When Do We Eat? Packing a Lunch Box the Kids' Way
By Deborah Salomon
School lunches have turned into a final exam for the parents who pack them. A five-point deduction for bologna, 10 for chips, two for squishy white bread and a big fat F for a Devil Dog. Lunchables and frozen Uncrustables pad the grocery bill. And now, sandwiches in a can, called Canwiches, that aren't really sandwiches, just a roll with packets of peanut butter and jelly.
What to do?
Focus on important things like packing proven favorites. A lunch box is no place to make statements that may leave the child hungry. If he won't eat whole wheat bread at home, don't sneak it into his bag.
Ask her to make a list of foods she would appreciate, within reason. Better a turkey sandwich every day than cheese tossed in the garbage.
Designate a weekly "surprise" lunch day. Try a pizza sandwich: pepperoni, sliced mozzarella, veggie toppings on a crusty roll spread with spaghetti sauce instead of mayo. A leftover drumstick or broiled chicken breast hunks on a short wooden skewer and curled carrot matchsticks (soak matchsticks in water overnight) would be nice. The pasta-loving child might go for a noodle salad with shredded or chopped veggies, chicken and a splash of low-fat dressing. Meatballs and grated cheddar in a hot dog bun - always a winner.
Appearance and variety matter to children with restaurant palates. Base sandwiches on bagels, pita bread or tiny finger rolls. Spread a cream cheese-salsa mix or hummus on small flour tortillas and roll up. Roll-ups can also contain shaved deli meats and cheeses. Dollar stores have holiday and party-themed cellophane bags with twist ties, about 25 per package, that, besides dressing up the meal, fit long sandwiches perfectly.
Instead of greasy, salty packaged crackers, mix your own snacks in large quantities (kids love to help) and fill small bags for recess: pretzel sticks and sliced almonds; Cheerios, raisins and mini-marshmallows; tiny soup and oyster crackers mixed with Goldfish. A peeled, sectioned clementine is more likely to be eaten than a whole one. Toss a few grapes in with the sections.
Avoid messy stuff. For non-drippy egg or tuna sandwiches, mix hard-cooked eggs or tuna in processor with celery, celery leaves, parsley and pickle relish until chopped fine - but not mush. Add just a touch of mayonnaise to hold mixture together. Spread on sturdy bread or a roll.
If milk is not available at school, choose a juice box/pouch with a high fruit content. Some are little more than colored, sweetened water.
Dessert should be a happy place. Spread a thin layer of marshmallow fluff or Nutella between two low-fat cinnamon or chocolate graham crackers. One box of cake mix yields about 24 small cupcakes. Substitute orange juice for the water in yellow or white mixes. Instead of rich frosting, stick one gumdrop or M&M into center of cupcake when almost done. Freeze cupcakes; add to lunch bags frozen.
Pack a mini-banana (most supermarkets have them) along with a snack-sized zipper bag containing a few chocolate sprinkles for dipping the peeled banana. Include several vanilla wafers for dunking into yogurt and pudding cups.
Above all, make sure your child has the right lunch box. Because the only thing worse than an uncool lunch box is a Brussels sprouts and blue cheese hoagie.
Contact Deborah Salomon at debsalomon@hotmail. com.
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