Monday, September 14, 2009

Packing a Better Bagged Lunch

Reprinted from the Pinch archives

School lunch is an easy target for gross violation of healthy eating standards. But what about the standard issue bagged lunch? What can parents pack their children that will be nutritious, sustainable, eaten and enjoyed?

Four or five things go into my kids’ lunchboxes:

1. A water bottle. Both kids now have stainless steel water bottles ever since the BPA-leaching hysteria of polycarbonate bottles. In all truth, I think our old Nalgenes are just fine for daily use. The leaching centered over storage which is easily averted by tossing what comes home onto my houseplants. Am I mistaken?

9/2009 Update: Turns out I'm one of the Sigg owners with an older model, BPA-leaching liner. If you missed this bru-ha-ha, read this from the Tribune: SIGG CEO confirms BPA in metal water bottles' liners. Meanwhile, my daughters are back to toting Nalgenes. Oy.

2. A main course. This is usually a sandwich of sorts. I got my kids eating sprouted wheat bread when they first cut teeth so it's never been a source of complaint for them. And at 5 grams of protein per slice, a very nourishing lunch staple. On especially cold days they might take a thermos with pasta and some roasted chicken. I'd like to get them enjoying soups but they still don't. Other options are yogurt or a Caesar salad, with cut romaine in a container along with some Parmesan and slices of chicken breast, and a separate mini Tupperware pot of dressing and often croutons because, COME ON!! You gotta have croutons!

3. Fruit. It's often a whole pear or apple. Sometimes I cut up either one put it in a mini Tupperware container and sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar. Other times it's applesauce. My oldest loves cinnamon on her applesauce so I found her a little covered shaker at a camping supplies store and filled it with cinnamon.

4. Vegetable. Carrots. I'm not very ambitious here. Carrots get eaten and other stuff doesn't.

5. A treat. The treat doesn't go in every day but when it does it's either a couple of Hershey kisses, a few cookies (something from Whole Foods), a child-sized handful of chips, or a freshly baked cookie, straight from the toaster oven. Consider reducing waste by not buying individually packaged items. The packaging you employ will be far less that what's produced commercially.

Details please:
Waxed paper bags are available at Whole Foods and are good for sandwiches, cookies, chips. I admit to using the snack sized Ziploc bags for carrots. I could improve lunchbox sustainability by using containers or being better about reusing those plastic bags. (9/2009 Update: we're lots better about reusing the small plastic snack bags, but I still use the waxed bags for most things.)

I buy sprouted sandwich bread at Trader Joe's. I also really like the Alvarado Street sandwich bread available in the freezer at Whole Foods.

What do you pack in your children's lunchboxes that they enjoy?


Jessica Paul said...

Katie, I have a friend who daughter attends their synagogue's preschool and is required to bring a kosher lunch! Healthy lunch packing is hard enough, and the kosher element is stressing my friend out. Any ideas?

Katie Fairbank said...

Well, it matters how strict they are, but my understanding is that meat and dairy just cannot be consumed in the same meal, so a turkey sandwich is fine, just don't add cheese to it - and don't include any dairy in the same lunchbox as the turkey sandwich. My kids won't touch deli meats, so I just left all the meat off my list of suggestions. Here they are:

1. Fruit - whatever the kid enjoys

2. Protein or Main Course - Pick one: yogurt, cottage cheese with fruit or Spike (a healthy seasoned salt), bagel with cream cheese or butter, PB&J or PB & Honey, Tuna with Crackers, Pasta with olive oil and Parmesan (very good at room temperature, or keep warm in a thermos), homemade or healthy, kohser canned soups (in a thermos), hard boiled egg, pizza bagel (warm at home to melt the cheese - good at room temperature - or send an older kid in with fixins), Cheese toast (with a dash of spike) on sprouted wheat bread or english muffin (toast bread, then top with a thin layer of cheese and bake just til melted).

3. Side - hummus with pita chips or veggies, string cheese or cheddar cubes, cut veggies with dip, nuts, cereal (with separate container of milk), crackers (goldfish, pretzels...)

4. Treat - cookies, granola bar, chips, a few M&Ms...

5. Water or water with a splash of juice for flavor.

Let me know if I need to explain any items further. :)

Katie Fairbank said...

OOH! Add avocado toast/sandwich to the list.

Bob Vivant said...

Katie-this post was so refreshing, especially the part about feeding your kids sprouted wheat bread when they first cut teeth. It seems that more and more kids today are 'picky' eaters. Why? (I have my theories, but since I don't have kids of my own, I keep those to myself.)

And food manufacturers love it. Have you seen that horrifying commercial for PediaSure? "My kid won't eat anything green or anything...blah, give them PediaSure" Seriously?

It's scary. Thanks again for your post. I'm passing it on to the mom's I know.

Katie Fairbank said...

Thanks for visiting, Bob. I love knowing there's a population of like-minded folks who find appalling the whole idea of sneaking nutrients into children. Modeling appreciation for the taste of fresh-picked or fresh made foods is way more important. Even picky eaters will come around.

Susan said...

My youngest daughter goes to a preschool that's (1) kosher; (2) meat free and (3) peanut free, so I have to be creative with my lunches. Here are some things that I have either tried or plan on trying to pack for her lunch: lox; homemade muffins; Trader Joe's cereal bars; mac and cheese; couscous; quinoa; the different nut butters; fresh guacomole and chips, and bean tacos.

Katie Fairbank said...

Susan - that is restrictive, but it sounds like you've got it under control. Well done!

I wonder if it would be helpful to make a list of options and post it on our refrigerators - maybe it would make mornings a bit easier. I've never been one to prepare lunches the night before, and I rarely am very creative first thing in the morning.

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