Nutritious lunch ideas

As parents, if you want your children to be healthy eaters you have to become an advocate. It’s as simple as providing easy, healthy snacks around the house and, if you’re packing lunch, making sure that what you pack is healthy. Here are some favorite, kid-approved, back-to-school recipes for lunch and snacks.


Spinach and Black Bean Burritos.

Burritos make a great lunch-box meal because they’re self-contained—even more so than the average sandwich. For added protein, serve with grated cheddar cheese. Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil over medium heat, add 1 large clove minced garlic and ¼ cup diced onion, and sauté 2 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 2 ½ teaspoons chopped fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried), and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook for 1 minute. Add one 15-ounce can organic black beans (rinsed and drained) and 3 tablespoons water; mash a bit. Cook for about 8 minutes; then remove from heat. Evenly distribute steamed or chopped spinach on a tortilla; then add bean mixture and salsa. (For a lunch box, pack salsa separately.) Roll up and serve. Serves 6.

Mediterranean Chicken Wrap.

All kinds of variations are possible—try it with olive tapenade, grilled zucchini, eggplant, or summer squash. Spread a thin layer of basil pesto on eight 6-inch flour tortillas. Cook 1¼ pounds boneless skinless chicken breast; chop. Roast and slice a red bell pepper and three portobello mushroom caps (discard stems and gills). Thinly slice a small red onion. Chop half a head of Boston lettuce. Layer meat and vegetables on each tortilla; then fold in ends and roll up. Serves 8.

Brown Rice and Tofu Salad.

This is a wonderful way to introduce a whole grain to kids. Serve it as a side dish in a boxed lunch or add grilled chicken or shrimp to make an entrée. Marinate ½ pound firm tofu in low-sodium tamari or soy sauce overnight; drain, reserving any leftover sauce. Press tofu between towels under 1 pound of weight for at least 4 hours to remove moisture; then cut into cubes. Cook 1 cup brown rice in 4 cups boiling water until al dente, about 20 minutes. Drain water and spread rice on a baking sheet to cool. In a small bowl, combine 3 tablespoons reserved tamari or soy sauce with 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger, 1 tablespoon canola oil, 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, 3/4 teaspoon brown rice syrup, and 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes. Toss tofu, rice, and ginger-soy sauce together. Garnish with more red pepper flakes and thinly sliced scallions or chopped fresh cilantro. Serves 6.

Apple Date Bars.

A mix of fruit and nuts makes a wonderful, healthy snack. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel and chop 1 large, sweet red apple (such as Fuji) and pit and chop 5–7 medjool dates (to equal ½ cup). In a large bowl, cream 5 tablespoons unsalted butter with 2/3 cup brown sugar; mix in 1 large egg and 3 tablespoons low-fat (1 percent) milk. Stir in apples. Add 1 1/3 cups flour, ¾ tablespoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon cloves; mix thoroughly. Add in dates and ½ cup walnut pieces. Transfer mixture to a greased 9x13-inch pan and bake for 20–25 minutes. Allow to cool; then cut into bars. Makes 24.

Chicken Chowder.

This recipe tastes even better after a night in the fridge. Dice 2 large onions, ½ cup celery, 1 cup carrots, and 2 cups peeled potatoes. In a large pot, sauté onions and celery in 3 tablespoons butter until onion is translucent, 8 minutes. Add carrots and potatoes, cover, and cook over medium-low heat until veggies are crisp-tender, about 30 minutes. Large dice 1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts and add to vegetables, cooking for 3 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons flour and cook for another 3 minutes. Add 2 bay leaves, 3 ¾ cups low-fat (1 percent) milk and 3 ¾ cups chicken stock; bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and cook until vegetables are tender. Stir in 1 tablespoon each freshly chopped tarragon and parsley, plus salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 5 minutes or until flavors are blended and chicken is fully cooked. Serve in bowls. Serves 8.

Autumn Harvest Soup.

A great dish to celebrate fall, this soup showcases the sweetness of squash, making it an instant hit with kids. Soak ¾ cup bulgur wheat in water until tender; drain. Chop 1 bunch Swiss chard (discard stems), small dice 5 medium tomatoes, thinly slice 2 leeks (white part only), peel and chop 3 carrots, chop 3 stalks celery, peel and cube 3 cups fresh pumpkin, and cube 3 cups of any other squash (such as butternut or acorn). Mince 3 cloves garlic and 3 tablespoons fresh parsley. Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot and sauté leeks, carrots, and celery for 5 minutes. Add pumpkin, squash, garlic, parsley, and 5 sprigs fresh thyme (or 2 teaspoons dried); stir 1 minute. Stir in 8 cups vegetable stock and bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10–15 minutes or until pumpkin and squash are tender. Add drained bulgur, chard, and tomatoes; simmer for another 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pack in a thermos. Serves 12.

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