For parents who opt out of school-meal programs and prefer to prepare their kids’ lunches, the following are useful tips, plus some healthy, quick and easy lunch ideas.
Choose Your Bread Carefully!
A good lunch sandwich starts with good bread. Unless you bake your own bread (and most of us don’t), good bread choices at most supermarkets are unfortunately few and far between. A bread may have a wonderfully soft texture and even taste great … but the first thing you should look at before deciding whether to buy it is the ingredients label.
Most store-bought breads have a lot of ingredients, and most of these ingredients are unhealthy, artificial chemicals and stabilizers. Look for a brand that only has whole-wheat flour (preferably unbleached), water, yeast and salt. Since this type of bread doesn’t keep as long as the chemical kind, refrigerate loaf to keep it fresh after a few days.
Some supermarkets sell French baguettes that only have a few ingredients; these can be wrapped in plastic cling wrap when you get home, so that they’ll stay soft beyond a day.
Now that the bread’s out of the way, let’s talk condiments: mustard is a healthy flavor enhancer, as is chemical-free mayonnaise (again, rare and few brands, but it is possible to find mayo without disodium EDTA, if you shop around). Pepper and fresh, chopped herbs are also healthy and delicious ways to enhance taste.
And now, for the healthy and quick lunch ideas that kids will love:
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich: the old standby is most definitely healthy, if you use chemical-free bread and chemical-free peanut butter (peanut butter should only have peanuts or peanuts and salt as the ingredients). Look for jams and preserves without high fructose corn syrup (again, not that many brands like that around) and that list the fruit as the first, main ingredient. These cost more, but they have more nutritional value. Include milk to wash down the sandwich, and some type of fruit, and you have a balanced, nutritious lunch.
- Peanut butter and honey: if you have difficulty finding jams or preserves without high-fructose corn syrup, you can always squirt some honey on the peanut butter, and your kid will love it.
- Egg-salad sandwich: boil some eggs the night before, cut them up and add a little mayonnaise. Enhance the taste by adding sliced cheese (natural, chemical-free cheese); fold minced celery into the eggs to add flavor, fiber and nutrients. Add tomato slices and lettuce, if you like. This sandwich goes great with some natural fruit juice; you can add some chips or a chopped vegetable separately (such as broccoli or carrots), to make the meal more interesting and filling.
- Tuna-salad sandwich: choose tuna in oil, as it has less salt than tuna in water. Drain oil out and add a little mayonnaise. You can add minced onions or celery to enhance taste. Add lettuce for fiber and more nutrients.
- Leftover roast chicken or beef slices from the previous night’s dinner. A little mustard and some cucumber slices, tomatoes or lettuce go great with meat that was served the night before!
- Cheese and lettuce sandwich: bread goes great with cheese, and a little mustard and mayonnaise combined. Add some all-natural Fritos corn chips, Lay’s potato chips, or tortilla chips to make meal more interesting to your youngster. Avoid cheese curls that are orange in color, unless you’ve read the label and the ingredients are natural. Avoid the popular brands advertised on TV, as these have many artificial additives.
- Avocado and cheese sandwich: avocados are not only delicious, but packed with nutrients. Add mustard, mayo, avocado and cheese to your bread, plus lettuce, and you have a delicious sandwich. Note: if you want to make sure the avocado stays fresh and green, all you have to do is mash it in a bowl, add the juice of half a lemon per avocado, and a little salt. Lemon preserves avocado perfectly and for days and days, if you store in the refrigerator.
Healthy beverages that your child can consume with his or her lunch are: filtered or bottled water (unless you’re lucky enough to live in a city where the tap water tastes good), fruit juices (dilute with water to cut down on sugar) and milk. Avoid sodas, as well as artificial “fruit-flavored juice drinks.” Make sure the juices that you buy are 100% juice. You can also control how much sugar goes in the drinks your child consumes by making your own juices, of course. Homemade lemonade is a favorite of children, and it’s easy and quick to make.
If you or your child enjoy sodas, try adding plain carbonated water to a few ounces of fruit juice — and you have the fun bubbly taste, without the chemicals!
By Jamell Andrews