Have you settled into the same old routine with lunch making for your children: sandwich, fruit, vegetables, and something they want to eat that isn't really all that good for them? Let's spice it up a bit and make it interesting this year.
Cultivating a child's palate isn't always easy but eating should be a learning experience too. You don't want your kid to be the grown up still ordering a soda and a side of fries. How do we combat lunch malaise and expose them to the rest of the world at the same time?
Kids are apt to try something if there's a bit of familiar with the different. Radically changing a whole lunch box meal will undoubtedly get the entire thing thrown in the trash. But what if you just change one thing up at a time?
The Sandwich Part
Most kids who bring lunches bring some form of sandwich, five days a week. Can you say boring?! There are ways around this. There's pita bread and tortillas for wraps, but there's also naan. Naan — Indian flatbread — makes a great sandwich substitute. Fold a piece in half and make it into a sandwich, or the kids can tear it apart and dip into curry sauce along with vegetables. Turkey, mild cheddar, avocado make a great combination on naan. There's also cold noodle and tofu dishes that just as easy to prepare as a sandwich.
Fruits and Veggies
In a perfect world, the American lunch box surpasses apple slices and carrot sticks. Introducing children to other fruits and veggies is key to them developing a palate and appreciation both for cultures and season variations.
Introduce children to the Asian Pear. With a taste and consistency cross between jicama, a pear, and an apple, the Asian pear is often larger and stays fresh longer.
Other tasty options:
- Jicama: It's a great crispy hunger filler.
- Coconut. No, you don't have to stick a whole coconut and a hammer in the lunch box, but what about slices with a little lime squeezed on them in a snack bag? Coconuts are fast becoming the big dairy replacer and have great healthy benefits for the eater. You can serve them Mexican-style and spice them up with a little Chile pepper sprinkled in with the lime (or not).
Children love to dip things. Add a small container of curry dip to your child's lunchbox, and open up all sorts of possibilities. Kids have given rave reviews to raw broccoli florets dipped in mild curry sauces — even store-bought kinds that you can find at a Cost Plus World Market, Asian grocery store, or better supermarkets.
Choose Foods in Season
Introduce the concept of eating in season. Ask the local health food store or co-op what's in season and ask for recipes to help you on the journey. Tell the kids part of eating well is eating with the seasons. What's fresh and ripe right now? Fresh zucchini sautéed briefly with mint and olive oil invites a fresh taste and holds up well in a lunch box if they are cut a little thicker. Interesting finger food!
Consider forgoing the environmentally unsound juice box or milk carton and do a thermos of iced tea.
Hibiscus tea makes a great iced tea and is good for you. Properties of hibiscus tea make it ideal for lowering blood pressure and calming For the iced tea version, simply brew the tea, add a teaspoon of cinnamon and a squeeze of citrus, then chill for an hour. Voila! Perfect tea.
The Something Extra
Try a snack-sized package of seaweed (nori) instead of potato chips, pretzels, and other snacks. The salt exchange is about the same and they're a wee bit healthier than the fried potato. They get a Japanese/Korean treat and they get one less carbo load of empty calories from the chips. You can find nori everywhere these days — even your local Costco.
Another great swap is the tired old raisins for goji berries. The goji is a berry from a bush native to China with so much more going for it (even though the iron in organic raisins is a great thing). Goji berries have antioxidant as well as other properties.
Though there is nothing intrinsically healthy about the Pocky stick, it takes up less room and introduces the bizarre and strange world of non-American desserts to kids. If there's no Japanese market in your neighborhood, check out grocers that carry international foods.
It might not solve all the world's problems to introduce the kids to things a little outside their comfort zone, but it couldn't hurt. It also may prepares kids for when that new student arrives who eats something slightly different. Your kid will know better.
What out-of-the-ordinary foods do you include in your child's lunch?