Lunch Time

It’s easy to take a nutritious approach to packing and snacking

By Natalie Cacciatore | Photos by Darren Altman Photography

IMG_2821It’s 6 a.m. and you’re standing in your kitchen, staring blankly into the fridge, wondering, “What am I going to make for my kids’ lunch today that’s fast, healthy and something they will actually eat?”

It seems making anything healthy is so much work. You think to yourself, “How bad could those conveniently packaged items be?” The packaging says “made with real fruit” and “all natural” and “contains whole grains.” So they must be healthy, right?

After packing their lunch boxes with a few of these items—accompanied by a sandwich made of processed deli meat and cheese—the kids wake up and groggily ask you what’s for breakfast. You still have to organize backpacks, comb out bed-head knots and make sure they walk out the door with shoes on. You place a colorful box of cereal on the counter with a half-gallon of milk and check one more thing off your list.

Sound familiar?

A healthy and balanced diet is crucial for a child’s brain function, energy levels, strong bones and muscles, and other proper development. Packaged foods are loaded with unhealthy ingredients such as refined sugar, artificial colors and flavors, preservatives and other additives that have been linked to health-related issues such as Type 2 diabetes, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and behavioral problems.

If your child lacks energy, is gaining weight, has trouble focusing or suffers from ADHD, then it’s time to re-evaluate his or her diet. Your kid’s meals are the fuel they put in their tank, and if they fill up on the wrong kind of fuel, it will be difficult to achieve their full potential.

So what is the right kind of fuel? Here are six tips to help you get your kids properly fueled up for a successful school year and a happy and healthy body and mind.

Time Management

Spend a few hours on Sunday to prepare food for the week. Some ideas: baked or grilled chicken, quinoa, brown rice, legumes, roasted or sautéed vegetables and fresh hummus with veggie sticks. These items can be used to make many different meals such as sandwiches, wraps, salads and power bowls to ensure your kids won’t get bored with their weekly lunches.

Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail

Pack lunches the night before so you’re not rushing in the morning. Also, knowing what you are making them for breakfast beforehand saves time. Ditch the processed cereals or baked goods and instead truly nourish their bodies with a healthy smoothie or scrambled eggs with your prepped veggies. Or get creative and make some overnight oat jars or chia seed pudding.

Feed Your Kids the Rainbow

We’re not talking about Skittles. Multicolored fruits and vegetables are not only beautiful, but they are a result of the availability and concentrations of nutrients. It’s important to get enough variety for balanced nutrition, and it’s also important to consume them in whole form. Fruit juices might look healthy, but most commercially available juices are pasteurized and the fiber has been removed. The fiber is what delays the body’s absorption of sugar, helping avoid blood glucose spikes. Many fruit juices are only slightly better than eating a mouthful of refined sugar.

Buy Organic

Conventional produce is loaded with residual pesticides. If you’re on a budget and must be selective about the fruits and vegetables you buy, then purchase organic versions of the ones on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list (available at ewg.org). This list contains many common foods: peaches, apples, celery, strawberries and kale. It’s also best to consume organic, pasture-raised animal products and wild-caught seafood to avoid hormones, antibiotics and pesticides as well as genetically engineered components.

Become a Teacher

Help your kids understand that healthy foods have “super powers” that can make them smarter and stronger. Read up on the ingredients you’re using for their meals, and explain the benefits to them. If possible, get them involved in making breakfast and lunch with you. They will be excited and engaged as they discover the importance of nutrition and how it affects their lives.

Be a Food Label Detective

It’s always best to eat whole foods—those that don’t require a label because there’s only one ingredient. (For example, a fresh banana.) Processed foods containing multiple ingredients are required to have labels. If you don’t recognize an ingredient on those labels, then your body probably won’t recognize it, either. Scrutinize everything you feed your kids—they get only one body each, so take good care of them.

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BREAKFAST

SmoothieSTRAWBERRIES AND CREAM SMOOTHIE

PREP TIME: 5 MINUTES

Many parents encourage their kids to make healthy choices, but, unfortunately, many kids are finicky about what they eat. Sometimes it’s the texture of the food, or perhaps the color. That’s where smoothies come to the rescue. They’re the perfect way to sneak in extra nutrients such as greens. Almond milk adds a milky texture without using dairy. Banana adds creaminess, while strawberries hide the color of the spinach. There is no need for additional sweetener, as the smoothie is sweet enough simply from the fruit.

Ingredients:

6-8 organic, medium-sized frozen strawberries

1 cup unsweetened organic almond milk

1 ripe, organic banana

2 tablespoons organic Greek yogurt

1/2 cup organic spinach

4-5 ice cubes

Directions: Place all ingredients in a high-speed blender. Blend until completely smooth.

Oat CerealOAT CEREAL

PREP TIME: 5 MINUTES

Cereal is a breakfast staple. It’s quick, easy and only takes a few minutes to eat in the morning. Unfortunately, most breakfast cereals have a huge amount of additives and sugar. This cereal can be made in big batches and stored for later use. It uses gluten-free oats, raw nuts and a touch of sweetener. You can add carob chips, coconut flakes or any dried fruits to the mixture.

Ingredients:

2 cups organic gluten-free rolled oats

1/2 cup raw organic pumpkin seeds

1/2 cup raw organic walnuts

1/2 cup raw organic pecans

2 tablespoons melted organic coconut oil

2 tablespoons Grade A maple syrup or honey

Optional add-ins: Carob chips, unsweetened coconut flakes, dried fruits of choice

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Mix all ingredients together. Place on baking tray. Bake for 20 minutes; stirring the mixture halfway through baking

Remove from oven and let cool for one hour.

Once cooled you can add any additional ingredients such as dried fruits, coconut or carob chips.

