As summer fades away many of us start thinking about packing lunches. Reflecting back on what lunch at school was like when we were young makes a lot of us want new ideas for our kids and for our own portable lunches.
It's sad that so many of us get in a rut, thinking lunch means sandwiches. It doesn't have to. Think variety. After all, it's the spice of life.
Yet coming up with exciting portable lunch ideas that are also tasty can be very tough, especially because you want to include a variety of healthy foods. Prevent boredom by building lunches around something different, like a cold pasta or bean salad, a thermos of warm homemade soup, or leftover vegetable lasagna from last night's dinner. Some people love to nosh on cold chicken tenders or pizza, hard boiled eggs, or hummus dip with pita flatbread at lunchtime. You can also tuck in some yogurt, nuts or celery stuffed with peanut butter.
However, one of the tastiest lunches to pack can be a simple salad. Personalize your preferred greens by adding favorite vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans or meat. If that's not your cup of tea, you might consider making a healthy dip from yogurt or cottage cheese to pack with a variety of sliced vegetables or fruit for dipping.
If your lunch just has to include a sandwich, you can still think out of the box. Veggie wraps are all the rage. Make one using a whole-wheat tortilla. Or wrap your sandwich filling in a lettuce leaf. Who says sandwiches have to include bread? You might also consider packing a bean burrito.
Just be sure you balance what's in the lunch you put together. Make sure it includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy products and sources of protein.
When it comes to our kids, every parent wants to be sure they are well-nourished and energized so they do well in school. Thankfully, there are lots of things you can do to be sure your children eat well while they're at school.
First, you have to remember that even when you pack and send a healthy lunch to school with your kids, if it's not full of foods they like to eat, they won't eat it. Kids are more likely to eat their lunch if you let them help make it, or simply let them select the foods that go into it. It also helps if they are used to eating healthy foods at home. One way to make that happen is to model better food selection and eating behavior. If your kids see you eating healthier foods, they'll want to eat them too. You have more influence over their eating habits than you'd think. Just make sure they see you be an adventurous eater, trying and enjoying new things.
If you want to make their lunch extra special, add some fun. Cut foods into interesting shapes, wrap them with fancy wraps, or just do something as simple and easy as tucking in a comic from the morning paper or a sticky note with a joke or a loving message.
Don't forget to make sure any food you pack for lunch stays safe, especially if it can't be refrigerated. Food will begin to grow harmful bacteria that can cause serious foodborne illnesses after about two hours. Keep a packed lunch cold until lunchtime by adding a frozen beverage or an ice pack to your insulated lunch box or bag.
We all need to stop thinking of lunchtime as a break from school or work where we gobble down whatever is quick and easy. Lunch is crucial to our well-being. Make lunchtime special. We're all worth it.
If you're looking for new ideas to help you live a healthier lifestyle, Cornell University Cooperative Extension's Eat Smart New York program may be just right for you. Interactive classes include fun activities and new ideas to help people incorporate exercise into their busy lives, improve their nutritional status, and save money. Classes can be scheduled at convenient times and locations throughout Chautauqua County, and bilingual education is available. For more information call 664-9502 ext. 217.
And if you're looking for an easy, fun and nutritious addition to a packable lunch, try:
Yields about two servings (two 6.4 oz. veggie "bowls")
1 green pepper
1 stalk celery
cup broccoli florets
cup cauliflower florets
cup low-fat plain yogurt
1. Wash and drain all fresh vegetables.
2. Cut the pepper in half (from side to side). Clean out the seeds. Set the pepper "bowls" aside.
3. Cut the celery and carrot into sticks.
4. Cut the broccoli and cauliflower into small pieces.
5. Spoon a layer of yogurt into each pepper bowl.
6. Place half of the celery sticks, carrot sticks, broccoli and cauliflower in each pepper bowl.
7. Enjoy the portable dip and dippers.
Choose other fresh vegetables.
Try apple, pear or banana slices for dippers.
Add a little orange juice to plain yogurt.
Choose different flavored yogurts.
Blend cottage cheese with a dash of lemon juice, dill seed and minced dried onion instead of yogurt.
Add your own ideas.
Source: Cooking Up Fun! Pyramid of Snacks - Cornell University Cooperative Extension
Nutrition Facts: Serving size - 1/2 of recipe, 60 calories, 5 calories from fat, 0.5 g total fat, 8.3 percent calories from fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 70 mg sodium, 11 g total carbohydrate, 3 g dietary fiber, 6 g sugars, 3 g protein, 120 percent vitamin A, 8 percent calcium, 130 percent vitamin C, 4 percent iron.