Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lunch Box Lift Off

It is that time of year again when many of us have to think about packing our kid's lunch boxes. Bleary eyed from just waking up or dead tired from a day of work, packing lunch doesn't have to be one more dreaded chore. Here are some tips to help make the mundane more manageable:
  1. Find a lunch box the kid loves Make a special trip to pick one out. The more ostentatious the better! Avoid lunch boxes with plastic containers made from BPA plastics.
  2. Select a cool thermos for soups, mac and cheese, chili, and warm pasta.
  3. Plan a special day to bake some of his or her favorite treats. Instead of the usual mixes and boxes, start from scratch. Use whole wheat pastry flour, Land O Lakes Spreadable Butter, applesauce, dried fruits, chocolate chips, and oatmeal for healthier desserts. Freeze the leftovers and toss them in the lunch box.
  4. 100 calorie packs, while limited in calories, are made with the usual junky ingredients like too much sodium, bleached flour, and bad fats. They should not be tossed in on a regular basis. The health quality of foods is just as important as the calorie content.
  5. Make sandwiches on whole grain or white whole grain (don't ask me how but the companies say it is whole grain). Hummus, avocado, and pepper jack cheese all make great additions to any sandwich. A few spinach leaves or tomato paste add some strong antioxidants.
  6. Avoid processed meats with nitrites.
  7. Left over pizza makes a great lunch. Order whole wheat when ordering out or buy the new Kashi thin crusted whole grain pizzas. Wrap in foil. Kids love cold left over pizza.
  8. If there is no left over chili from dinner, Amy's canned chili is good. Add some grated cheese. Leftover soups go great in the thermos. Serve with Wheat Thins (low sodium) or baked chips and guacamole.
  9. Peanut butter and jelly is always a fav. Use the natural stuff. Add bananas and chocolate chips for fun.
  10. Today kids eat salads. Toss in some chicken, grated Cabot reduced fat cheddar, and dried cherries and mandarin oranges.
  11. Subway can also be a good fall back. Try a sub on one of their many whole grain breads. Stick to the chicken or turkey rather than the ham or salami. Add tons of veggies, a squirt of olive oil and vinegar and you are good to go. A bag of baked chips and an apple and it is one stop shopping.

Most importantly, mix it up. Add some puddings, chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, carrots and ranch dressing. Think out of the box.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Cooking with Kids

School is about to start and now is a great time to spend some of the last few weeks doing fun activities with the kids. How about cooking? You can practice making some of the delicious and healthy treats that they can take in their lunch boxes.

Forget the traditional boxed mixes and go for a recipe from scratch. You can always substitute whole wheat pastry flour for bleached flour, applesauce instead of oil, and use grated vegetables for moisture and added fiber. Cold pressed canola oil is a good choice when usiing oil.

If you are in a hurry at least choose a boxed mix with healthful ingredients. There are so many on the market today. No Pudge Fudge Brownies are my favorite. All you have to do is dump the mix in a bowl and add some non fat vanilla yogurt.

What about carrot muffins or zucchini bread? You can always add nuts and dried fruit like cranberries, raisins, or cherries to any recipe. Banana bread tastes great with chocolate chips and is fun to eat in a cupcake wrapper. Speaking of cupcakes, you can put any kind of dessert in a cupcake wrapper and it doesn't always have to have white bleached flour, trans fats, and tons of frosting.

Cooking with kids reinforces lots of skills learned in school: reading, counting, and measuring. Most importantly, cooking with kids gets them in touch with food. The more connected kids are with the food they eat, the more conscious they become about health and fitness. Making the connection between eating and health early in life is important because it leads to better choices down the road.