Pack Healthy School Lunches Your Kids Will Eat

Final Main ImageIt’s that time of year again when kids are gearing up for school or are already settling into their classrooms (do I hear a collective sigh of relief?). If you have children in grade school, you may be wondering what to do about their midday meals, specifically whether you should pack their lunches or trust they’ll eat whatever the cafeteria dishes out.

Let me just say if your little darlings are finicky eaters, they’re probably better off bringing their lunches from home. The trick is to make them appealing and nutritious at the same time. I know, easier said than done, right?

Well, good thing I have some ideas for tasty and healthy meals, as well as fun and functional ways to tote food & beverages to school!

Say Goodbye to Boring Bag Lunches

Back in the day, if you weren’t lucky enough to own one of those groovy tin boxes with your favorite TV characters, you had to carry your lunch in a flimsy, worn-out brown paper bag that was barely big enough to hold a sandwich and an apple.

These days you’ll find an awesome assortment of durable, roomy and cool-looking lunch bags, boxes and containers, many at discounted prices during back-to-school sales. Here’s a sample:

Insulated Lunch Bags. These lightweight bags come in so many patterns and styles – from cartoon characters and action heroes to cute critters and bright geometric designs – you’re sure to find something to suit any age and taste. Find fabulous lunch bags. like the one below, at Amazon.com!

Zootopia_DIY_LunchBox
DIY Lunch Box.
Pick up a plain tin lunch box, like the one above from Oriental Trading, and let your child decorate it his or her own way with glitter, markers, magnets, stickers… you name it!

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Rubbermaid LunchBlox®.
  This Bento-style kit includes 3 colorful containers with leak-proof lids to help you organize and store snacks, fruit, veggies, dips and sandwiches, plus a Blue Ice® pack to keep food chilled and fresh. Everything snaps together to fit inside tall or flat lunch bags. See the complete LunchBlox line at Rubbermaid.com.

Best Bets for Beverages and BrothsContigo water bottles

Contigo AUTOSEAL® Gizmo Kids Water Bottle. The BPA-free reusable water bottle is leak- and spill-proof and has an easy-clean transparent lid. Go to reuseit.com for all kinds of clever water bottles for kids!

 

Crayola® Juice Box Holder. No more crying over spilled juice! Just place the juice box in this sturdy, squeeze-proof plastic container and the juice stays put! Get one now for only $3.99!

food jarninji turtles food jar
THERMOS Brand FUNtainer Food Jar.

The compact, double-wall stainless steel container holds up to 10 ounces and keeps food hot or cold for hours. Choose from a variety of FUNtainers at Target.com.

Kid-friendly (and mother-approved) menu ideas:
* Pita-bread pizzas — If they like pizza, they’ll devour these! Take pita rounds (without the pockets) and top them with pizza sauce from a jar, pepperoni and grated mozzarella. Bake in a toaster oven and wrap them in foil to stay warm.
* Sandwiches in fun shapes — Use crust or cookie cutters to turn ordinary sandwiches into something “magical” like butterflies, hearts or dinosaurs! Get a 5-Pack of Sandwich Crust Cutters at Amazon.com
* Pinwheels — Spread cream cheese on a flour tortilla, cover it with deli ham or turkey, shredded cheese and lettuce, roll it up and slice into bite-size pieces.
* Kabobs — Take wooden skewers and lace them with chunks of ham or turkey, cheese and fresh fruit like pineapple or apple.
* Mini pot pies — make these ahead of time, heat ’em up and wrap in foil to keep them warm. Here’s an easy pot pie recipe from Betty Crocker.
* Pasta — Most kids like mac & cheese, spaghetti & meatballs and ravioli. Needless to say, homemade is better than the pre-made kind you pop in the microwave. Try these delicious, kid-tested pasta recipes from allrecipes.com.
* Vegetable alphabet soup — Heat it up in the a.m., put it in a thermos and it’ll still be “mmm, mmm good” at lunchtime.
* Ants-on-a-Log — A good-tasting, good-for-you snack that’s fun to make and eat! Just spread peanut butter on stalks of celery and sprinkle with raisins.
* Veggies & dip — A great way to get youngsters to eat their vegetables! Fill a container with baby carrots and include hummus or ranch dressing for dipping.
* Yogurt — Click here to find the best yogurts for kids.
* Something to drink — low-fat milk and ice water are the best choices for beverages. Juice boxes are good, too, as long as they’re low in sugar. Sodas are a no-no, of course. Even diet soft drinks have been proven to be unhealthy.
* Include some fresh fruit (grapes, berries, an apple or pear), string cheese, crackers, maybe a granola bar or cookies (from scratch) for dessert, and they’re good to go!

