The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 8, 2013

School-ready ideas to liven up the lunchtime blahs

By April Graff
Hy-Vee Registered Dietitian

---- — Q: Help! I am in desperate need of some lunch ideas for my kids (and myself) to take to school. I like to send lunch to school with my children but they are sick of having the sandwich, apple and cheese stick that I can come up with. Do you have any quick-to-prepare lunch ideas?

A: Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, but lunch is surely a close second. Kids who eat a balanced lunch are more alert in school.

It’s not enough to put together a healthy lunch; it has to be a healthy lunch your kids will actually eat! You know the basics: Kids need whole grains, fruits and veggies, dairy and some protein. The trick is to pick foods they can’t resist and get them involved.

Focus on including each of the different food groups. Make sure that each lunch has a source of protein, grain, fruit, vegetable and dairy. An occasional treat is a fun addition as long as it is a small portion. Get creative and involve the whole family. Some food ideas from each food group are listed below.

Protein: peanut butter, beans, lunchmeat, cooked meats, hard-boiled egg;

Fruit: fresh, dried, frozen or canned;

Vegetables: fresh, dried, frozen or canned;

Dairy: yogurt, milk, cheese stick, cheese slices;

Grains: bread, tortilla, crackers, rice, pasta, popcorn, cereals, pitas, bagels.

Make a smoothie using yogurt, apples, berries and kale. Freeze in a small reusable container. By the time lunch rolls around, the smoothie will be thawed and ready to eat. Serve with carrot sticks, hummus and popcorn for a well-rounded meal.

Make your own lunch-able. Combine whole grain crackers, sliced lunch meat and cheese. Serve with sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and an apple.

Try a “make-your-own” pizza. Cut whole grain pitas into wedges. Include shredded cheese, Canadian bacon and a small cup of sauce. Let your child assemble it at class. Serve with applesauce, broccoli, cauliflower and dip.

Tips to remember

• Make foods easy to eat; cut up fruits and vegetables when possible.

• Let them dip; studies show that children eat significantly more fruits and vegetables when given a dip. Try ranch, hummus, peanut butter or yogurt.

• Remember food safety. Pack perishables in an insulated bag with an ice pack to keep them fresh until lunchtime.

April Graff, MS, RD, LD, is a reg­istered dietitian at both Mankato Hy-Vee stores and can be reached at AGraff@hy-vee.com or call 625-1107 or 625-9070. Send her ques­tions about food and nutrition, recipes, meal planning and healthy shopping.