Archive for the ‘lunch box’ Category

Back-to-School Lunch Box Taste Test

Monday, August 18th, 2014

We’re fortunate here in Virginia that we don’t go back to school until after Labor Day, so there’s still time to check the last few things (and favorite summertime treats) off our to-do list. My niece starts school this week though, and I know others are already back in school — having grown up with an August birthday, and having a child with one as well, the thought of starting back to school in August will probably always seem strange to me. Regardless, whether you’ve already started back or are still getting ready, I thought I’d dust off my old school lunch tips now that we’ve had a few more years of experience.

back to school | foodietots.com

The first, though, is still my biggest one: plan lunches together. One way we do this ahead of time is to do a sandwich taste test, where I let the kids put together whatever they can imagine to see how they like it. Last year they came up with a peanut butter & salame (his) and pb & pickle (hers). Butter, prosciutto and peach was another favorite the boy came up with while we still had a few local peaches on hand.

pb & pickle | foodietot creation

Even if your kids love sandwiches, it helps to have some non-sandwich alternatives in your pocket to keep the lunches from becoming too monotonous. Rice cakes with nut butter or hummus, mini bagels with chévre or cream cheese, and the occasional waffle sandwich can be found in our lunch box rotation. For the preschooler, a scoop of hummus with several things that can be dipped in it (pretzel chips or pita, cucumbers and tomatoes are her usual) is often requested.

lunch box taste testing | foodietots.com

If your kids are particular about their fruits and vegetables, ask them for a list of ones they’d like to eat, and then encourage them to try one new one each week. If they normally go for carrots, do half carrots and half celery (or peppers or green beans) so that there’s still something familiar in the lunch box. When they’re caught up in conversation with friends around the lunch table, they just might drop that stubbornness they display at home. (Check out the Today I Ate A Rainbow kit if your child needs a little extra encouragement.)

Working with kids to let them feel in control of what they’re eating can go a long way to ensuring they actually eat what you pack. As they get older, they can do more of the packing themselves — even better!

cheddar cheese crackers | foodietots.com

Here are a few other healthy, homemade treats the kids have helped me make to pack in the lunch box too:

Do your kids have any lunch box favorites?

Pumpkin Granola Bars

Friday, November 30th, 2012

It may be the end of November, but I figure there’s still time to share one last pumpkin treat before the holiday baking begins in earnest. You need something healthy for those lunchboxes and after-school snacks to offset the Christmas cookies, right? These soft-baked granola bars are easy to put together (even with little helpers). I made them for my son’s school bake sale — a not-too-sweet treat you can still feel good about.

Pumpkin Granola Bars

Recipe: Pumpkin Granola Bars
Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod
Makes 10-12 bars

Ingredients:
  • 3 1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 cup virgin coconut oil, melted
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Instructions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8- by 8-inch baking pan with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together oats, sugar, spices and salt.
3. In a separate bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, coconut oil, honey and vanilla extract. Pour pumpkin mixture into dry ingredients and mix until well combined.
4. Pour batter into baking pan and press down with spatula. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned. Let cool completely, then cut into rectangles.
Ever made homemade granola bars? Here are a few other varieties from around the web:

It’s Food Day — What Are Your Kids Eating Today? (School Lunch Check-In)

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Today is Food Day 2012,* last week was National School Lunch Week — so it seems like a good time to check in on what our kids have been eating in school.

While our county public schools advertise all the right buzz words — whole grains! local produce! fresh fruit! — the menu could still use improvement. My son loves a hot lunch, though, so I mostly allow him to choose whether he wants to buy or bring a lunch. Here’s my assessment of the menu thus far in this school year.

  • The Good: Local and fresh fruits and vegetables. There are always two or three fruit and vegetable options and usually they are fresh and raw, not the stereotypical over-cooked, limp and blah veggies.
  • The Bad: Chocolate milk. My kindergartener discovered quick it was up to him which drink to choose. And then proclaimed to me, “TruMoo Chocolate Milk is healthy because they serve it at school!” (Um, yeah. THIS IS WHY SCHOOL LUNCH REFORM MATTERS. You can preach nutrition in the classroom all you want but it doesn’t matter if you don’t offer them nutritious choices in the cafeteria.)
  • The Curious: Last year, Meatless Monday options were provided every other week. They’re gone this year. Now, there is a choice between two entrees each day, but nearly every other day an Uncrustable is one of the options. Um, what?

On the menu today:

today's lunch menu

I’m pretty sure serving Uncrustables *on Food Day* is a cry for help, don’t you think? (Never mind that they’ve been recalled.)

