It's in the bag
By Sharon Thompson
Knight Ridder News Service
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:
Some further ideas:
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:
HAM & CHEESE PINWHEELS
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
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.
Source: "The Mom's Guide to Meal Makeovers" by Janice Newell Bissex and Liz Weiss
POPEYE'S VEGGIE PITAS
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.
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.
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.
Source: "Better Food for Kids" by Joanne Saab and Daina Kalnins