Parfait2BAM! Breakfast Parfait

PREP TIME: 5 MINUTES

This will be your morning savior. It’s quick and easy and can be made the night before. (It’s also a superb snack option.) Greek yogurt is thicker and creamier in texture and has more protein than standard yogurt. Many of the yogurts that contain fruit have a large amount of sugar. You can use store-bought granola or you can make your own. Add fresh fruit to the parfait for a kick of vitamins and nutrients for the day.

Ingredients:

1 cup organic Greek yogurt

1 cup organic fruit of choice

1/2 cup organic granola

Directions:

In a glass or bowl, alternate layers of yogurt, granola and fruit. Garnish with more fruit.

LUNCH

BAM SushiBAM! Banana Sushi

PREP TIME: 5 MINUTES

Kids will go bananas over this sushi roll. Not only is it made with plant-based protein, it’s fun and nutritious. Look for wraps that include sprouted whole grains to promote good digestion. Almond butter has essential fats for energy, and the hemp hearts are full of protein.

Ingredients:

1 sprouted whole-grain wrap

1 organic banana

1/2 cup organic almond butter

2 tablespoon hemp hearts

Directions:

Spread 1/4 cup of almond butter on the wrap. Place banana in the center and roll the wrap very tightly around the banana. Cut into slices.

Dip each slice into almond butter and then roll in hemp hearts.

kids quesadillaKID’S QUESADILLA

PREP TIME: 5 MINUTES

Cook TIME: 10 MINUTES

Quesadillas are a favorite of adults and kids alike. Use precooked chicken breast to make this recipe in just 10 minutes. Free-range rotisserie chicken can be used here, with the rest stored for use later in the week.

Ingredients:

2 sprouted whole-grain wraps

1 cooked organic chicken breast, shredded

1 cup organic cheddar cheese

1 organic avocado, sliced

1/2 cup organic hummus

2 tablespoons organic spinach

1/4 cup organic sour cream

1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions:

In a pan, heat olive oil over medium-low heat.

Place the wrap in the pan. Add chicken, cheese, avocado, hummus and spinach. Place second wrap on top. Cover with a lid for 2 minutes.

Flip the quesadilla and cook for another 3-4 minutes, watching it closely.

Remove from stove and cut into slices.

Serve with sour cream

AlmondButterWrap2Almond Butter and Blueberry Jam Wrap

Prep time: 5 minutes

Your kids will love this creative spin on the classic PB&J sandwich. If your child isn’t a fan of blueberry jam, you can use any other berry jam such as strawberry or raspberry.

Ingredients:

1 sprouted whole-grain wrap

1 tablespoon almond butter

1 tablespoon blueberry jam

1 banana sliced

Directions:

Place wrap flat on a plate. Spread on almond butter and jam then layer on the banana. Fold in half, slice and serve.

SNACKS

Fruit leatherFRUIT LEATHER

PREP TIME: 5 MINUTES

COOK TIME: 4 HOURS

Kids love anything sweet and chewy. Store-bought fruit snacks can be labeled as “natural” yet filled with processed sugars, preservatives and additives. These fruit snacks also can be costly, so why not make your own? Fruit leather is dehydrated pureed fruit, and it’s good for hiding healthy ingredients such as chia seeds and hemp hearts for a boost of fiber and protein. You can get creative with the flavors such as apple, beet and pear; berries and spinach; or mango and pineapple. Frozen fruit works well here, as does seasonal fresh fruit.

Ingredients:

1 cup organic blueberries

1 cup organic raspberry

1/2 cup organic strawberries

1/4 cup organic spinach

2 tablespoons organic chia seeds

Directions:

Place all ingredients in a high-speed blender. Blend until smooth.

Preheat oven to 170 degrees. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Pour mixture onto baking tray and spread the pureed fruit into a thin layer.

Bake for 4-5 hours or until mixture is set and is not wet to the touch.

Remove from oven and let cool for 1 hour. Store in an air-tight container for up to month in the fridge.

BAM BallsOatmeal BAM! Balls

PREP TIME: 5 MINUTES

If you’re like most parents, you tend to keep a stash of granola bars somewhere in the house for a quick and healthy snack for your kids. Unfortunately, many premade granola bars are full of sugar and additives. This recipe has only six ingredients, using natural sugars from dates, which are a good source of energy and fiber. Walnuts support brain health and contain antioxidants to keep bodies strong. Gluten-free oats are more easily digestible than traditional oats and will ensure your children get maximum energy without feeling tired.

Ingredients:

6 organic Medjool dates, pitted

1 cup organic walnuts

1 cup organic gluten free rolled oats

1/2 cup organic raisins

1/2 tablespoon organic cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions:

In a food processor, pulse walnuts until they become crumbs. Add dates, cinnamon and salt. Blend for 30 seconds.

Transfer mixture into a medium size bowl. Add oats and raisins. Using your hands or a spoon, make sure all ingredients are well combined.

Dish out mixture with an ice cream scoop. Place in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer to set. They will last two weeks in a sealed container in the freezer.

dirtcupsDirt Cups

Prep time: 5 minutes

Although all of these snacks can be considered “treats,” this better-for-you take on the traditional dirt cup will satisfy any sweet tooth. This recipe is ideal for an after-school snack and is super easy to make. It’s the healthiest pudding your kids will ever eat!

Ingredients:

1 ripe avocado

1/4 cup raw cacao powder

1 cup dates

1 cup walnuts

fresh mint as garnish; optional

Directions:

In a food processor, pulse walnuts until they become crumbs. Add dates, cinnamon and salt. Blend for 30 seconds.

Transfer mixture into a medium size bowl. Add oats and raisins. Using your hands or a spoon, make sure all ingredients are well combined.

Dish out mixture with an ice cream scoop. Place in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer to set. They will last two weeks in a sealed container in the freezer.

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