Thursday, March 15, 2012

Healthy Kid's Lunches

image: gamene (flikr)
I've had a lot of friends ask me lately, "So, what do you feed your kids for lunch?" This seems to be a big stumbling block for families that want to eat healthy. Dinners are simple enough to prepare in a healthy manner; but what about the kids that are used to getting a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, bag of Doritos, and a few Oreos in their lunch? How do you transition to more healthy alternatives?

I started slowly. When I first began my elimination diet, it was just for myself and Caleb. Caleb still can't eat solid foods, so I simply puree our healthy dinner leftovers from the night before and serve those up for his lunch. But for my is school-age and the other will be in kindergarten in just a few months (sob)...I began by switching to all-natural, no-sugar-added peanut butter. Then, I purchased organic jam. Several months before the elimination diet, I had stopped buying honey and was using agave instead, and thankfully one of my girls was already a big fan of peanut-butter and agave sandwiches. Then, I made a big batch of my own strawberry jam, without pectin and sweetened only with agave. The next step in the transformation of the sandwich was that I stopped buying bread for a while. My kids didn't mind rice cakes, so there was a period of about four weeks where they didn't have bread at all, only rice cakes with peanut butter on them. I filled a tiny jelly jar with peanut butter, and sent my daughter with a little spoon so she could add the peanut butter to the rice cake herself when she got to lunch. This helped prevent a soggy, messy rice cake!

After about a month with no bread, I re-introduced bread by purchasing this gluten-free brand. It is almost impossible to find a gluten-free bread that does not have eggs, soy, or corn in it. This brand checked all the right boxes. After not having bread for a while, the girls thought it was great and I used it for a month or so to make their sandwiches.

Then, this week I tried this sandwich bread recipe. Yum!! It was easy enough to make, and one loaf has lasted about a week, so I'm planning on making this bread for their sandwiches from here on out. (I have yet to find a good gluten-free, organic sliced turkey for sandwiches or wraps; if you know of one, please tell me!)

Okay, enough about sandwiches. This is not our only option for a healthy lunch! As I mentioned before, rice cakes are good with some kind of nut butter or seed butter, and agave or jam. They are also good with hummus or some other kind of bean dip spread on them.

Our other stand-by for lunches is hummus & veggies for dipping. I use this recipe from The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen. I make it just like her recipe, except instead of 1 teaspoon of cumin, I add 1 tablespoon of cumin. I made it this way the first time as a mistake and loved it so much I do it every time now, on purpose! The great thing about hummus is that it's very filling, and you can get a lot of healthy veggies into your kids when you provide veggies for dipping. My kids' favorite veggies to dip are carrots, broccoli, and red or green bell peppers. But anything goes! I also love dipping celery and fresh, crunchy green beans in hummus.

One healthy alternative is wraps. However, I can't find a store-bought wrap that I like. I may have to break down and make my own home made but I am really dreading that. Just seems like a lot of work! I've tried using lettuce for wraps...I think I never use quite enough so it falls apart too easily. I recently heard about using collard greens as your wrap...that sounds kind of cool...I think I'll try it soon, maybe with some hummus and bell pepper slices inside.

I always provide a side of fresh fruit and try to add a side of fresh veggies to any sandwich or rice cake. Sometimes a handful of dry roasted almonds or dried fruits too. I make sure to keep things fresh by occasionally adding a homemade treat of some kind. Adding home made treats is more of the exception than the rule, but I never want my kids to feel deprived. I just make sure to trade the unhealthy junk food for treats that are packed with as much nutrition as possible. At the very least, when I send them a home made treat, I know it is free of gluten, dairy, eggs, corn, soy and usually refined sugar. It's also organic. These little changes add up and make a difference, I'm convinced of that now.

I am still learning and developing in the area of making healthy lunches for my kiddos. They are SO much better than they used to be, but I'd still like to see them have more variety. I'd like to see them enjoy almond butter as much as they do peanut butter. I'd like to see my daughter get comfortable with bringing soup in a thermos, for example. By next school year I'd definitely like to get a few more things in the repertoire. But, my kiddos are still young, and I know that if I keep working on it and don't give up, they'll soon be eating healthier than most adults I know. (In fact, my daughter says that the cafeteria duty teacher looks to see what my daughter has in her lunch every day, so she can copy it for her own children!)

Here are some other helpful resources for healthy lunch tips and ideas:

Back to School Lunches for Healthier Kids
Recipe Round-Up: Ideas for Packing a Healthy School Lunch
Healthy School Lunch Ideas for Kids
Packing a Healthy School Lunch

I had a friend (whose children are now adults) commend me recently for teaching my children young to eat right. She was very honest with me and said that's something that she dropped the ball on when her kids were little, and now as a family they all struggle with being overweight and unhealthy. She said she  would go to McDonald's whenever the kids wanted to. There just weren't any boundaries for food, and now she's got some regrets in that department.

The fact is, we aren't raising little children...we are raising future adults. Let's give them the tools they need now to make wise decisions later! Here's the thing: it might take a little bit of extra time to prepare a lunch that's not based on pre-packaged foods. But I firmly believe that taking the time (and it doesn't have to be a LOT of time!) to pack foods full of fresh, natural goodness is an important part of nurturing our children. Many of us are aware that we need to be nourishing our children emotionally with lots of love, hugs, and quality time, but sometimes we forget that nourishing their little bodies is just as important. We have a chance now to help shape our children's health for the future...let's do it!

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