an awesome childhood onto my own offspring...starting with their nutrition.

  7. Thanks so much for stopping by and giving the compliments on my ginger cake. Mmmmm....sugar cookies are my weakness. I must try your recipe this weekend! I'll just save a few and then take the rest to work. I have no control when it comes to sugar cookies. :-)

  8. OH yea, such a great menu and I'm loving the healthy alternatives!


  9. That bread looks wonderful and I love your sandwich idea.

  10. Thanks for the great recipes! That pasta one looks great and I am thinking my little ones will love it! Especially if they are wagon wheels!

  11. Michele: Your cake really is boss (as the kids say these days...I think). I hope you were able to try the cookies and they turned out for you!

    Darius: Thanks, man. I try. A lot. I feel like I can't be an authority on healthy foods if I can't be healthy myself.

    Aggie: I hope you get the opportunity to make the pasta for your little ones.

    Courtney: Thanks!

  12. The pasta salad looks tasty and I think it might be something my little guy would eat. Even though he is not a fan of cold salad, most of the ones I make are cream-based rather than tomato.


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