Healthful packed lunches don’t have to break your wallet
Angie Brown and son Ash Lyons Brown, 5, pack his lunch at home and get it ready for school.
As a single mom, Angie Brown is always on the lookout for low-cost, healthful food to pack in her 5-year-old’s Lightning McQueen lunchbox.
The 30-year-old community outreach consultant says grocery store sticker shock can make it challenging to keep the son Ash Lyons Brown’s lunchbox filled with healthful items he loves.
“A healthy lunch is something we strive for every day, and being on a budget, as a single mom, is very important,” she says.
Brown’s secret to finding low-cost healthful offerings during lean economic times?
“They have great 100 percent juice, 100 percent fruit leather (a healthier version of the fruit roll-up), great whole wheat bread and natural peanut butter, along with cheap healthy cheese crackers. It’s perfect and my son loves it,” Brown says.
She says she has compared Trader Joe’s prices with similar items at other stores, including Wal-Mart, and say’s Trader Joe’s wins out on the items she puts in her son’s lunchbox.
Last year, Brown would put whatever was quick in Ash’s lunch, often a Kraft Easy Mac cup he could microwave at school, she says. But she found her son was frequently sick.
“We decided that eating healthy was the best way to fortify our immune system,” she says.
Now he takes a healthful, balanced lunch every day.
“It also helps to moderate his moods,” Brown says. “It keeps him on an even keel all day.”
Ash, who goes to Kino Learning Center, helps pack lunch, which his mom believes makes it more likely he will eat it.
“That way he owns it, it’s his,” she says.
Last year, Tucson mom Monica Bejarano’s three kids got hot lunches at school a few times a week.
This year, the Bejarano kids – Paul, 11; Gabrielle, 9; and Adam, 6 – are brown-bagging it every day to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School.
Bejarano is now sending nutritious lunches. But rising grocery prices are not making it easy.
“It’s unreal,” the 38-year-old says. “There’s not much you can do, but I try to find sales here and there.”
She makes the kids wraps from roasted chicken, tortillas, veggies and dressing. She also makes her own “lunchables,” with meat, cheese, crackers and veggies.
Bejarano said she does spend more on her groceries, opting for organic, hormone-free products. “It can be expensive,” she says. “But for me and my family, it’s worth it.”
Cathy Grumbles, a registered dietitian at Northwest Medical Center, agrees that eating healthfully can be pricey.
“It’s sad, but it’s becoming more and more true,” she says. “You have to be savvy when shopping for healthy food at the grocery store.”
But buying healthful foods is far less pricey than the cost of childhood obesity, she says.
A healthy lunch is imperative for children, Grumbles says.
“It’s fueling them to learn and grow,” she says.
Mardi Burden, who owns Oro Valley cooking school Cuisine Classique, 1060 W. Magee Road, says the secret to encouraging kids to eat a healthful lunch lies in letting them help plan and prepare.
“The best idea to get your kid to actually eat their lunch . . . is to let them help you make the food and pack the lunch,” she says.
Nirvair Khalsa, director of Khalsa Montessori School, says a healthful lunch is critical in helping children to thrive at school.
“If children are eating healthy,” she says, “they will feel better at school, they will perform better and they will have better behavior.”
Researcher: Healthy school lunches help kids concentrate
Healthy foods should be included on the list of back-to-school supplies for your children, says a University of Michigan Health System expert.
Dietitian Catherine Kraus explained that a healthy, balanced diet enables neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain) to function more efficiently, resulting in improved concentration and memory.
“Childhood is a crucial time when bodies are growing and brains are developing. It’s so important to fuel the body with good nutrition, and teaching children smart eating habits at a young age is a great idea. It starts with the parents serving as the role model,” Kraus said in a university news release.
She suggested a number of ways for parents to provide well-balanced meals and snacks to give children the energy and nutrition they need to perform well at school.
Make sure children eat breakfast. Research has shown that children who skip breakfast don’t do as well in school as students who eat breakfast. A healthy breakfast includes a whole grain cereal, oatmeal or bread with a protein such as peanut butter or a hard-boiled egg. Including whole fruit instead of fruit juice adds more vitamins, minerals and fiber into the diet. Dairy products are acceptable as long as they’re in the form of fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt or cheese.
While many schools are striving to include healthier items on their lunch menus, there are still plenty of unhealthy items such as pizza, nachos and sweetened drinks.
“When children consume a high-fat, high-sugar meal, their bodies will crash, and they will become very tired and lethargic – which is not going to help them perform at their best level in school,” Kraus said.
If you’re concerned about the cafeteria choices at school, give your child packed lunches that include a type of whole grain, such as bread or tortillas, with a lean protein, such as tuna, turkey or chicken. Include assortments of fruits and vegetables in various colors and sizes. Healthy beverage choices include water, fat-free or low-fat milk, or 100 percent fruit juice.
At dinner, half of your child’s plate should include vegetables and fruit, one-quarter should consist of a lean protein, and one-quarter should contain whole grains, such as brown rice or whole wheat pasta.
“A smart dinner will help your child’s brain function,” Kraus said. “If they are satisfied after dinnertime, then they will sleep through the night, and a child needs at least eight to nine hours of sleep a night in order to function while in the school the next day.”