Visit our Kid Stuff Pinterest board for more school lunch ideas!

Smart Perks blogger Catherine B. tried brown-bagging her lunch once in first grade but gave it up after the paper bag ripped and she lost half her meal on the sidewalk.

Keep Calm and Cook On

 

Happy woman cook with okay sign, close up

I love to cook and I must admit I’m pretty good at it, but there are some things I’m not so good at, like peeling hard-boiled eggs without leaving divots. (If you were to rate my deviled eggs I’d probably get 8 or 9 in taste and a 1 in appearance!) I have the same problem getting the skin off tomatoes! It’s so aggravating, not to mention I end up wasting a lot of food in the process. I must say though that chopping onions is probably one of my least favorite things to do – even if I use a food chopper, I still get the tears and that strong “onion smell” on my hands.

I’m sure a lot of you can relate to my kitchen faux pas and frustrations. Fortunately I came across some helpful hints to make cooking and preparing foods easier, faster and less stressful. Some are from my Grandma Vi, who was an excellent cook, and the rest I found online.

Give these tricks a try and be smarter (and happier) in the kitchen!

* Avoid “onion tears” by placing the onion in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before slicing it. To get rid of the “onion smell”, try soaking your hands in lemon juice for 3 minutes, then rinse them in cold water.

* To easily peel skin off tomatoes, dip the tomato in a pan of boiling water for a few seconds, then stick a fork in the stem and use a paring knife to remove the skin.

Lemon and lemon zest with grater* For lemon zest, freeze the lemon and when a recipe calls for it, just grate the rind from the frozen lemon.

* Use an ice pick to peel and de-vein shrimp. Just run the pick down the back toward the tails and presto… the shell and vein are gone in one step!

* To keep apple slices from turning brown, soak them in a bowl of cold lemon water (1 tbsp. of lemon juice for 1 cup of water).

* Thaw frozen fish in milk to take away the “freezer taste”. Soaking fish in milk for 30 minutes or so will also neutralize that strong “fishy” taste and odor.  After removing fish from the milk, just pat dry with a paper towel and discard milk before cooking the fish.

fresh raspberries spilling out of their pint container

There’s nothing like fresh berries!

* To make fresh berries last longer and keep them from getting moldy, wash them in a water/vinegar solution (3 cups water + 1 cup vinegar), then store in paper towel-lined containers in your refrigerator.

* Prevent brown sugar from drying out by storing it in an air-tight container with a slice of bread.

* Keep celery crisp in your fridge for weeks by wrapping clean, dry stalks tightly in aluminum foil.

* Thinly slice raw meat, poultry or pork when it’s slightly frozen.

* If you want your fried chicken or potatoes golden-brown and crispy, avoid overcrowding the pan. It’s better to fry food in smaller batches or use two pans. The reason — food releases moisture as it cooks and you need to leave room for the moisture to escape.

* Add a small amount of uncooked rice to salt shakers and sugar containers to absorb moisture and prevent clumping. Also, instead of using your salt shaker to season food on the stove, place salt in a bowl and sprinkle it over the food.  Apparently the steam from cooking causes the salt to clump in your shaker too.

Boil egg in white plate on wooden background.

The end result when I try to de-shell a boiled egg.

Deviled Eggs

My goal – the perfect deviled egg.

* As for getting those stubborn shells off hard-boiled eggs… I found various tips on this and these seem to be the most commonly used methods. I put them to the test and voilá, the shells practically fell off!

  1. Start with eggs that are at least 7-10 days old as fresh egg whites tend to cling more to the inner shell.
  2. Place eggs in a pan of cool water (make sure they’re covered completely). Add about 3 tbsp. of salt and slowly heat to boiling – this will prevent the eggs from cracking.
  3. After draining water from cooked eggs, tap both ends of the egg with a spoon and roll the egg over a hard surface, like a countertop, until it’s cracked all over. You can also shake the eggs in the pan until the shells crack. Both seem to work.
  4. Cover eggs in ice-cold water and let them cool down to room temperature. This helps loosen the membrane, making them easier to peel.
  5. Peel egg with your thumb, starting at the wider end where there’s an air pocket. Hold under running cold water to remove any remaining shell pieces.

One final tip: save those eggshells — they’re good for your garden, among other things. Find ideas on Pinterest.

That’s it for now – I don’t want to bombard you with too much info at once. keep calm and cook

Smart Perks Blogger Catherine B. enjoys preparing all kinds of dishes, but dreads the clean-up afterwards. She finds someone else to do it.