Back-to-School Lunches: Tips & Tricks

As a follow-up to my school breakfast post, I want to share my strategies for healthy school lunches. As I said, we are not morning people. There is not much time to get everything ready and everyone out of the house. My philosophy: Prepping and planning are key. If it is not there, we can’t eat it, so make sure it is there. 

I want to emphasize that I don’t make these packed lunches fancy! I am about simple, quick and easy—all made possible by planning and prepping.

Prepping

My goal is to go to the grocery store every week or even two times a week, but honestly, that is not always possible. To get the most bang out of my time and wallet, I make a list on my phone. If I make the list on a piece of paper, it never fails that that piece of paper is sitting on my counter when it is time to shop. I make my list from staples needed and from my meal planning.

Planning

I strive to plan all three meals each day.  Ugh, you may be saying—yeah, its work, I’m not going to deny that. If I don’t plan, then we don’t eat or we don’t eat well. I also plan for two kid’s breakfast, a child lunch and family dinner. For myself, I make a shake daily for breakfast and leftovers for lunch—so it’s not as horrendous as you may think.

To plan the lunches, first we go through the monthly school menu and pick out what days my son wants to eat school lunch. Yes, I let him eat school lunch—even on hot dog day.  Most days he takes his lunch, I know what healthy foods he is eating at home, so to me it balances out.  I ask him what foods he would like in his lunch; I’ll listen, but typically veto many options. When kids think they have input they are more apt to eat it 🙂

I like to keep the #plategoals ( ½ of the plate is non-starchy vegetables, ¼ is whole grains/fruits/starchy vegetables and ¼ is lean protein) in mind when packing lunches. Offer variety and keep portion sizes small. Remember there is no “parent fail” if you don’t get a veggie in their lunch, however, encourage them to snack on some after school and to include them at dinner. I try to include at least two colors of plant-based foods at lunch. Not only does this boost the nutritional quality, but it also makes the meal more colorful and fun! Examples: orange carrots and frozen pineapple tidbits, plum tomatoes and green grapes, black bean dip and frozen mango chunks.

On those rare days when I have an extra minute, I try to label a container or two with little post it notes, like “magnificent mango” or “tasty hummus”—it may help the lunchbox come home empty.

Packing 

I plan, make my list, grocery shop, have it at home, prep it and send it. What do I send it in? I like containers, like these, that have the three compartments. They make it easy to have multiple items in the lunch box without colliding and smashing.  I am not a fan of the character lunch boxes; nothing against the characters, but they are just not big enough for the containers. We got a lunchbox this year that fits the containers, lays flat, and the handle on top to hold the containers flat.  If the handle is on the side, making the container on its side, it always leaks.

If your child’s school doesn’t have a refrigerator for cold lunches, then you need to make sure there is also room for an ice pack to help keep the lunch cool. If the lunch doesn’t stay cool then bacteria grows and the not so good happens—you get the idea.

Unpacking

When the lunchbox comes home, wipe it down and wash the container to use again.  Those lunchboxes can come home nasty at times and fill with lots of bacteria. Don’t forget about the box and wiping down the ice pack.

Here are some quick, simple healthy foods my kids will eat.

  • Sandwiches with
    • Bread, tortilla, flat bread, English muffin, bagel, day old Jimmy John bread and pita pockets.
    • To help mix it up I try to add fun shapes to the sandwich by using sandwich cutters or cookie cutter and sandwich kabobs.
  • Leftovers
  • Entrees
    • Bagels with cream cheese, quesadilla, nachos, ravioli and pasta.
  • Fruit
    • Applesauce, fresh fruit (apple slices, grapes, orange slices, cutie or pear), or canned fruit, canned in light syrup.
  • Vegetables
    • Salad with salad dressing in a small cup to drizzle on, raw veggies with ranch dressing or hummus to dip in, or cold roasted vegetables.
  • Grains
    • Whole-wheat crackers, pretzels, goldfish crackers, or baked chips.
  • Treats
    • One cookie, rice Krispy treat, Oreo, or tootsie roll.

I want to emphasize that I don’t make these packed lunches fancy! I am about simple, quick and easy—all made possible by planning and prepping. There is no foolproof way to make sure your kids will eat their lunch while at school, but you can at least know you are doing your part for their health. Happy Back to School!

