Organic Sense

Back-to-School Basics

By Valorie Lee Schaefer, Guest Writer on Food and the Family

First the confessional caveats: I’m not a chef or a seasoned recipe developer. I don’t own a professional range, a mandoline, or even a panini press (though I’ll cop to a crepe pan). My knives could use sharpening.

I’m the mother of two children who insist on eating—often and every day. And so I’m called upon to cook, assemble or otherwise provide a seemingly endless parade of edibles. Summer is easy. Fruit passes for breakfast, lunch is gotten on the trot, and dinner is often a rather loose construct.

But as summer gives way to fall and back-to-school catalogs jam the mailbox, a more disciplined approach to family fare (and bedtime) seems in order.

Turning out wholesome, nutritious school lunches daily calls for a certain amount of planning and organization. That’s the simple, if unsexy, truth. But there’s real satisfaction in knowing you’ve sent your kids out the door with good lunches in their backpacks.

What I find I rely on most during the school year is a handful of go-to basics—tasty recipes that are relatively fuss-free and flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of whole grains, and fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables.

It’s hard not to fall back on the time-tested template of sandwich/fruit/salty snack/sweet when packing lunches day in and day out. What’s wrong with that? Not a thing! Especially if each element is as fresh as can be and made with the best ingredients available.

At this time of year the bounty of backyard gardens, farmer’s markets and local food co-ops provide all the inspiration—and delicious organic ingredients—necessary to elevate even basic, weekday staples to head-of-the-class status.

Even basics like a sturdy cheese sandwich can be switched up with the addition of something crunchy—thinly sliced apple—or something savory like a dollop of fruit chutney (so delicious with Organic Valley Raw Sharp Cheddar!)

Kids of all ages, even your eye-rolling preteen, will get a kick out of lunchtime favorites presented with a bit of flair:a sandwich presented as “sushi” or a rainbow of veggies stacked on a bamboo skewer. Packed in an insulated wide mouth food jar, a fruit smoothie is a great way to sneak a couple of servings of fruit into one tasty, easily slurpable snack.

And don’t overlook leftovers—the ultimate in recycling! Slices of frittata left over from last night’s dinner or breakfast can be upcycled as lunchtime fare: It makes a sensational, savory sandwich filling. Similarly, a serving of the morning’s baked oatmeal tastes terrific as a sweet afternoon treat. 

Don’t forget to pack Organic Valley Stringles and Single Serve milk boxes, too—nutritious and delicious lunchbox classics that kids adore!


Fruit & Cheese Sandwiches 
Sometimes the best recipe is no recipe at all. Pair ripe, late-summer fruit with savory organic cheese on bakery-fresh  bread for a sandwich that's simple, versatile, and sure to disappear at lunchtime.

Deli Spirals & Rolls
Wrap Organic Prairie deli meats around all manner of fresh and flavorful ingredients for quick, high-protein noshing.

Veggie Kabobs
Grab your favorite vegetables and "stick it to 'em." Try fruit and cheese too!

Raw Kale & Feta Salad
Slivered raw kale makes a sturdy salad that keeps and travels well, plus it's a nutritional powerhouse! Even people who don’t like cooked kale may love this raw kale salad. 

Super Kid Energy Bars
This recipe can be adapted in so many fun combinations that kids never tire of it. Plus, no baking required!

Think Outside the Baggie

This year, in addition to focusing on the quality of the ingredients in the lunchbox, challenge your family to plan and pack lunches that are as waste-free as possible.

A study conducted in 2010 by ECOlunchbox found that the average American school child generates 67 pounds of disposal lunchbox trash in a single school year. Multiply that by the number of children in a medium-sized school district, and the environmental impact becomes exponentially more devastating.

Not only are disposable lunch materials costly to planetary health, they're hard on the parental pocketbook, too. The same study concluded that American families spend as much as $400 a year on lunch disposables that ultimately find their way into a landfill

In addition, concerns about the safety of plastic food containers, which may contain harmful substances such as phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) is another compelling reason to look elsewhere for lunch transport solutions.

So what can one family do? Here's a start:

• Skip the brown paper bag. Look for a lunch bag or tote that's reusable, not disposable. Read labels to ensure the bag is free of BPA, phthalates, PVC, and lead.

• Pack reusable utensils and napkins. Disposable utensils and paper napkins account for a large portion of lunch-generated landfill. Reusable bamboo cutlery, multi-purpose sporks made of nontoxic plastic, and plain old stainless steel forks and spoons are better choices. Pack real cloth napkins. They're more pleasing to use anyway!

• Pick earth-friendly containers. Stackable stainless steel tiffins and insulated food jars make it a snap to transport salads, soups, and snacks. Divided containers offer up sandwiches, fruits, and vegetables that resemble artfully composed bento boxes. Ingenious reusable wraps made of washable, organic fabric are terrific for transporting sandwiches without plastic bags or cling wrap.

As an added bonus, lunches packed in reusable containers protect lunch bag contents better than disposal bags, resulting in a lunch that's as appealing to look at, as it is delicious to eat!

To read about the environmental impact of disposable lunch packaging and to learn more about what you can do at home to help, visit:

Fortunately, many natural food markets and co-ops now offer a selection of nontoxic, waste-free lunch supplies. Of course, there's also a multitude of online resources available to support your family's switch to sustainable lunch packing.

Valorie Lee Schaefer is the author of numerous nonfiction books for early readers as well as a bestselling book for pre-teen girls, "The Care & Keeping of You." She lives with her photographer husband and two ravenous children in a historic tobacco warehouse building in south central Wisconsin.


Healthy Lunch?
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Get a week of lunch ideas you can pack for your kids.

Single Serve Chocolate Milk
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Breakfast: A Hearty Start

Many kids complain that they aren’t hungry first thing in the morning, yet, as a parent, you know it’s your solemn duty to get them to eat something, anything before they dart out the door. It is, after all, “The Most Important Meal of the Day”.  A bowl of whole grain cereal and a glass of juice is what they—and you—may be able to manage most days, but with a minimum of fiddling you can whip out something special, something that will get them out of bed the first time you ask.

Kick Start Smoothie

Baked Oatmeal


Corn Oat Coconut Muffins

Organic Egg-in-a-Hole

Make-Ahead Buttermilk Mix Pancakes

Chocolate Milk: Super Fuel

Got kids in sports? Researchers from Indiana University found chocolate milk to be the ideal sports recovery drink. When consumed within one hour after exercise, organic chocolate milk’s natural protein, carbohydrate, vitamin and mineral mix refuels exhausted muscles – and may be just the ticket to help boost your after-school athlete's calcium intake.

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