If you are in the midst of the back-to-school rush, but haven’t yet considered what to do for school lunches, here are some ideas that should please your kids and your budget, and give those young bodies and minds the kind of fuel that they need. Be sure to get a trendy new reusable lunch pack that includes a thermos as you shop for those needed school supplies.
Let’s face it, school lunches served cafeteria-style are not the greatest. Students have complained about school food for as long as it’s been served. School lunches are, for the most part, uninspired and — all too often — dumped in the trash. That leaves students hungry, unhappy and ready for the after-school “junk food fix.” Not the best of all worlds, is it?
Prices for a normal school lunch plan have increased, and even though nutrition standards have also been enhanced, it just isn’t the same as “Mom’s cooking.” And school lunches will never compete with a child’s favorite fast-food burger!
Even at those schools with optional salad and sandwich bars, the options are not all that wonderful, the cost may be higher, and you aren’t there to monitor their choices.
So, what’s a parent to do?
Here are some suggestions for Brown Bag lunches that will seem like treats. Your children won’t forget to take these lunch boxes to school, and they’re all easy to put together and economical.
- Cold Noodles: With the right sauces and accompaniments, cold pastas and noodles* can be the basis of hearty, nutritious, healthful lunches. Include a small roll, a cookie and a piece of fruit, and a bottle of sparkling water. Your child will be happy and energized for an afternoon of learning. *(Make enough for dinner so that you have some left for lunch the next day!)
- Fruit Smoothies: Mix up a smoothie in the morning before breakfast and pack it into a wide-mouth thermos. Add a small sandwich along with some crunchy veggie chips and your kids will devour it.
- Breakfast for Lunch: If breakfast is a hassle at your house, send it along for lunch. Cold bacon or crisp link sausages are fine just plain, or make them the basis for an inventive sandwich on an English muffin spread with cream cheese. Add some fruit and even a thermos of chocolate milk. What grade-schooler will say no to that?
- Finger Foods: Who said chips and salsa can’t be part of a nutritious lunch? Fresh tortilla chips, homemade mango salsa, cold grilled chicken and cool cherry tomatoes and frozen grapes to pop in their mouths constitute a favorite lunch menu. Add a brownie occasionally, and you know your kids will devour it all.
- Soup: It won’t stay hot all year. When the weather does turn cool, there’s nothing better than a thermos of favorite soup — make it tomato or corn chowder or chicken and rice. Make soup for dinner, reheat it in the morning while the coffee is perking, and pour it into the thermos ready to grab on the way out the door. Add fresh bread, spread with a little peanut butter, and a piece of fruit. All together, it will fill your child’s stomach and lift his spirits.
- Camping Food: That’s right! Pack a school lunch the way you would put together snacks for a hike or a campout. No child will refuse really good trail mix, a handful of grapes, cheese and crackers, smores, and an energy drink. It works as well at lunchtime, and it’s almost guaranteed not to wind up in the cafeteria trash can.
Eating right at lunch time is a learned skill that is important to encourage other learning. If you instill proper eating habits early in life, your children will be healthier, happier and not so prone to overeating and weight gain. Provide some good snack food when they get home, however. Send them to the refrigerator for vegetables and hummus rather than milk and cookies, a whole apple with cheese slices rather than soda and chips, a fruit popsicle rather than ice cream. Let them play and work off some pent-up energy before they sit down to do homework.
Happy Back to School Season!