By Susan Flynn
Before long, the morning pack-the-lunches routine becomes just that – routine, as in boring and unoriginal. And parents soon discover that the trusted standbys of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches return home in lunch bags squished and half-eaten.
Who can really blame the kids?
To help inspire parents to kick up the creativity notch this year, we sought the advice of experts who know how to cook the foods that kids like to eat: Liz Weiss of Lexington is a registered dietitian, cookbook author and one half of The Meal Makeover Moms, a local team of dieticians who write and consult about family meals. Gina Rau is a mother of two in Oregon who writes an idea-packed blog called Feed Our Families.
Weiss says she understands why time-strapped parents fall into a rut sometimes, but it’s not hard to “be a little creative and little playful” with school lunches. While not always possible, planning the night before goes a long way. That may just mean washing the lettuce for sandwiches or cutting up veggies for snacks. Even prepping just a few ingredients can help parents feel more inspired go beyond their usual bag lunch fare. “A little bit of planning can really get you out of your comfort zone,” says Weiss.
Among the ideas from Weiss and Rau:
• Expand your bread choices. Weiss loves a brand called Flatout Breads for making wraps; she also recommends pita and Lavash breads.
• Experiment with different spreads on sandwiches – honey mustard, basil pesto, or cream cheese.
• Pasta salad travels well. Take the child’s favorite form of pasta, add feta cheese, chickpeas, diced cucumbers and bell peppers, and toss in some dressing.
• As the weather cools, the thermos becomes a great asset. Pack leftover chili, soup, or lasagna for lunch.
• To really shake things up, create lunch kabobs. Buy some deli turkey, sliced 3/4-inch thick, and cut it into cubes. Thread on wooden skewers along with strawberries or grapes.
• Grapes, clementines, celery sticks and snap peas all pack great for snacks.
• Send in a snack container with olives or cantaloupe and throw in a toothpick for fun eating.
• Dress up peanut butter and jelly with whole grain cinnamon swirl bread and sliced bananas.
• Mexi-bowls are a hit in the Rau household. Combine Spanish rice, beans (black or pinto), cheese, salsa and a vegetable. Mix it up by using different veggies (roasted broccoli is the current favorite), and add avocado slices and a squeezed lime.
• Spread almond butter on a tortilla and add bananas for an easy sandwich.
• Make a Snack Lunch. The goal is to include protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains – crackers, nuts, carrots, cucumbers, grapes, celery and peanut butter, apple slices, or raisins. Rau recommends containers with compartments that are the perfect size for snacks. “My daughter doesn’t eat fast and doesn’t have much time to eat, but we’ve found that giving her bite-sized pieces of a variety of things really helps.”
For more ideas, check out www.mealmakeovermoms.com and www.feedourfamiliesblog.com.
Here’s a healthy and delicious dessert to try at home
White Bean Blondies
One 15.5-ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed
2 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
3/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350º F. Lightly oil or coat a 9-by-9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside. Place the garbanzo beans in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth and creamy. Add the eggs, sugar, oil, vanilla extract, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon and process until smooth. Add the oats and chips and pulse just until blended.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let stand at least 20 minutes before slicing. Store in refrigerator.