CARTHAGE, Mo. —
School lunches have gotten a bad rap in the past few years. When the rumors started flying about french fries and ketchup passing as a vegetable, parents were up in arms, and justifiably so.
School lunch menus have been cleaned up a bit, offering fresh fruit or vegetables daily. However, processed food such as chicken nuggets, hot dogs and tater tots are still regulars.
Sending your kid to school with a packed lunch is your best option. Brown bagging has evolved past mangled sandwiches and squishy bananas. Do yourself and your kid a favor by investing in a divided container. You can get fancy with bento boxes and laptop lunch containers that come in plastic or metal. Or just buy a couple of zip-close divided containers. There's less waste, and it's easy to give kids the smaller portions they need.
I've never met a kid who didn't love Lunchables. There's something so enticing about tiny stacks of cheese, meat and crackers. You can make your own healthy Lunchables to store in your divided containers. Try a pizza version by using whole-wheat pita cut into triangles, pizza sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese and black olives. Or let your little ones assemble their own sandwich by including sliced cheese, meat, spinach leaves and a whole-wheat roll sliced in half.
You must make packed lunches interesting in order to keep your little darlings from straying to the dark side. If not, before you know it your kid will be swapping his daily PB&J for his buddy's Crispito, whatever that is. Keep sandwiches fun by cutting them out with cookie cutters, or use a whole-wheat tortilla or pita instead.
I like to use silicone muffin cups to make extra room in the divided container. Sliced apples, peanut butter, baby carrots, a homemade muffin and some popcorn stored in silicone muffin cups make a great lunch. Or include a boiled egg, a whole-wheat waffle, a few celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins, and some grapes. Hummus is a fun option as well, packed with veggies and pita for dipping. A thermos of chicken noodle soup or beef stew will be welcome on a cold day.
Here are a few ideas to help beat the boredom of brown-bag lunches. Consider making these recipes for dinner then using the leftovers in lunchboxes.
Homemade hot pockets
11/4 cup white all-purpose flour
11/4 cup whole-wheat flour
2 packages or 41/2 teaspoons dry active yeast
2 cups warm water
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Dissolve yeast in water for 10 minutes until creamy. Stir in flour, salt, sugar and oil. Beat until smooth; if dough seems too sticky, add flour 1 tablespoon at a time until smooth. Let dough rest for 5 minutes. Roll out to 1/8-inch on a well-floured surface. Cut into shapes with a small glass bowl or by hand with a knife.
In the center of the cut-out section, spoon the fillings of your choice: ham and Swiss; turkey and cheddar; pepperoni, cheese and pizza sauce; or taco meat, cheese and salsa. You could even fill with breakfast items for morning convenience. Fold over dough and press around the edges with a fork. Place on a cookie sheet or pizza stone sprayed with nonstick spray. Use a fork to poke several holes, allowing steam to escape. Bake for 8 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 8 to 10 pockets. Allow pockets to cool, then wrap each in wax paper and freeze in a zip-close bag.
Peanut butter noodles
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger root, minced
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons peanut butter
11/2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons hot chili paste (optional)
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces whole-wheat noodles
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
Bring large pot of water to a boil. Add noodles and cook until tender according to package directions. Drain. Meanwhile, combine chicken broth, ginger, soy sauce, peanut butter, honey, chili paste and garlic in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until peanut butter melts and is heated through. Add noodles and toss to coat. Garnish with green onions and peanuts.
Adapted from allrecipes.com
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, plus a little more for sprinkling on top
1 teaspoon crushed dry oregano
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
11/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
3 tablespoons wheat germ
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup finely diced red bell pepper
Grape tomatoes, sliced
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter or oil 12 regular-size muffin cups. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, tomato sauce and yogurt. Add the cheese and spices and stir. In a separate bowl mix together the flour, wheat germ, baking powder and baking soda. Combine the wet and dry ingredients; mix until there are no dry patches. Fold in the red peppers. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups. Top each one with a few slices of tomato, then sprinkle with cheese and sesame seeds. Bake for 25 minutes.
Adapted from happyhealthymama.com
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