The night before my son started first grade, his foodie mother stayed up to lovingly prepare a sandwich of free-range turkey on homemade organic bread with a crisp organic apple, a homemade granola bar and a cold box of organic milk.
When I asked how he enjoyed his special lunch, the little monster confessed he had traded it for a bag of chips.
Now I know: Packed lunches, perhaps more than any other meal, need to involve the cooperation and consensus of your child.
Cooperation may mean planning menus together, cooking together or just shopping together for mutually appealing foods.
“Let your child choose one or two new foods for the family to try,” says school principal and author Yvonne Sanders-Butler in her book “Healthy Kids, Smart Kids.”
“Children who help select items are likely to remain interested in their selections … and will probably look forward to trying them.”
Here are some tips that work – but as all parents know, kids have their unique preferences:
•Take advantage of produce in season. Buy it in as many different colors as possible and chop most of it into small pieces.
•Rolled-up wraps (whole wheat tortillas or spinach wraps) filled with cream cheese, vegetables, slaws, meat or even peanut butter and jelly make for fun sandwiches.
•Order an extra-large size of your favorite thin-crust pizza so you have leftovers; pack the cold slices or squares (or cut them into fun shapes) with some crunchy vegetables and a dip. Instead of bottled dressings, make some hummus or guacamole, using your kids as sous chefs.
•Modify the fruit kebab idea by packing fruit-veg necklaces made of grape tomatoes, grapes, blueberries, cherries, apple chunks or any other nondrippy items, strung on dental floss with a needle. It takes a little planning, but it makes produce fun.
•To guard against soggy sandwich bread, avoid putting mayonnaise, tomatoes or jam directly on bread; tuck them between layers of meat or lettuce.
•Consider packing a frozen juice box to keep perishable foods cool in the lunchbox.
•When the weather cools, make a big pot of your kids’ favorite stew, soup, chili, pasta, or rice and beans on weekends and pack it for lunch in insulated containers.
•Next time you’re in a cookware aisle with your child, ask him/her to choose a few large and small cookie cutters to create fun shapes for sandwiches, pizza or cheese.
•Most important of all, involve your kids in the menu planning, shopping and lunch preparation. If not, you might just find they’ve traded your lovingly prepared meals for a bag of chips.
Broccoli Slaw Wraps
Add chopped, cooked chicken or ham to these wraps, if you like. Adapted from “Healthy Appetite with Ellie Krieger.” Recipe can be cut in half.
1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons low-fat buttermilk
1 tablespoon each: lemon juice, mayonnaise
1 teaspoon spicy brown mustard
Freshly ground pepper
1 bag (12 ounces) broccoli slaw mix
8 large flour tortillas
Heat oven to 300 degrees. Place sunflower seeds and 1/4 teaspoon salt on a rimmed baking sheet; stir to combine. Toast seeds until aromatic, about 10 minutes; cool.
Meanwhile, combine yogurt, buttermilk, lemon juice, mayonnaise, mustard, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Whisk to incorporate. Add broccoli slaw mix; toss to combine. Sprinkle with sunflower seeds.
Place about 1/2 cup slaw on a tortilla; roll up tightly, tucking in the ends like a burrito. Slice in half on a slight diagonal. Wrap in plastic wrap.
Yield: 8 wraps
Nutrition information per wrap: 281 calories, 9 grams fat (30 percent of calories from fat), 2 grams saturated fat, 2 milligrams cholesterol, 41 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams protein, 708 milligrams sodium, 4 grams fiber
Adapted from the new “Gourmet Today” cookbook.
1 red or sweet onion, finely chopped
1 cup cold water
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 pounds jicama, peeled, cut into matchsticks
1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro or parsley
Soak chopped onion in water with 1/2 teaspoon salt for 15 minutes. Drain. Rinse under cold water. Pat dry.
Whisk together oil, lime juice, sugar, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper in a large bowl until sugar dissolves. Add onion, jicama and cilantro. Toss well.
Yield: 8 servings
Nutrition information per serving: 97 calories, 7 grams fat (62 percent of calories from fat), 1 gram saturated fat, no cholesterol, 9 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 222 milligrams sodium, 4 grams fiber