Single Minded Moms: Healthy Lunches for Kids that Pack a Big Yum Factor!

By Jessica Pegis

It’s that time of year again. Single moms, aren’t you tired of magazine-inspired lunch ideas that just don’t work for kids? Either the flavors are too complex–like capers in egg salad–or else the item looks great at 8 a.m. but droops by noon. Would you like easy, healthy school meals?

Then there’s the news bulletin you get at 4 pm when the lunch bag emerges from the knapsack:

“I don’t like that juice box.”

“You bought the thick ham–I only like the skinny kind.”

“It went all weird in the thermos.”

Let’s see, I’ve packed 1,768 school lunches over a lifetime (when you’re single, you’re the only one doing it!) and while I’m not batting zero, I don’t make as many home runs as I’d like. So when SMW wanted to look into the issue, I jumped at the chance. The result is our first ever fall round-up of school lunch ideas: only the easy, nutritious, and delicious allowed. Plus we’ll  hook you up to some great new products and healthful recipes.  Enjoy!

A Sandwich by Any Other Name

This is my biggest challenge. Until this year, my daughter has refused to eat a sandwich for lunch and has always carried a thermos. But this year, we’re doing sandwiches, so I’ve been doing some research on variations:

Pita pockets, large and small. These things are terrific and they come in whole wheat. Best idea is not to fill them but to pack the “inserts” separately because kids enjoy assembling them. Some ideas: cold meat; lettuce or baby spinach; sliced celery, peppers, or radishes; shredded cheese; tuna, salmon, or egg salad; hummus. Note: The USDA recommends putting lunch meat and salads in the refrigerator overnight to allow for maximum chilling, and using a cool gel pack or disc in the lunch bag.

Pizza to go. Toast half an English muffin or bagel very lightly. Spread with a small amount of tomato sauce and top with shredded cheese. Broil until bubbling. Pack in double layers of tin foil or snug plastic container.

Biscuits. If you make biscuits from scratch or with reliable Bisquick (now in HeartSmart), make more than you need, freeze a batch and pull them out as needed. Biscuits can be split and paired with pita foods or hot foods.

Sandwich Alternatives

Leftovers. This really works. If your kid liked it for dinner, pack it for lunch the next day in a solid plastic container or thermos. Chicken, stews, spaghetti, and soups taste great on Day 2.

Pasta salad. For some reason, most kids like it. Choose tri-colored bite-size pasta shapes such as bow-tow or pinwheel, cook and chill, and add your favorite ingredients. A basic recipe with endless variations is available at NetMums. Note: You usually don’t need to add nearly as much mayo as some recipes call for.

Baked beans. If they like ‘em, this is a simple lunch to prepare. Beans contain are a source of fiber, magnesium, potassium, iron and manganese. When you pair them with another grain, they offer a complete protein. Try Eden Organic for a low-salt, low-sugar alternative.

The Juice Solution

You always look to see if the juice contains 100% vitamin C, but did you know that full-strength juice still contains an awful lot of fruit sugar?

Smaller-size boxes help to keep juice intake at a healthy level and ensure that juice doesn’t replace milk.

Always pack a water bottle for older kids for slurping during the day. Most kids’ knapsacks have a water-bottle compartment.

For the under-seven year-old set, check out Sensible Sippers, a new product that contains 40% fewer calories than traditional juices by cutting the juice with water. Sensible Sippers come in four flavors–apple, banana, fruit punch, and mixed berry, and each one features a different Berenstain Bear.

Vegetarian Delights

What if your child decides that he or she is vegetarian? Not a problem. There are loads of ideas for healthful vegetarian lunches out there. I asked a mom and vegetarian cooking instructor Tanjah Karvonen to give me her best idea for kids (she has three under the age of four and they often go on excursions).Her suggestion:  Wraps. Grilled vegetables with hummus, scrambled tofu and vegenaise, Yves Veggie Meats with lettuce and tomato.

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