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Build a better brown-bag lunch

Published On: Oct 29 2013 10:39:11 AM CDT
School lunch pack file 2

©iStockphoto.com/Juanmonino

By Jessica, Pure Matters

When I was in high school a million years ago, I bought lunch every day, and every day I had the same lunch -- mozzarella sticks and French fries. The only time I opted for anything else was on pizza day, which wasn’t much of an improvement. Knowing what I now know about nutrition, I’m horrified that the choice to eat a veggie-free, -- no, French fries are not vegetables despite what some school lunch guidelines say -- fruit-free, fiber-free lunch was even an option available to me. Schools have come a long way since then, but they still have a long way to go. As long as unhealthy, fat-laden options are available to kids, that’s what they’ll choose. And with childhood obesity affecting almost 20 percent of children aged 2-19, feeding kids healthier food is no longer an option but a necessity.

The solution? Brown bag it. Packing the right lunch for your kids will eliminate unhealthy choices, make them perform better in school, and stave off obesity. But think beyond the traditional sandwich, chips and milk -- there are several ways to build a better brown bag lunch that kids will happily gobble up. If you’re lucky, they may even learn a little bit about healthy eating in the process.

Rethink the Sandwich
There are reasons sandwiches are so popular for lunch -- they’re easy, portable, and let’s face it, delicious. So keep the sandwich, but mix it up. Instead of white bread, choose whole grain, or to cut down on the refined carb load, opt for whole grain wraps. Choose lean protein for fillings, like turkey, grilled chicken, tuna, peanut butter or even tofu! When it comes to cheese, a little goes a long way, especially when it comes to strongly flavored varieties like parmesan, smoked Gouda and sharp cheddar. Swap out mayo for pesto or oil and vinegar, and most importantly, pile on the produce. Some of my favorite healthy sandwich combos are peanut butter, turkey bacon and banana on whole wheat (Don’t knock it until you try it. Seriously.); turkey, avocado and sprouts in a spinach wrap; and grilled chicken, spinach and goat cheese on a whole-grain roll.

Soup It Up
Soup is a great way to sneak in veggies. Try minestrone with beans, pasta and vegetables for a filling main dish. Or whip up some ground turkey chili -- not Texas-style, get the beans in there for the fiber. If you have a picky eater, you’ll never go wrong with good old fashioned chicken noodle soup.

Add Dip, Subtract the Bad Fats
Whether you’re swapping out the deep-fried chips for a baked variety, or trying to get your kids to snack on celery and carrots instead, something to dip them in will go a long way. Baked tortilla chips are a lot more palatable with good-for-you salsa, and vegetables taste a lot better when they’re dipped in hummus. Try this: mix Greek yogurt with crushed garlic, fresh lemon juice and a pinch of salt. It tastes great on everything from whole grain pita chips to broccoli.

Fresh and Fruity
With some kids, all you need is a piece of nature’s candy and they’ll dig right in. But others may need a little coaxing. Cut up an assortment of fruit and toss with some mint and fresh lemon or lime juice. Or layer with honey and yogurt for a parfait. Or try mixing sweet and savory in a pasta salad -- chicken and turkey are both great complements for sliced apple, dried cranberries, pineapple or melon.

Solid Snacks
When it comes to packing snacks for kids, think about bites that will keep them going all afternoon. Popcorn is a great option -- try popping it and then seasoning it with Old Bay, Italian seasoning or Creole seasoning to give it an extra kick. Trail mix will also keep them alert, but buy the ingredients to make your own so you can control the dark chocolate kisses to almonds ratio.

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