ROBERT PREIDT, HealthDay
HEALTHFUL LUNCH RECIPES
Packing healthful lunches is one way parents can help kids eat better and develop good eating habits – or change bad ones, says Indianapolis caterer Michael Violand.
“Through education and habit, things can change, especially for school kids,” he says, noting that he packs lunches for his two youngest children. “It’s a learned behavior.”
But kids aren’t the only ones who can benefit from a healthful packed lunch. Adults can cut costs as well as calories by bringing lunch, too.
Instead of indulging in cafeteria or takeout fare that can quickly add up to loads of calories and a hefty lunch bill, bring your own eats.
“Bagging lunch can pay off in health benefits as well as in your pocketbook,” he says.
Violand created these lunch-worthy recipes, which focus on fresh, simply prepared vegetables, chicken and pasta, as a welcome change.
Herbed Penne with Simple Grilled Vegetables
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 servings Simple Grilled Vegetables (recipe below), cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
4 cups hot, cooked wheat penne (about 8 ounces uncooked)
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add Simple Grilled Vegetables (recipe follows) to pan; cook 4 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring occasionally. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and crushed red pepper. Remove from heat.
Combine pasta, basil, remaining 1 tablespoon oil and remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper in a large bowl. Toss well. Add Simple Grilled Vegetables; toss well. Sprinkle with cheese. Serves 4.
Simple Grilled Vegetables
8 4-inch portobello mushroom caps (about 1 pound)
4 medium red bell peppers, quartered
2 medium Vidalia or other sweet onions, each cut into 4 slices (about 1 1/4 pounds)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Heat grill to medium-high. Arrange mushrooms (gill sides up), bell pepper quarters and onion slices on baking sheet. Coat vegetables with cooking spray. Sprinkle evenly with black pepper. Drizzle vinegar over mushrooms. Place vegetable on grill rack; grill 5 minutes on each side, or until tender.
5 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup bulgur wheat
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup each chopped onion and red bell pepper
2 tablespoons salt-free chili powder
2 teaspoons each minced garlic and ground cumin
1 28-ounce can low-sodium crushed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 cup frozen corn
1 15.5-ounce can low-sodium black or white beans, rinsed
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
reduced-fat cheddar cheese, reduced-fat sour cream, lime slices, optional for garnishes
Put bulgur and 3 cups of the water in medium microwave-safe bowl. Cover; microwave until bulgur is tender, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add onion and pepper; sauté 5 minutes. Add chili powder, garlic and cumin; sauté until fragrant.
Add remaining 2 1/2 cups water, tomatoes, pumpkin, zucchini and corn; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat; simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are crisp-tender.
Stir in beans and bulgur; heat through. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro.
Garnish if desired. Serves 4.
Tropical Lime Chicken
1/2 cup pineapple tidbits
1 medium mango, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup chopped sweet red, yellow and orange bell peppers
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons lime juice
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon grated lime peel
1/8 teaspoon pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (4 ounces each)
1 cup uncooked couscous
In a small bowl, combine salsa ingredients; cover and refrigerate until serving.
In a large, resealable plastic bag, combine the lime juice, oil, lime peel and pepper; add chicken. Seal bag and turn to coat; refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours.
Drain and discard marinade. Place chicken on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Broil 3 inches from the heat for 5 to 6 minutes on each side, or until juices run clear.
Meanwhile, cook couscous according to package directions. Serve chicken atop couscous and top with salsa. Serves 4
Grilled Vegetable Pitas with Goat Cheese and Pesto Mayonaise
1/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
1 tablespoon prepared pesto
2 whole-wheat pitas, cut in half
4 lettuce leaves
4 servings Simple Grilled Vegetables
1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled goat cheese (or feta cheese)
Combine mayonnaise and pesto. Spread 1 tablespoon mayonnaise mixture into each pita half. Stuff each pita half with 1 lettuce leaf, 1 serving Simple Grilled Vegetables and 2 tablespoons cheese. Serves 4.
Gannett News Service
Tips for packing healthful lunches without blowing the budget:
• Take your kids shopping and involve them in the selection and packing process.
• Never shop hungry. You are likely to spend up to $40 more, and often on items with little nutrition.
• Shop with a list and stick to it.
• Clip newspaper coupons and search the Web for discounts.
• Buy in bulk. Freeze what you don’t use fresh.
• Avoid out-of-season produce.
• Read labels.
• Pack meatless lunches a few times a week.
• Pack water, 100 percent juice or low-fat or skim milk.
• Pack dinner leftovers.
• Have your kids pick items from the food pyramid online at www.mypyramid.gov/KIDS.
• Pack an occasional treat – a small bag of jelly beans, ginger snaps, skim chocolate milk. Or pack a nonfood surprise, like stickers or a love note from home.
Cathy Grumbles, registered dietician, Northwest Medical Center
IF YOU GO
What: How to Pack a Healthy Lunch
When: 10 a.m. Oct. 4
Where: Khalsa Montessori School, 3701 E. River Road
Price: Free. Call to register.
Info: 529-3611 Ext. 203
ON THE WEB
The Nemours Foundation has more information about children and healthy eating at http://kidshealth.org/parent/nutrition_fit