Help Your Kids Eat Right

August is Kids Eat Right Month—what a great time to help kids learn about nutrition and better food choices! As a dietitian mom, you would think my kids are poster children. They definitely are not, especially my middle child. Goodness, do my children love their sweets, snack foods and treats; it can be a challenge to get them to eat right. I have discovered the best way to get them eating healthy is getting them in the kitchen to help and learn.

Having a 16-month, 3 year old and 6 year old it is limiting on what they can and can’t do in the kitchen. Often times it ends up being a much BIGGER disaster when they help, but it makes for good teaching and fun memories. Our two older children have their own apron with their name on it along with their own cooking utensils that I feel are safe and age appropriate to use. This helps to entice them into the kitchen. I try to get their input on what we should cook/make for the snack or meal we are working on.

To help things go smoother, I try to stock better-for-you choices in my pantry/snack drawer (yes we have a snack drawer), and then the kids have the choice to take it upon themselves to experiment.

That is what cooking – and creating – is all about: the discovery and the delicious result.

CLICK HERE to print off the Kid-Friendly Kitchen Tasks for Every Age PDF!

Here are a few of the things we like to make together in the kitchen.

 

 

 

1. Trail Mix

Whatever we have in the cabinet, pantry and snack drawer (within reason) the kids can grab and mix. Some ingredients they like are pretzels, raisins, dried cranberries, chocolate chips, cereal, whole-grain goldfish crackers, almonds and mini marshmallows.

2. Smoothie

We start with a base of water and ice, and add from there— fresh or frozen fruit of any kind, Greek yogurt, Sugar Free/Fat Free pudding powder. I also have a shake product we use from a former weight management program I worked with and we like to add that as well.

3. Wraps

We lay out whole wheat tortilla and then the kids use their age appropriate knife to spread peanut butter on the wrap. They sprinkle a few chocolate chips and lay a banana in the center. The kids with assistance from me roll up the tortilla. Either they eat like this or I will cut in to pinwheel size for them to eat.

4. Watermelon and Blueberry Salad

I slice the watermelon into thick slices and the kids use cookie cutters to cut shapes out of the watermelon. We then throw in any berries we have—blueberry, raspberry, blackberry and even grapes.

5. Chocolate Chips Banana Bread

This may not be the healthiest of recipes, but it is a huge hit in our house, and we only make it a few times a year.

What You Need:

  • ½ cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup low fat sour cream
  • ¾ cup mini chocolate chips
  • 2 medium bananas

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, grease loaf pan.
  2. Mix together melted butter and sugar, and add in eggs and vanilla.
  3. Combine flour, baking soda and salt, then add to butter mixture
  4. Add in sour cream, bananas, and chocolate chips. Spread in loaf pan.
  5. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until baked through.
  6. Cool on wire rack in pan, and remove from pan to finish cooling.

How to Combat Picky Eaters

I’ve often heard, “My child is so picky! He won’t eat anything!” This can be very frustrating for parents and can lead them down a road of constant struggles. It is important to remember that children’s food likes and dislikes change as they continue to grow and develop. As a parent or caregiver, it is your responsibility to lead your child to the table for meals, but you cannot make them eat. Children should learn to develop their own “hungry” and “full” signals. This means that we should allow their appetite to guide what foods they choose at meals and how much.

How to combat picky eaters

Ellyn Satter, dietitian, therapist, and author, is well-known to parents and professionals as an expert in pediatric nutrition. Satter separates mealtimes into 2 categories:

Parent’s feeding jobs:

  • Choose and prepare the food
  • Provide regular meals and snacks
  • Make eating times pleasant
  • Show children by example how to behave at mealtime
  • Be considerate of children’s lack of food experience without catering to likes and dislikes
  • Offer no food or beverages (except water) between meal and snack times
  • Let children grow to develop bodies that are right for them

Children’s eating jobs:

  • Children will eat
  • Children will eat the amount they need
  • They will learn to eat the food their parents eat
  • They will grow predictably
  • They will learn to behave well at mealtime

Satter states that when parents feed accordingly, children gradually accumulate attitudes and behaviors that characterize adult Eating Competence. With Eating Competence, children can feel good about eating and they have the drive to eat. They naturally eat the amount of food that they need and grow in a way that is appropriate for them.

Try these tips to make the most of Any Mealtime…

Develop a meal and snack routine. It is important that children take time to eat their meal or snack by sitting at the table without distractions. This allows them to enjoy their food and gives them sufficient time to explore tastes and textures.

