Last season I watched, with great interest, as Jamie Oliver attempted to revolutionize the City of Huntington’s health, starting with one school’s cafeteria menu. It was nothing short of amazing how he managed to make a difference in an entire town and the health of the community.
Jamie Oliver may not visit your child’s school so the responsibility to pack a nourishing lunch that will keep your kids healthy and alert may fall to the parent. Gone are the days of a sandwich on over processed white bread, a bag of chips, a sweet cake or pudding and an even sweeter soda or sugary, fruit flavored drink.
Children need a nutritious lunch to keep their little minds alert throughout the afternoon. Though it is getting better, in today’s society, it is still difficult to know how to prepare a nutritious meal. Often times, when we try to find a recipe for a dish, we are confronted with prepackaged ingredients. These ingredients are often laden with sodium, sugar or other unhealthy chemicals and compounds. How then do we learn to prepare healthy, nutritious meals?
What Jamie Oliver managed to teach the community of Huntington, is something I believe in very strongly, fresh is best. To pack the most nutritious foods start with the freshest ingredients you can. Of course, we cannot always rely on the Farmer’s Market or growing our own gardens. Most of the nation lives in more seasonal areas where local food is not readily available all year. Luckily, here in the United States of America, fresh and nutrient rich food is available in every supermarket in the nation.
Fresh vegetables for dipping in yogurt or hummus make a great replacement for chips. Some great ideas for fresh vegetable choices are carrots, celery sticks, broccoli or bell peppers. If your child happens to enjoy spicier foods, radishes are a wonderful source of fiber, vitamin C, folic acid and potassium, and a good source of riboflavin, vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, copper and manganese. Simply put a variety of small raw vegetables in a plastic container and a couple of tablespoons of hummus or yogurt in a small plastic covered dish for dipping. Hummus is usually made from chickpeas, a great source of fiber, and tahini (sesame seeds) and is high in iron, vitamin C, folate and vitamin B 6. Yogurt is nutritionally high in protein, calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B 6 and vitamin B12 and is rich in cultures important for the immune and digestive system.
Fresh fruits are also a tasty treat when added to yogurt or even as simple finger foods for dessert. If your youngster isn’t taken with plain yogurt, try adding a touch honey or pure maple syrup. You can add berries or other fruit directly to a container of yogurt, top with toasted rolled oats and cinnamon for added flavor and pack in still more healthy nutrients.
In place of the traditional sandwich, consider wraps. A whole grain wrap spread with avocado mashed with a touch of lemon juice, a little diced chicken, baby spinach and your children’s favorite vegetables is a nutrient rich dish that will keep your child alert all afternoon. Fresh spinach is a superb source of vitamins A, B complex, C, E, K, carotenes, manganese, calcium, iron, iodine, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium. The abundance of vitamin A and carotenes make spinach a vital part of vision health. While avocado adds essential healthy fats to your childs diet along with vitamins A, E, C and B-Complex. A wrap can easily be a healthy complete meal in one small package.
By all means skip the sweet drink in favor of a bottle of pure water or plain milk. You could trick your kids into thinking you are the inventor of the lemon/lime drinks by adding a squeeze of each into a bottle of water, adding a little more vitamin C to their meal. If your child isn’t a fan of citric fruits, try giving a few berries a squeeze and add them to the water. If you must buy a juice box, check the labels for fruit juice only, with no added sugar.
If you honestly cannot find time to make a healthy lunchbox from freshest ingredients, shop around and read the labels. For me, the number one rule is ingredients. Ask yourself these questions; do I recognize the names of all these ingredients? Is the list of ingredients so long I get tired of reading before I get to the end? Are these ingredients real food or manufactured ingredients? Are the oils oil or has it been treated with hydrogen? Has any of the product been treated with bleach?
Try to stay as close to an original food as possible. Some choices might be canned chicken or tuna (not the packets with flavorings added), hummus from the deli section, artisan cheese, Kashi bars, unsweetened applesauce and Carr’s table crackers.
If your children are used to a diet heavy in highly processed foods try incorporating a little change at a time. Try not to let your own taste buds limit their options. I have found that many children have very different ideas of what tastes good than what their parents like. If they have had a steady diet of unhealthy choices, it might take awhile to make the change. Once you cut the processed sugars and chemicals, you might be surprised at how quickly they adapt and begin making healthier choices on their own.
Packing a healthy nutritious school lunchbox doesn’t have to be expensive, hard, or time consuming. If you keep just a few fresh vegetables prepared and ready to go, packing a healthy school lunchbox will be a breeze. Experiment, especially with a variety of color, and have fun watching your children grow healthy, strong and wise.