Good Grub: Packing up nutritious,
kid-friendly school lunches

by Terese Allen, Food Editor

It's ba-ack. The school year, that is, and with it comes those 6:15 a.m. wake-up calls, the daily search for matching socks and that mad rush to meet the bus. But you're prepared: you've set the alarm, purchased school supplies and laid out your kids' clothes. Now all that's left is to pack their lunch.

Heads up, moms and dads: This may be your most important task of all.

With evidence mounting of a youth obesity crisis in our nation, and recent research showing that some 40 percent of all cancers are connected to diet, never has it been more crucial to pay attention to what your kids are eating for lunch.

Parents can't stand in the cafeteria line with their sons and daughters to monitor their meal selection—and even if they could, the choices there may not be ideal. The sad truth is that 78 percent of America's school lunch programs don't meet USDA guidelines for nutrition. Kids need—and want—an alternative to the over-processed, over-sugared, over-fried and additive-laden fare that so many schools proffer.

The alternative is a wholesome, home-packed lunch, but if that sounds easier said than done, don't worry. Help is available in the form of a new book called Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children, by Ann Cooper.

Cooper is the Director of Nutrition Services for the Berkeley Unified School District and the former Executive Chef and Director of Wellness and Nutrition of The Ross School in East Hampton, New York. At the Ross School, she fostered an innovative food service program that served over 1300 regional, organic, seasonal and sustainable meals daily.

Lunch Lessons, co-authored by Lisa Holmes and published this September by Collins, is a guide to healthier eating that outlines the basics of childhood nutrition and  features two chapters of kid-friendly recipes for breakfast, lunch and snack time. It also shows how parents and caregivers can get active to improve school lunch programs in their own communities.

Inspiring yet practical, the book is full of sensible tips and sage advice for meal-makers. Want to get your kids excited about lunch? Get them in on the preparation and decision-making—even let them experiment and come with their own flavor combinations in recipes. Need a more efficient packing system, or better portion control? Consider "Laptop Lunches," an American-style bento box with multi-colored, multi-sized containers and options like an ice pack and beverage bottle. Lunch Lessons offers everything from suggestions for ingredient substitutions to the why's and how's of eating seasonally.

As the authors emphasize, changing how we feed our children is not a luxury; it's an imperative. To help you with this important task, we've complied five lunch menus that feature healthful, kid-friendly fare—and we've included three recipes from Cooper's new book.

Now, all you have to do is get packing!


A Week of Lunch Menus: In the Bag

Check out the menus below for a week's worth of lunch ideas you can pack at home for your kids.

Monday (or Day 1)
Trail mix with nuts and dried fruit
Pasta with Greens and Feta (from Lunch Lessons)
Grapes or blueberries
Superstar Pumpkin Bar
Organic Valley Reduced Fat Milk

Tuesday (or Day 2)
Tortilla chips and salsa
Champion Chili
Organic Valley Cheddar Cheese or Colby Jack Stringles
Yogurt Honey Health Muffins (from Lunch Lessons)
Organic Valley Reduced Fat Chocolate Milk

Wednesday (or Day 3)
Organic Valley Lowfat Cottage Cheese with whole grain crackers or pita chips
Thai Rice Noodle Salad
Cucumber and carrot coins
Raspberry Almond Thumbprints
Organic Valley Orange Juice (Pulp-Added, Pulp-Free or Calcium-Added)

Thursday (or Day 4)
Popcorn or pretzels
"Ham 'n Monster" sandwich made with Organic Prairie Sliced Ham, Organic Valley Muenster Cheese, sliced tomatoes and pickle spears...and anything else you want to pile on!
Heirloom apple or pear
Super Duper Oaty Choco-Yums
Organic Valley Vanilla or Chocolate Soy Milk

Friday (or Day 5)
Mini "broccoli bushes" with Curried Veggie Dip
Oven Fried Chicken (from Lunch Lessons)
Organic Valley Egg (hard cooked)
Fall raspberries served with a blend of Organic Valley Sour Cream and maple syrup
Smoothie made with Organic Valley Orange Juice and cherry yogurt

Healthy Lunch?
It's in the Bag!

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

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