When introducing new foods, it is important to remember that this is a skill that children learn gradually. It generally takes time and repeated exposure for a child to learn to eat new foods. To learn to eat a new food, children watch adults eat. They will generally look, touch, taste, and spit out new foods. New foods may have to be presented 15-20 times before a child learns to eat it. Patience is key!

Children can also be engaged in healthy food purchases at the store. While picking out foods, explain why that food is healthy for our bodies. The more involved children are with food, the more likely they will be to try and adopt these foods.

Lastly, children love new things. Consider special bowls or eating utensils that will make their dining experience special and exciting!

Alana Scopel


Interested in learning more?

Join us for Doctor Is In, a free lecture open to the public  on Wednesday, February 3rd featuring three Springfield Clinic dietitians.

  • Time: 6:30pm
  • Location: Springfield Clinic Main Campus EAST, 2nd Floor ASC waiting area
    1025 S 6th St, Springfield

Register today!

DocIsInAd_Feb2016

Starch Free Back To School Lunch Options

“Back to school…back to school…” Anyone else remember this song from Billy Madison? It’s finally that time of year again. School supply shopping is at its peak, new backpacks and wardrobes are picked out and the everyday decision of what to pack for your child’s lunch returns. kid_school_03B41076Too often, our children’s lunches are overflowing with starches and processed carbohydrates (bread, pretzels, chips, crackers, cereal bars and sweets). Excessive consumption of processed carbs can cause insulin and glucose spikes in the blood stream as well as provide a continuous craving for carbohydrates. This school year, try experimenting with some lower processed meal options. Below are a few ideas to help your child consume a well-balanced, bread-less meal.

  1. ½-1 cup cottage cheese + red and yellow bell pepper and cucumber slices + unsweetened applesauce and grapes.
  2. ½ cup hummus + carrot, celery and sugar snap peas + 2 deviled eggs + fresh berries
  3. ½ cup chicken salad + 1 oz nut thins + apple slices + 2 tbsp peanut butter
  4. 6 oz Greek yogurt + blueberries and fresh peach slices + walnuts + cheese stick + broccoli and cauliflower florets with ranch dressing dip
  5. Turkey, cheese, chopped tomato + (mayo made with olive oil or mustard) roll-ups + spinach salad + 2 cuties
  6. 2 egg muffins  + banana + 2 tbsp almond butteregg muffins
  7.  1/2 – 3/4 cup taco seasoned ground turkey + fresh spinach + sautéed peppers and onions + pinch of shredded cheese + mango slices (pack a small bowl so turkey taco ingredients can be combined together)
  8. 1 chicken or turkey sausage + sweet potato salad  + 1 kiwi
  9. 1 gluten-free protein bar (Quest Bar or Larabar for example)+ mini fruit kabobs (pineapple, blueberry and strawberry slices) + mini caprese kabob (tomato + basil + hard mozzarella)
  10. Lettuce boats (big leaf lettuce topped with diced chicken, diced avocado, tomato and shredded cheese) + apple sandwich (slice apples with almond butter spread in between and sprinkled with a few chocolate chips)

It’s Zoodle Time!

zuc boatsLet’s serve up some Zoodles for dinner tonight!

“I don’t buy vegetables because they go bad too quickly!” It’s an all too familiar phrase I hear in my office. Often, people purchase vegetables with healthy intentions, consume them once and then forget them in the fridge to sadly go to waste. Before you throw in the towel with buying vegetables, there are a couple ways to better handle this situation.

1) Plan Ahead. Individuals who jot down a week’s worth of menus before grocery shopping are more likely to purchase the right amount of food for the week. If you simply walk through the produce section aimlessly, you may be more likely to take more food than what you actually need before your next shopping trip.

2) Think Outside the Box. One of my favorite ways to use vegetables is to come up with unconventional ways to prepare and serve them. Start simple. Spinach should not be reserved only for a salad. It can be added to any sandwich, folded into an omelet or blended in a smoothie. Each week, feature a new vegetable an try to come up with at least 3 ways to prepare and serve it.

Remember the nursery rhyme, “There was an old lady who lived in a shoe; she had so many children she didn’t know what to do.” That is how my cousin, Marianne, felt except instead of children; she was dealing with a surplus of zucchini from her garden. Her family quickly became tired of having sautéed or grilled zucchini with meals, so she surprised them one night by making zucchini lasagna. Replacing noodles with long zucchini slices creates a low-carb, gluten-free twist on this classic dish. For detailed recipe directions and nutrition facts, please visit: http://www.skinnytaste.com/2009/02/zucchini-lasagna.html.

