Our site has moved to: familytimescny.com


Out of the Box

If your idea of a pleasant school lunch is a flat, square sandwich, a half-crushed bag of potato chips and a piece of fruit, then no wonder your kid is angling to trade the items she doesn’t want or is depositing them in the trash after just a few nibbles. Sure, the wasted food bothers you, but even worse: Your child isn’t getting proper nutrition during the most important part of her day.

Although lunch ladies in hairnets and smocks across the country are serving up steaming pans of food designed to meet minimum nutrition requirements, some students are still passing up the lunch line in favor of food they can bring from home. Parents know that they’d like their child’s lunch to contain healthy, fresh food but convenience foods, with questionable nutritional qualities, are popping up in brightly colored wrappers to attract the eyes and mouths of young ones these days. What’s a lunch-packer to do?

Involve your child. Having a hand in what they’re going to eat the next day will make the lunch prep easier and might mean they will eat it all up. Prepare your child’s lunch the night before, when dinner leftovers are handy and you can avoid the morning hassles. Ask them what they’d like to eat and balance what they want with what they need.

Make it easy to eat. Faced with a whole red apple in her lunch, a child will either take one bite and toss the rest or bring it home untouched. A plastic container of apple slices and a yogurt dip, now that’s something to sink her teeth into! Cutting things into bite size pieces makes for easier eating and the portion seems more manageable.

Avoid additives. No kid should have to eat unnatural and unhealthy preservatives, artificial colors, flavors or other additives, but processed convenience foods are chock-full of them. Show your child how you read the nutrition labels to find foods that have a simple list of whole food ingredients and nothing that you can’t pronounce. If an ingredient has a chemical-sounding name, you probably shouldn’t eat it!

Pack a rainbow. Use orange carrots, beet-dyed hardboiled eggs, spinach balls, cream cheese pesto spread (see www.familytimes.biz), a handful of blueberries or raisins, and nutty breads to make the lunchtime spread colorful and attractive. Who says lunch has to be white and beige? Selecting natural foods for their colors also ensures that young ones get a variety of nutrients.

Don’t forget the love notes. Slip a small handwritten note into your child’s lunch bag while he isn’t looking; even a smiley face will be a reminder that you’re thinking of him and how much you care about his well-being and enjoyment. Little pick-me-ups like this helps him see meals as more than just sustenance but a time to appreciate good food and to share time with people he likes. One day, he might slip a note into your lunch!

Lunchtime should be a source of relaxation and revitalization—never a boring meal or a parade of unnatural ingredients. A bit of planning ahead and a little imagination will help you and your children come up with interesting combinations that will tempt their taste buds while providing what they need for an active day.

What do you think? Send comments about this article to editorial@familytimes.biz.

Fresh Ideas for Lunch to go

Delicious kebabs. Layer slice of lunch meat with a slice of cheese, then roll and slice into pinwheels. Skewer onto toothpick, alternating with cherry tomatoes, chunks of cucumber or apple.

Tater wedges. Baked potato cut into wedges, with chili or tomato sauce for dipping.

Healthy rollup.
Spread white or whole wheat tortilla with cream cheese, layer sliced meat and spinach or lettuce, roll up and slice into pinwheels. Add a dab of cream cheese to keep end of roll closed.

Mini pita.
Mini-sized pocket bread filled with tuna salad, egg salad or shredded chicken and beans.

Fruit dip.
Apple or pear slices, strawberries or kiwi fruit to dip in snack packs of chocolate or vanilla pudding, or make your own sweetened cream cheese dip.

Salad to go. Pour a little salad dressing in a zippered plastic bag, layer shredded carrots, cucumber, tomato and lettuce on top. Shake bag to toss salad and eat right from the bag.

Updated PB sandwich. Combine peanut butter with a combination of shredded carrots, raisins, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds or honey for new version of an old favorite.

Pizza, hold the crust. Pack pepperoni slices with chunks of mozzarella cheese, and cherry tomatoes; include small container of spaghetti sauce for dipping.

Lunch Box Essentials

• Insulated lunch tote
• Refreezable ice pack
• Cloth napkin—saves paper waste and cleans hands better
• Reusable plastic divided container or several small containers for keeping foods separated
• Reusable plastic utensils
• Sturdy, insulated plastic bottle or thermos for juice or water

Make sure to encourage your child to bring home leftovers so you can assess how well he is eating.


Spinach Balls
  • 2 packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and with all water squeezed out
  • 1 box packaged bread stuffing
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • ½ cup (one stick) butter, melted
Combine all ingredients until mixed and roll into small balls. Bake on baking sheet at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until beginning to brown. Can be baked and frozen in zippered storage bags for last-minute side dish or refrigerated for up to one week.

Shaking Baking Coating Mix

(for homemade Chicken Nuggets-- recipe follows) from Linda Larson, About.com
  • 4 cups unbleached flour
  • 4 cups finely crushed Saltine crackers
  • ¼ cup salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 3 tablespoons paprika
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
Mix all dry ingredients together well. Drizzle oil over mixture and mix thoroughly until oil is well distributed and particles are fine. Store mix, refrigerated, in a tightly covered container. Adjust spices and salt level to suit your taste and nutritional needs.

Homemade Chicken (or Fish) Nuggets
Preheat oven to 350 degree. Measure 1 cup coating mix into a shallow bowl. Rinse chicken or fish and cut into bite-sized pieces; pat dry. Dip chicken or fish into beaten egg, buttermilk, milk, or salad dressing to coat, and then dip into coating mix. Place on baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.

Cream Cheese Spread
Combine a softened package of regular or reduced-fat cream cheese with one of the following for a tasty dip or spread:
  • 2 tablespoons of finely chopped green onion tops or chives
  • A spoonful or two of prepared (or homemade) basil pesto
  • Finely shredded carrots and a shake or two of salt
  • 1 generous tablespoon of honey and finely chopped raisins or dried cranberries
This versatile spread can be made ahead and stored for up to a week in the fridge, to be paired with whole wheat crackers, chopped veggies or fruit, or spread on pita bread with other ingredients as toppings. Soy-based “cream cheese” also works great as a non-dairy substitute.


  • Combine in a food processor the following ingredients, adjusting for taste:
  • One can of garbanzo beans (chickpeas), or use black or white beans, drained but reserving about ¼ cup of liquid
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of tahini (sesame paste, available in whole food stores)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or canola oil
  • Spices, as desired: paprika/chili powder, cumin, onion powder
  • Fresh chopped cilantro, basil or parsley (optional, to taste)
  • Juice from half a lemon
Add small amounts of liquid (alternating olive oil and liquid from beans) until humus moves freely in processor, and has the desired consistency--for spread or dip. If your child likes Mexican food, try a combination of cumin and mild chili powder with cilantro. Crazy for Italian food? Use basil, a bit of oregano, and a few pieces of sun-dried tomato. Can be refrigerated for several days.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York