When I pack lunches, I keep it simple. A fresh apple, always, and even after school the boy’s been known to snack on one or two more before dinner. (We have a “you-can-always-have-an-apple” rule in our house.) He isn’t a big fan of sandwiches, but he likes mini whole wheat pita pockets or (all-natural nitrate-free) lunch meat and (organic) cheese slice roll ups. I even made a homemade Lunchable one day (organic crackers, Newman-O — don’t usually include dessert, but that was a special treat).

foodietots lunchbox

Part of the reason I let my son buy the hot lunches is that, done right, they can encourage kids to try new things. In preschool, my son had healthy hot lunches served family style and he would often eat things he had turned down at home. When sending lunches, unfortunately, kids are so easily influenced by what their friends are eating. One day last year, my son came home asking for a Nutella sandwich, because his friend X got one every day. So I explain that some foods are only to be eaten as special treats, and try to make healthier versions if possible, like with the homemade Lunchable.

Last night, I attended a local event organized by parents in neighboring Fairfax County, Virginia, who are conducting their own campaign to reform school lunches. As part of the event, four teams of high schoolers competed to prepare a salad bar on a school budget and within the USDA new healthy lunch guidelines. Each team presented something delicious that they were confident their classmates would eat. As one of the team members emphasized, after surveying classmates, “We would eat healthy food if given the option.”

salad bar competition

DC Central Kitchen Chef Ed Kwitowski spoke, offering his experience from cooking meals for nine DC public schools. He explained that when they introduce new items to the menu, they’ve had great success by hosting tastings in the schools — beets prepared several ways, for example, or just introducing new flavors like their new harvest salad with barley, mushrooms and squash.

Chef Ann Cooper, known as the Renegade Lunch Lady, was the keynote speaker at the event. Naturally I was nodding along in agreement at her presentation, which emphasized that we have to reinvest in kitchens in schools and make healthy food delicious if we want to teach children to enjoy it. She also argued for school gardens — more on that soon.

If your schools aren’t moving fast enough to make school lunches healthier, there are ways you can take action. Visit The Lunch Box toolkit for ideas. Join your school’s wellness committee, if there is one, to learn about what’s already being done and identify a first step to take. Maybe it’s chocolate milk, maybe it’s offering local produce — any big change begins by taking that first step.

What are your kids eating for lunch today?

*Food Day is a national event to celebrate and advocate for healthy, affordable and sustainable food for all. Visit their website to learn more and to find local events taking place this week.

food day 2012

Lunch Box Lessons {and Giveaway!}

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

The foodie boy began kindergarten yesterday (sniff), and now that I’ve successfully packed my first two brown bag lunches I thought I’d pass on my expert advice. Kidding — but I am employing a couple strategies learned from our summer experimentation. And I welcome any tips from those of you with more experience than I!

3 Strategies for a Successful School Lunch

1. Ask your child. Whether it’s asking them for a list of approved items or letting them select ingredients at the grocery, buy-in is key for ensuring they’ll eat what you pack. (Just take care to avoid the junk food aisles if you can.) And if your kids are old enough, have them help prepare their lunch, too.

2. Embrace comfort foods. I wouldn’t call the boy a picky eater, but he does tend to go through phases — particularly in times of change — where he may ask for macaroni and cheese each night. (He even requested it for his birthday party.) We’re taking things easy this first week and using his favorite snacks as building blocks — nuts, berries, cheese, etc.

3. Think outside the bread. We don’t eat a lot of sandwiches at home (aside from grilled cheese), so I shouldn’t have been surprised that the boy is slow to warm up to the idea of a cold sandwich. More appetizing, in his opinion, have been almond butter on rice cakes and cream cheese on cinnamon raisin English muffins. Meat and cheese roll-ups were also a hit.

He ate every morsel of his lunch yesterday, so I think we’re off to a good start. What have you packed for lunch this week?

I’m also pleased to share a giveaway and special offer to help you pack all-natural lunches for your kids:

Annie’s Homegrown, Stonyfield YoKids, Honest Kids and Seventh Generation have teamed up to help families toss their brown bags this back-to-school season by offering a free Kids Konserve lunch sack with the purchase of participating products through September 30, 2011.

Consumers are invited to visit Annies.com/bts11, print out the form then mail in proof of purchase of all four brands. Eligible products include:

  • Any Annie’s Homegrown item
  • Stonyfield YoKids Organic Yogurt 6-packs or Squeezers
  • Honest Kids Organic Drinks 8-pack carton or 64-ounce bottle
  • Seventh Generation Disinfectants (sprays or wipes)

BACK-TO-SCHOOL GIVEAWAY: FIVE FoodieTots readers will win a free lunch sack with coupons from each of these brands. Simply leave a comment below telling us something you’ve packed for your child’s lunch, before 11:59pm on Sunday, Sept. 11. Winners will be selected at random and notified by email on Monday.

For additional chances to win:

* “like” FoodieTots on Facebook, and leave an additional comment below telling me you did so (or already do),

* “follow” FoodieTots on Twitter, and leave an additional comment below telling me you did so (or already do), &/or

* “subscribe” to FoodieTots via RSS or email, and leave an additional comment below telling me you did so (or already do).

Thanks for entering — and I hope you’re having a smooth transition back to school if your kids started this week!

Disclosure: I received a free lunch sack in exchange for hosting this giveaway, but these brands are well-loved by the FoodieTots family. As always, all opinions expressed in this post are our own.