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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, August 17, 2005

It's in the bag

By Sharon Thompson
Knight Ridder News Service

Let kids liven up their lunches with whole grains, fruits and veggies they hand-pick

DEBORAH BOOKER | Honolulu Advertiser



Guidelines for packing a healthful but appealing lunch for kids parallel those for adults but get the kids involved.

Pack 100-percent juice, plain water or low-fat milk with lunches. Ban sodas.

Strive to get a couple of servings of vegetables into lunch. This might mean adding shredded veggies to a sandwich filling, served with celery or carrot sticks.

At least one serving of fruit provides fiber and the sweet flavor kids crave. Take kids to the market and let them help you choose fresh or dried fruits to include in lunches.

Protein and dairy
Protein including dairy foods should be the centerpiece of a lunch: lower-fat meats or fish, cheese or beans or tofu in sandwiches, salads, sushi or hot dishes such as a thermos of soup or stew.

Serve sandwiches on whole-grain breads (ones that specify whole-grain wheat as the first ingredient).


With all the concern about childhood obesity, the rising cost of school lunches and the fat, salt and sugar content of the foods children eat, many parents are reconsidering the packed lunch as school starts up again.

But how to make sure a packed lunch is more nutritious than school options, and that the children actually eat it?

One key to a successful home lunch is including children in the process, said Sandra Bastin, associate extension professor at the University of Kentucky.

Bastin, a food and nutrition specialist, tells her children James, 12, and Victoria, 11, that they must include one fruit and vegetable (dip is permissible for fresh veggies), one dairy product (yogurt, cheese, milk) and a source of protein (peanut butter, meat, meat sticks, cheese).

For her part, she keeps the pantry and refrigerator stocked: fresh fruits and vegetables, dried fruit and bags of nuts, plus low-salt canned goods. "I always send extras of blueberries, cherries, homemade fruit rollups, kiwi, oranges, because invariably the other kids want to try them," she said.

One rule is "no sweets without prior approval. Consequently, they get really creative," Bastin said, trying to come up with something sweet to add to the mix.

"My kids get tired of sandwiches, so we do a lot of wraps, whole-grain crackers, lettuce leaves. If I do a wrap with turkey, there's either chopped-up lettuce, tomatoes or spinach. Any way I can add those fruits and vegetables, I do," she said.

It's important to have the right equipment to pack a lunch, she said. "If you send soup or spaghetti, it needs to be hot. If you send something perishable, it needs to be on ice. I spend a lot of time every year finding the right thermos or ice pack."

Registered dietitian Tina Thompson suggests involving children in these ways:

  • Take children to the grocery store and let them see, smell and feel new fruits to try. Let them choose yogurt flavors and ingredients to go into homemade muffins or trail mix.

  • Allow children to help make their lunches by giving them two choices for each food group.

  • For the occasional treat, send bite-size, not full-size, candy bars.

  • For everyday treats, pack stickers rather than candy, cookies or other foods with empty calories.

  • Teach kids to look for color in lunches. "The more color, the more nutrients, usually," Thompson said.

  • Let your children help make homemade cookies and muffins to include in lunches.

  • Add a small note saying, "Hope your test goes well" or "Have a nice day."

    Some further ideas:

  • When making dinner, plan for leftovers to be part of a school lunch.

  • Send along 100-percent fruit juice or water, never soda.

  • Try different breads to vary sandwiches: mini-bagels, whole-wheat tortillas, whole-wheat English muffins, pita pockets.

  • Pack hot broth in a thermos and cooked saimin noodles and garnishes in a plastic bag to be put together at meal time.

  • Sushi such as futomaki or mini-rolls with cucumber, gobo or takuwan make a nice change.

  • Make a bento with cooked rice, a scattering of egg, low-fat ham and veggies; pack furikake separately.

    Thompson said there are several new products that are healthful choices when you need something quick to throw into the lunchbox.

    "New products that I would consider healthier than other similar products are Meijer Lunch-Umms tuna wrap ($3.49), and Oscar Mayer Lunchables Chicken Dunks or BBQ Chicken Shake-Up ($2.49 each)," she said.

    The main ingredients in the lunch bag should be whole-grain products and fruits and vegetables, Thompson said.

    According to the USDA, fewer than one in three consumers, especially children, meets daily intake goals for whole grains, based on the new USDA dietary guidelines and MyPyramid consumer food guide program.

    Here are some recipes to help:


    1/2 cup light cream cheese, softened

    4 8-inch whole-wheat flour tortillas

    1 cup pre-shredded carrots

    1/2 cup pre-shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese

    6 ounces thinly sliced lean deli ham

    Dipping sauces:

    1/4 cup honey mustard

    1/4 cup barbecue sauce

    1/4 cup hummus

    Spread cream cheese evenly over each tortilla. Layer each tortilla with carrots, cheese and ham. Roll up tightly and slice into 3/4-inch rounds. Serve with dipping sauces. Makes 4 servings.

  • Per serving: 290 calories, 9 g fat, 880 mg sodium, 42 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 19 g protein.

    Source: "The Mom's Guide to Meal Makeovers" by Janice Newell Bissex and Liz Weiss


    2 cups packed baby spinach

    2 tablespoons light or regular caesar salad dressing

    2 large whole wheat pitas, halved

    1/2 cup hummus

    1 small red bell pepper, thinly sliced

    4 ounces thinly sliced part-skim mozzarella cheese

    Combine spinach and salad dressing in medium bowl; mix well. Line each pita pocket evenly with hummus, bell pepper, spinach mix and cheese. Makes 4 servings.

  • Per serving: 230 calories, 9 g fat, 560 mg sodium, 26 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 14 g protein.

    Source: "The Mom's Guide to Meal Makeovers"


    2 1/2 cups crispy puffed-corn cereal

    2 1/2 cups frosted oat cereal with marshmallows

    1 1/4 cups pretzel fish

    1 1/4 cup mixed dried fruit

    3/4 cup salted soy nuts

    3/4 cup fruit flavored bite-sized candies

    Combine all ingredients in airtight container. Put lid on and seal tightly. Shake to combine. Makes 18 servings.

  • Per serving: 142 calories, 2 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 177 mg sodium, 27 g total carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 4 g protein.

    Source: "Cooking Up Fun for Kids with Diabetes" by Patti Geil and Tami Ross


    2 large 10-inch tortillas

    1/4 cup spreadable cream cheese

    1/4 cup mild salsa

    On each tortilla, thinly spread 2 tablespoons each cream cheese and salsa. Roll each tortilla up tightly and cut into 1 1/2-inch slices. Serve cold. Makes 2 to 3 servings.

  • Per serving: 41 calories, 0.9 g protein, 4.7 g carbohydrate, 2.1 g fat.

    Source: "Better Food for Kids" by Joanne Saab and Daina Kalnins