By Kristy MacKaben
When it comes to creative new ideas to send in a lunchbox, Christine Wright is a pro. The Queen Anne’s County nutritionist has all sorts of ideas and they don’t include cheese puffs and bologna sandwiches.
Peanut butter and bananas rolled up in a tortilla — that’s what you might find Wright’s 10-year-old daughter, Cat’s lunchbox.
Cat usually packs her own lunch, and Wright says parents should consider including their kids in the entire lunch packing process. Packing a healthy lunch is important, but it’s more important that children will eat the lunch that is packed.
“Kids should be involved as much as possible,” says Wright, who lives in Grasonville. “As long as you’re not giving them free rein to buy chips and junk, they’re more likely to eat it if they pick it out themselves, and if they help make the meal.”
Ann Heiser Buzzelli, a registered dietician with the Anne Arundel County Department of Health, agrees. Her 7-year-old daughter, Zoe, often helps pack her lunch.
“We definitely menu plan with her and let her make choices,” says Heiser Buzzelli, who also lives in Grasonville. And Zoe’s lunch is more often leftovers than lunchmeat. Pasta with vegetables and fixings for tacos are Zoe’s favorite lunches.
Most kids aren’t too concerned with the temperature of food, Heiser Buzzelli says. While adults prefer to reheat leftovers, kids usually don’t mind cold taco meat or pasta. Just remember to keep leftovers cold with ice packs so the food will not spoil.
Looking for new lunch ideas for your little scholars? Test out these yummy (and healthy) ideas and remember to keep it balanced!
7 out-of-the-box lunch ideas
1. Nut butter balls
Nuts and nut butters are great sources of protein. But think beyond peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Create cookie dough-like balls. A recipe can include 1 cup raw oats, 1/2 cup peanut butter, 1/2 cup flaxseed, 1/3 cup honey, 1/2 cup chocolate chips and a splash of vanilla. Roll into balls and pack in small containers. You can keep them in the refrigerator to help them set but it’s not essential.
2. Spreadable tuna
Forget about soggy tuna sandwiches. Instead, pack tuna salad in a small container, along with some crackers for spreading. Most grocery stores also sell easy-to-open cans of prepared tuna salad with crackers. A tuna salad wrap, or tuna on a bagel, might also seem more appetizing and fun for young eaters.
3. Fruit that stays fresh
If your kids have braces or hate when apple slices turn brown, Wright has a great tip. She uses an apple slicer to slice an apple almost all the way through, then puts it back into its shape and covers it in plastic wrap. The fruit stays fresh and kids love eating the slices that haven’t turned brown.
4. Sweetened cottage cheese
Cottage cheese might not be at the top of most kids’ favorite foods list, but mix in some sweetened fruit, honey or apple sauce, and they might just enjoy it. Pack cottage cheese and fruit in a lunch container with compartments or buy pre-packaged cottage cheese with fruit.
5. Leftover tacos
Leftovers don’t have to be for dinner, and what’s better than a take-along taco kit? Pack ground beef, chicken or beans in little containers, along with all the fixings your kids like — tomatoes, lettuce, salsa, sour cream. Tortillas hold up better than hard shells, or even include a small bag of corn chips for tacos in a bag. Just make sure the leftovers are kept cold.
6. Make-your-own mini pizzas
Creating little pizza kits can be simple. Use whole-grain English muffins or pitas as the crust and pack sauce, cheese, pepperoni and vegetable toppings separately. Kids can assemble their pizzas at school and be the hit of the lunch table.
7. Dressed-up drinks
Staying hydrated is important during the school day, Wright says. But skip the juice boxes unless it’s small containers of 100 percent juice. Water and milk are the only worthwhile options when it comes to drinks, Wright says. For a little taste, add fruit to water or try sparkling water with fruit, she says. Milk is a good option, as long as it can be kept cool. Shelf-stable milk is also fine to include in lunches, Wright says.
Click on next to find out how to keep lunches nutritious