It took me until my eldest was poised to enter 4th grade before I figured out an important dynamic in the school cafeteria:  lunch is power.   What emerges from your brown bag – compared to what your classmate unveils – is very, very important.

For the past few years, I’ve ignored comments like, “John gets soda every day!” and “All the kids bring candy.”  My favorite complaint from my sons is:  “You give us the healthiest stuff of anyone.”   The last one makes me feel a bit victorious, I have to admit.  I guess the power lunch thing applies to moms, too, who strive to supply healthy lunches.  Yet, I know it’s laughable.  I work with Oldways after all and I know I can do better.

The lunches I pack are hardly inspired.  In fact, they are a caricature of a healthy lunch — peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread, banana (probably bruised by lunchtime), yogurt, baby carrots.  Heck, I wouldn’t eat that.  Why would they?

The problem is, like many moms I know, I hate packing lunch and a snack every day for kids with fickle, and individual, tastes.  My goal has been simply to get it done versus provide foods I know my children will love…and eat.  So as this new school year starts, I asked a good friend of Oldways, Liz Weiss, MS, RD, Podcast Host, Cooking with the Moms and Co-Author, The Moms’ Guide to Meal Makeovers, for help.  Her tips help give my school lunches a makeover sure to transform my kids into lunchroom heroes.  Here are some of my sons’ favorite picks from Liz’s suggestions (incorporating their input):

  • Keep the fruit but add more exotic choices like fresh watermelon or pineapple. Mini applesauce or fruit cups are good choices too.
  • Popcorn — it’s a whole grain!
  • Baby carrots (or peppers or celery) — make them irresistible with a little ranch dip on the side.
  • Yogurt. My youngest said that if I packed granola to go with the yogurt, he’d eat it.
  • Hard-boiled egg (“Is that the one you crack?”).
  • Put it on a stick. The boys already love fruit kebobs so they are excited to try Liz’s idea to thread a whole lunch meal on a toothpick or small wooden skewer:  small pieces of cooked chicken, lowfat cheese and fruit (strawberries, grapes, honeydew melon balls).
  • Mini whole wheat bagel. (“Just plain, no cream cheese, Mom.”)
  • Trail Mix (the boys chose dried cranberries, chocolate chips and almonds as their favorite mix).
  • Wraps & Roll Ups. Liz recommends using a whole wheat flour tortilla as your base. Layer with lite cream cheese, lean deli ham, shredded lowfat cheese, and some shredded carrot … or layer with deli turkey, lowfat shredded cheese, a bit of salsa, and sliced avocado.  Here’s a special request from my son:  lettuce, cooked chicken and Caesar dressing to make a Chicken Caesar wrap (Sent this one yesterday and upon seeing my son’s lunch, a friend exclaimed, “You are so lucky!”)
  • Leftovers. My favorite.  The night before, pack leftover whole wheat pasta in individual containers so they are ready for lunch bags in the morning. Other ideas from Liz:  Pizza, homemade chicken fingers, quesadillas (see her great recipes).  Hmmm, what other leftovers can I transform into a delicious, healthy school lunch?

I am inspired!  Are you?  We’d love to hear what kinds of foods you pack for your kids.

- Kyle

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