Friday , 22 June 2018

Kyra’s Kitchen: Back to School – Back to Brown Bag Lunches

Summer vacation is over [sigh of relief from all sides] and it is back to school.
And here come the magazine and newspaper articles weighing-in on what healthy items to pack in your child’s lunch bag.

Unfortunately much of the advice assumes that your kid will happily chow down at school on the vegetables and couscous he refuses to eat at home.

All is not lost however if you follow some basic guidelines.

1. Hold a ‘town hall meeting’ with your kid[s] and LISTEN.  Ask what the kids like and negotiate a balanced meal.  This does NOT means they can choose a Twinkie, chips and a soda – but neither will they be lumbered with food that [trust me] will make its way into the garbage on the way into the lunch room.
2. Take them to the supermarket.  You may be surprised to find some ‘good foods’ you never knew they liked.
3. PLAN AHEAD!  Much of the food can be prepared in advance.  The fruit and vegetables can be cleaned and put into the containers and refrigerated.  Snack items can be bagged.  Instead of picking up those sneaky single serving packages – make the packages yourself.  You will have more control over what is going into your kid’s mouth and it is MUCH less expensive   Some sandwiches can be made ahead and frozen.  By setting aside an hour during the weekend – AND enlisting the help of your kids – you can make school lunch a fun project – and the kids are more likely to ‘buy in’ to something they [literally] had a hand in!. Kids can also choose items which will not proclaim to their schoolmates that they are ‘weird’.  This kind of pre-planning also prevents some of that last minute – rushing out-the-door panic on school mornings. 
4. Make a list of fruits and vegetables and ask them to pick their favorites from the list.  Most children love melons, mangoes, strawberries, grapes, apples, bananas, oranges, tangerines, peaches. SOME children even like carrots, tomatoes, avocadoes and celery.
5. Make a list of proteins – chicken, sausage, eggs, cheese, string cheese, tuna, peanut butter, and ask the same question.
6. Make a list of dried fruits, cheese, yogurts, raisins, nuts, popcorn for them to choose from.
7. Make a list of breads, [preferably whole wheat but don’t tell them], tortillas, pita bread, sandwich bread, crackers, pretzels, whole grain gold fish.
8. Lastly, make a list of the favorites: cookies, graham crackers, chocolate and candy!
9. Then negotiate a lunch with choices from the lists which will include all of the above.

Pack the lunch in containers.  Use the empty plastic pots and jars you have in your pantry or check out the dollar stores for inexpensive reusable containers.

Finally, include the kind of ‘carrot’ kids love.  A special note – and promise to do something fun together – a [dark] chocolate Kiss – and bury it right at the bottom of the bag.  Not only is it a positive, loving message but you will be able to find out when they come home from school if they ate their lunch!!

Here are some kid-friendly recipes ……and suggestions.

Cook a hot dog sausage in the microwave.  Pour boiling water into a thermos flask.  Thread a long piece of string [using a large needle] through one end of the sausage.  Lower the sausage into the water in the thermos allowing the strings to hang out.  Screw on the lid with the string hanging out. All your child has to do is open the thermos, lift out the ‘dog’ and remove the string.  Include a [whole wheat] hot dog bun in the lunch bag together with some packages of ketchup and mustard. [OK you can buy those instead of making them yourself!] 

1 pkg. Jello – any flavor
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup fruit juice [orange, apple, grape juice or your choice] 1 8oz. container flavored yogurt [to match]

Place the Jello crystals in a large bowl.  Add the boiling water and stir until the crystals are melted and the liquid is clear.  Stir in the fruit juice.  Allow to cool for 15 minutes.
Stir in the yogurt and divide into small disposable serving containers.
Chill.  You can make these up to three days in advance.  Don’t forget to pack a spoon.

4 [whole wheat] flour tortillas, [freeze the remaining package for later use] 2 tablespoons oil
Choice of cinnamon sugar for sweet chips or finely grated parmesan for savory chips

Pre heat oven to 375.
Brush the tortillas with oil [canola or olive], sprinkle on your topping of choice and cut each tortilla into 12 triangles.
Set ‘chips’ on an oiled large cookie sheet.
Bake for 4- 8 minutes or until the chips are crisp but not too brown. 
The crisps will continue to ‘crisp up’ after being removed from the oven.
Note: You can also make chips from tortilla wraps and egg roll skins using the same technique and of course you can add any toppings or dips you like.
You can pack the sweet chips with a carton of yogurt for dipping and the savory chips with a little pot of salsa.

Instead of the ubiquitous ‘jelly’ why not add one or more of the following:
Honey, raisins, banana, apple slices, grated carrot [uh-oh, sneaked that one in!] And use whole wheat bread to add some extra nutrition and fiber ……


Here are some other excellent suggestions from Robin Plotkin RD, LD
Culinary and Nutrition Communications Consultant:

* “As a new school year begins, you may find that kids’ appetites decrease a bit as the nervous excitement builds. Lunchtime routines are different than they were during summertime and it may take a bit of time to get into a groove.  A hearty after school snack may be in order!

* If you find your child is routinely not eating their lunch, simply ask why.  If you continue to wonder, ask what they friends are bringing for lunch. ‘What did Emily have in her lunch box today” will often elicit a more comprehensive response.  If those lunch boxes continue to come home full, contact the school or your child’s teacher. There may be something going on at lunchtime that your child is not telling you about.  Or, call a schoolmate’s parent to find out if their child is having the same response.

* Take a look at what you are packing.  Is it too much? Too little? Not enough variety? Are they getting a mid morning snack? Often time’s kids are overwhelmed at adult-sized portions and amounts on their plates, making it difficult to eat any or very little of what is offered to them.”

About the Author
McKinney resident Kyra Effren is a contributing writer for’s “Food” section.  She is a retired food stylist and contributing writer for the “Food” section of Dallas Morning News. In 1975, Effren opened Cours de Cuisine Cooking School in Dallas and in 1978, she was awarded The Commanderie des Cordon Bleu in France for her contributions to French cooking.   She has edited multiple cookbooks and served as recipe tester for a number of cookbooks including both of the Mansion on Turtle Creek cookbooks by Dean Fearing and baking books by Nick Malgieri.

Kyra welcomes any and all reader comments and suggestions.  What would you like to have for dinner?

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