A local chef shares tips on how to pack a healthy lunchbox.
My daughter loves the book Bread and Jam for Frances, which chronicles the emotional and physical toll eating just bread and jam takes on a young badger and her family. In the end, Frances goes back to a balanced lunchbox with eagerness.
The real story for me is in the elaborate lunches these young badgers bring to school, complete with place mats and violets to please their senses. It sounds a bit silly and certainly unrealistic, but in our busy family we use it as inspiration. Although we have more access to great ingredients, our lives are hectic, and packing lunch can suffer in an effort to make things easier. Here are some quick and easy solutions for parents who want to keep their sanity and still send the kids to school with a great and healthful packed lunch.
1. Butter up
Change up the “bread and jam” (or PB&J) by using whole fruit and homemade butters. Add natural sweeteners like honey and healthy items like flax or chia seeds to butter — it’s an easy project you can do with the kiddos that will last more than just one lunch. Pair the spread with sliced fruit instead of jams that are often full of sugar, and you have a healthy, home-grown twist on a classic. Try almond-and-honey butter with strawberries or cashew butter with flax and strawberries. Perhaps pistachio butter with sliced plums?
2. Pasta pleases
All kids love mac-and-cheese, but packing a homemade pasta salad tossed with veggies is a terrific healthy alternative. Change up the pasta base with a gluten-free option or fun shapes like orecchiette or fusilli, then toss in carrots, haricots verts, broccoli and/or peas. You can simply use olive oil and vinegar or a yummy dressing.
3. Seafood and eat it
Frances enjoys lobster salad when she finally gets off the bread and jam. While this is both expensive and impractical in reality, simpler, less costly alternatives exist in the form of crab and shrimp. Use cooked shrimp, celery and mayo to make an easy salad, then sandwich it up on some bread. Not quite lobster — but not canned tuna, either. (Caveat: Make sure no classmates suffer from shellfish allergies.)
4. Hip chips
Snacks are a great way to get some veggies into the kids. Kale chips are a quick and super-simple make-together project. They pack up well and are certainly healthier than a regular chip. You can turn most veggies into chips, although kale is the easiest. Beet chips are another favorite — and pretty, too.
Lee Chizmar, a local dad to two daughters, is executive chef and co-owner of Bolete in Bethlehem.