Pack Your Lunch. . . with More Fruits and Veggies

[Try a collard wrap instead of bread next time you pack a take-along lunch.]

Have you noticed that the streets are suddenly busier during rush hour. . . but no longer packed with kids during the day? Yep, it’s back-to-school season, and that means more packable lunches. This time of year, you’ll find lots of websites and blogs focusing on kid-friendly lunch ideas. Sure, slapping some cheese or nut butter between two slices of bread is an easy way to ensure that your child gets at least one serving of protein and some carbs at lunchtime, but if you want to increase the fruit and veggie quotient (and ensure that s/he actually eats them), you’ll need to think outside the loaf.

These are some of my favorite ways to amp up the nutritional content of lunches—for kids, or anyone:

  • The Mason Jar Craze. By now, the notion of packing a salad in a mason jar has made its trajectory round the blogoverse.  It’s a perfect way to pack your kids off to school with some extra veggies. But don’t forget you can pack breakfast or dessert that way too: layer freshly cut fruit on top of yogurt, top with granola, or cereal; whatever you fancy. Same with fruits and puddings for dessert. You can also use the jars as containers for other meals: though a microwave may not be an ideal way to reheat your food, at least glass is microwave safe and won’t leech BPAs or other chemicals when heated (but caution your kids to protect their hands when they try to pick it up). And of course it’s reusable and recyclable.
  • Use the veggies themselves as the wrapper. collard, lettuce (esp romaine), kale or chard are your best bets to use as wrappers. Just call them “Giant Sushi” and suddenly they’ll gain a certain cachet with kids!
  • Tap into the various food crazes in the foodie world to make your lunches healthier. For instance, there are loads of bite-sized “balls” making an appearance on food blogs these days.  How about including falafel balls, pizza balls, truffle balls or energy balls in your lunchbox?
  • Add some snacks. Veggie chips are definitely king in this area; dehydrated kale chips, green bean crisps, zucchini chips, beet chips and even apple chips are all delicious. Let your imagination run a little wild here—pretty much any fruit or veg tastes great when sliced thin and made crispy!
  • If you’re looking for more lunchbox ideas, Pinterest is a great resource and I always find something interesting there. Here’s one good board for ideas; here’s another.
  • Remember that lunch is always more appealing with attractive utensils, napkins and plates. Bonus: most of these kid-friendly, colorful pieces are also reusable.
  • Finally, don’t discount all sandwich lunches!  A great veg-based filling between two hearty slices of bread, lined with more veggies can provide a hefty portion of the day’s vegetable and fruit servings.  This mock tuna salad offers substantial protein and some vegetables, while this mock chopped liver provides a serving of veggies in each sandwich.

Here’s to happy and healthy lunching this school year!

[Mock chopped liver is a great source of protein and extra veggies--and it tastes great, of course.]

What are the ways you manage to sneak more fruits and veggies into your lunch boxes?

Ricki Heller is the author of Sweet Freedom: Desserts You’ll Love without Wheat, Eggs, Dairy or Refined Sugar (endorsed by Ellen DeGeneres on her website) as well as three e-cookbooks. She writes the popular food blog Diet, Dessert and Dogs, where she chronicles her journey with candida and has posted more than 600 sugar-free, gluten-free, vegan, whole-foods recipes. You can find Ricki on Facebook and twitter, too!

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