Add zest to school lunches

October 09, 1991|By Pat Dailey | Pat Dailey,Chicago Tribune

Now that schools are in session, the brown bag ritual is back in action. Even lunch programs, a fixture in most school systems, haven't displaced the lunch box entirely. The authors of "The Penny Whistle Lunch Box Book" estimate that during the school years each child in the United States will tote about 1,700 lunches to school.

With so many lunches to plan and pack, it's pretty easy to fall into the same old routine. But if the contents of their lunch boxes don't appeal, there's a good chance your children will head to the vending machine for a bag of chips or a package of gooey cupcakes.

Research indicates that well-balanced, well-spaced meals help children learn more easily. So in addition to a breakfast of champions, kids need a midday boost.

Common sense suggests that lunches should include nourishing food that children like. If they like cauliflower, keep on adding it. On the other hand, there's no point in sending broccoli if the kids find it loathsome. Away from your watchful eyes, there's little chance it will get eaten.

If you do worry about what your kids eat once they're out of sight, remember that teaching them sound nutritional principles early on will have a long-lasting effect. They'll remember those lessons as they pick and choose their lunch, even if it's from the cafeteria line.

Sandwiches often are the brown bag lunch of choice. They have a lot to recommend them: they're practical, easy to pack and easy to eat. Besides, there's a world of possibilities from peanut butter and jelly and beyond. Indulge your children with fillings they like and remember that other breads might capture their attention, such as pita rounds, flour tortillas and whole-grain rolls.

Sandwiches aren't the only route. Here, we offer an "idea" recipe, a clever way to turn leftovers into a delicious and healthful pasta salad. Rice can take the place of pasta, any cooked meat can replace the tuna and the vegetables can change by whim or season.

Though dessert shouldn't be a heavy dose of overly rich, empty calories, an oatmeal-raisin cookie or an applesauce bar provides a welcome treat and just might head off a vending machine visit.

Peter Rabbit Pasta Salad

The strategy here is to use whatever add-on's your child likes. We've used simple garden vegetables like carrots, celery and sweet bell peppers. If broccoli and cauliflower rate with your charges, use those instead. Sunflower seeds add a nice crunch. Later in the fall, use pumpkin seeds instead.

1 cup cooked small shaped pasta

2/3 cup finely diced vegetables such as carrots, bell pepper, celery

1 tablespoon minced fresh herbs such as chives or parsley

1 1/2 tablespoons light mayonnaise

3 tablespoons flaked tuna or cooked meat

2 tablespoons cheese, cut in small cubes

Combine all ingredients in a small dish and toss lightly to combine.

Chill and pack in a wide-mouth vacuum bottle.

Fruit Spears

Apples and oranges are a lunch box stand-by. Trouble is, younger kids may not be able to handle peeling them. Here's a simple solution that will help to ensure that they eat the fruit instead of tossing it. Bite-size bits of fruit are skewered onto wooden skewers or flat sticks. Squeezing a bit of orange juice over the fruit ensures that it won't discolor before lunch time.

1 cup diced fruit, such as apples, orange segments, pineapple, pears, plums

1 tablespoon orange juice

Wooden skewers or sticks

Place the fruit on the skewers. Drizzle with orange juice. Wrap in plastic wrap or bags.

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