Zucchini is an excellent source of potassium and is also a source of antioxidants that play an important role in eye health. It is also considered a “high-volume” food meaning a large serving of zucchini contains a low amount of calories.

For the Kids: You can thinly slice zucchini with a julienne peeler to create “zoodles” and substitute for spaghetti noodles. Try making Zucchini boats for a healthy, gluten-free treat:julienne peeler

  • Slice zucchini in half (long-ways) and top with mozzarella cheese, fresh veggies and basil.
  • Place “boats” on a baking sheet and cook and bake for 30 minutes at 350oF.
  • Remove boats from oven and top with parmesan cheese.

Cauliflower used to be a vegetable I could only consume if it was dipped in light Ranch dressing. Now I love eating cauliflower mashed, roasted, steamed, grilled and as a pizza crust! In fact, I hardly ever eat cauliflower raw. Anymore, which is how most people typically consume it. Unique for its white pigment, cauliflower often gets overlooked in the produce section. We have always been told that the best diets are rich in color. White colored items also get a bad reputation because they are commonly associated with white bread, white pasta, white rice, donuts etc. As a part of the cruciferous family, cauliflower has actually made a name for itself as a potential cancer-fighting food.

For the Kids: Creating “fauxtatos” is a simple trick for increasing the amount of non-starchy vegetables your kids will consume.

  • Chop one head of cauliflower into florets.
  • Fill sauce pan with ½ inch of water. Place florets in pan and cover.
  • Steam cauliflower for about 10 minutes or until fork tender.
  • Drain any excess liquid and run steamed florets through a food processor until it reaches a “mashed potato consistency”.
  • Season with sea salt, pepper, garlic powder, butter or lemon juice and serve. This can be served by itself or even blended in with potatoes.

Vegetables are one of the least-consumed food groups, which is sad because vegetables are such an important source of nutrients in our diet. Being creative with the way you prepare vegetables can breathe new life into our old, traditional meals.

Grilling, Baking, Marinating — OH MY! Part 1

pork chop peachesWhile I just earned 50 brownie points from my sister for making a Wizard of Oz reference, for many people, food preparation, especially grilling, can be as scary as flying monkeys.(That’s another 50 points!)

Grilling is most commonly associated with the meats: chicken, burgers, steak and hotdogs. But did you know, this cooking method is also a wonderful opportunity to prepare fruit and vegetable sides too! And, summer is one of the most bountiful seasons for produce, making it easy to purchase fresh, colorful additions to your meals.

For vegetables, all you need is three simple ingredients: olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and pepper. Zucchini, sweet potatoes, mushrooms and asparagus make excellent choices for first-time vegetable grillers. Simply brush a little olive oil on the vegetables, add your seasonings and in less than 10 minutes, your vegetables should be done! Adding fruits and vegetables to your grill plate has benefits of color, nutrients (vitamins, minerals and fiber) and they help make up a well-balanced meal.

Too often, I see grilled items being served with potato salad, beans and mac n cheese. While potatoes are a vegetable and beans are a good source of fiber, all three of these items are starches. A well-balanced meal should only contain no more than one starch item and most of the time, that role is filled by the bun (preferably whole wheat) used for meat.

When you grill fruit, you often intensify its flavor. Peaches, pineapple slices and apples are some of my favorite fruits to throw on the grill. They make fantastic additions to meals or add a new twist to healthy desserts. Season apple slices with cinnamon and nutmeg, grill and serve with 1 ½ cup scoop of frozen Greek yogurt for an instant hit with the family. Kabobs can be created using fruits or vegetables. Try marinating vegetable kabobs in Italian dressing or drizzle a little bit of chocolate sauce over cooked fruit kabobs.

Serving food on a stick is another secret weapon for getting kids of all ages to eat their fruits and vegetables.

This Lemon-Mint Pork Chop and Grilled Peach recipe is an Olympic Gold Medalist at our household.

  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh mint
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp ground pepper
  • 4 boneless pork chops
  • 1 small red onion, cut into wedges
  • 2 peaches, halved, pitted and cut into 1 inch wedges

1. Combine all ingredients except for peaches in a large Ziploc bag. Shake ingredients and marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours (or overnight, preferred).

2. Grill pork chops on medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes on each side, turning only once.

3. Place onions and peaches on grill and cook for 4 minutes, turning frequently until crisp and tender.

4. Divide among 4 plates and serve with a couple leaves of mint and parsley for garnish.