School Lunch: Brown Bag It!

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We have been bombarded lately with media stories about food and nutrition and how the ‘Supersize Me’ generation has affected our kids’ health. Obesity has doubled in this country in the last 20 years, and type II diabetes is following in the same direction. As a result, one of the issues you may be concerned with is what your kids are being served in their school cafeterias. I watched an episode of Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” and I was horrified at what some schools thought was food. I know some of you don’t feel like you have the time to pack a lunch, but truthfully, it can take 5 minutes. With the knowledge that your kids may be eating all refined and processed foods at school, you may want to consider “brown bagging” their lunches from now on. Here are some really great ideas that your kids will love — and you can have them help you make it!

The New Bento Box

“Bento” is a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. Traditionally, it comes with rice, fish or meat, and one or more pickled or cooked vegetables, usually all packed in a box-shaped container with individual compartments. That would be a perfect lunch for me, but maybe not for kids. But, the Bento idea is really a cool one. Instead of pickled vegetables and fish, you may want to put some cooked chicken, hummus, fresh cut up veggies (you can buy already cut up celery, carrots and bell peppers) or you may want to add in a salad, or some olives. Another really cool idea is to buy the pre-made pizza dough at Trader Joe’s (at 99 cents – it’s not only a bargain, it’s fantastic) and fill one compartment with the already cooked dough, another with tomato sauce, another with cheese, and another with his/her favorite topping. If that’s not a cool lunch, I don’t know what is! Of course, a microwave is a must, but most schools today have one.

Try International Day

CHINESE: Frozen potstickers take no time to cook; they go directly from freezer to pan. Pack several pan fried potstickers along with some corn that was basted with teriyaki sauce.
ITALIAN: Eggplant parmesan is so easy to fix for dinner and leftovers always serve as a great lunch.
FRENCH: Use puff pastry sheets and stuff with anything from chicken to pork to grilled vegetables. Make sure you wrap them in parchment paper to prevent the crust from getting soggy.
(Send with a little note or sticker that says I love you (in featured country) as a sweet little treat: Italian – ti amo, Chinese – wo ai ni (phonetically), and French – je t’aime.)

Mix it Up

I find that everyone has ONE kind of bread in their fridge for sandwiches and that is it. Mix it up – try whole wheat pitas, wraps, or naan (Indian) bread. Replace pizza dough with a pita or naan. There are a lot of artisan brand flatbreads to replace bread, such as roasted garlic or caraway seed. Top with goat cheese, sun dried tomatoes and basil and you have a winner. Make miniature bite-sized sandwich skewers; use miniature cocktail bread and skewer on cherry tomatoes, provolone cheese, prosciutto, lettuce and tomatoes. Also, be careful when buying bread. Most breads are primarily made with enriched flour. Even if the word enriched is not there, if it does not say whole, then it’s the same junk. Don’t get fooled by color either. Even if it’s brown, unbleached wheat flour is still missing the bran and the germ that contain essential nutrients as well as the fiber that aids digestion. Look for products that say 100% whole wheat.

Try this Brown Bag Lunch this Week!

Combine couscous with feta, cucumbers, pear tomatoes, olive oil and lemon. Serve with pita. It takes 10 minutes to make and costs about $2.50 a serving.

An important note: Remember, making organic choices help keep yucky pesticides out of your child’s lunch box.

About the Author

Shelley Janson is a chef, writer, and business consultant. In 1985 Janson founded the Epicurean School of Culinary Arts, the first short term Professional Chef Training Program in Los Angeles. A frequent “foodie” contributor to local and nationally-syndicated television programs, Janson is also well-known for producing special food events for department stores, corporations, and fundraisers for nonprofits. Her client list includes MySpace, Oprah Winfrey’s HARPO Productions, and Martha Stewart Living. As a nutrition enthusiast, Janson is now launching her next career as THE FOOD COACH, empowering kids by teaching them about foods and nutrition to help them build healthy lifestyles. Look for her classes at Whole Foods and her other Food Coach articles at www.modernmom.com.

 

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