Packing it in

Get savvy to create good, healthful lunches for kids

Get savvy to create good, healthful lunches for kids

August 28, 2009|By NATALIE BRANDON, Special to the Herald-Mail

Getting kids to eat food that's good for them isn't easy.

Packing your kids' school lunches so they're also convenient for parents and inexpensive is tougher. Feeding children should be a joy, but sometimes it's just a job.

"Ugh, I hate packing lunches," says Sharpsburg mother Beth Downin. "It's basically my most hated chore."

Downin packs lunches for daughters Sylvie, who is 5 and recently began kindergarten, and Sarah Grace, 3, who is in day care.

Part of the problem: Coming up with ideas.

"I've even gone so far as to Google 'toddler packed lunches,'" she says.

One answer is to buy lunch from the school. As the coordinator for Secondary English Language Arts and Reading for Washington County Public Schools, Downin has seen many children buy school lunches. These are reasonably priced meals designed to be nutritious and appealing and which meet the dietary guidelines, according to the WCPS Web page (


But a visit to a school lunchroom reveals enormous amounts of food going uneaten.

So how can parents get kids excited about opening their lunchboxes? And how can parents get excited about packing them?

Idea No. 2: Go for variety

If your kid is still stuck on PB&Js, try a little variety. Replace the jelly with sliced bananas or apples, chopped and pitted dates, grated carrots or bacon.

Or, switch up the components of a sandwich. To catch your child's attention and appetite, change one part of a sandwich. Here are some ideas from, the Web site of author and family consultant Sherrie Le Masurier:

o Change the bread. For a change from the everyday sandwich, use tortillas, bagels, English muffins, pita pockets or freshly baked rolls.

o Try different sandwich fillings. Set aside lunch meats and try creative combinations such as diced chicken and corn, ham and avocado, or grated carrot and cheddar cheese.

o Sandwich shapes. Remove crusts from bread and cut out different-shaped sandwiches using cookie cutters.

Idea No. 2: Hide the nutrition

Some children avoid foods they think are "good for them."

"My children aren't particularly picky, but they certainly have limits," says Downin, "I'd like to pack much healthier food, but there's virtually no way I'm getting a vegetable in Sarah Grace's lunch."

Get around this by hiding the good stuff. Missy Chase Lapine, author of "The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids' Favorite Meals," might be a parents' lifesaver when it comes to getting kids to eat healthy foods without complaining.

"The Sneaky Chef" is chockfull of strategies for tucking "superfoods" - high-nutrition fish, legumes, fruits and vegetables - into ordinary foods. She adds omega-3-rich sardines into tuna salad, pured broccoli into lasagna and pured spinach into brownies. Some of Lapine's recipes can be found at her Web site,

Lapine's sneaky secrets require parents to prepare foods ahead of time, but the result is children never know they're eating healthfully.

What parent wouldn't love that?

It might never be easy for parents to turn their kids on to healthful eating habits that are convenient to the parents' schedule and appealing to kids. Try some of these techniques the next time you load up your child's lunchbox. They might never ask for another PB&J ever again.

Pepper Dip Man

3 small green peppers (see cook's note)
1 small sweet red pepper
4 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese
1/3 cup chunky salsa, drained
2 teaspoons sweet pickle relish, drained
1/8 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
2 tablespoons chopped celery
2 tablespoons green onion, thinly sliced
3 pitted ripe olives
9 fresh baby carrots, cut lengthwise into three pieces

Cut each green pepper in half; remove seeds. Chop green pepper tops; set aside 2 tablespoons for dip. Cut top off red pepper and remove seeds. Cut 3 mouth shapes and chop 2 tablespoons red pepper; set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese, salsa, pickle relish and pepper sauce until blended. Stir in the celery, onion and reserved chopped peppers. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 1 hour.

To assemble, carefully cut holes in green peppers for mouths and eyes. Insert olives for eyes and reserved red pepper mouths. Place each pepper in an air-tight container. Fill each with 1/3 cup dip. Insert carrot sticks into dip for hair.

Cook's note: Use a sweet yellow or orange pepper instead of a green pepper to change up the look of Pepper Dip Man.

Serves 3.

- Courtesy of Taste of Home

Pizza Biscuit Bears

1 16.3-ounce tube large, refrigerated buttermilk biscuits (should contain 8 biscuits)
12 slices pepperoni
12 slices ripe olives
1 tablespoon green pepper, chopped
1 2-ounce jar sliced pimientos, drained
2 tablespoons part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 8-ounce can pizza sauce, optional

Separate biscuits; place 6 biscuits 3 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Cut the 2 remaining biscuit into 6 pieces; roll each into balls. Attach 2 balls to each whole biscuit for ears; pinch dough to seal.

Decorate each bear with a pepperoni slice on each ear, olive slices for eyes, green pepper for nose, 2 pimiento strips for mouth and mozzarella cheese for furry forelock. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with pizza sauce for dipping, if desired.

Makes 6 bears.

- Courtesy of Taste of Home

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