What’s for lunch today?

My kindergartener came home a few days ago from school and announced that she didn’t want me to pack her peanut butter sandwiches anymore because in some sort of reverse discrimination she has to sit at the “peanut butter” table and cannot sit with her new friends.  The problem is that my daughter only eats peanut butter sandwiches for lunch.  Yogurt takes “too much time to eat”, she won’t eat turkey, or ham, or any other sandwich items and donuts don’t count as lunch, at least not in my house.  So that leaves cheese and crackers as just about the only thing left to give her, since she is pickier that picky.  I know it’s not entirely my fault because I’ve raised two other children who will eat anything and yes, we all live in the same house.  It got me to thinking, how many other parents struggle with this same thing, five days a week to try and get their kids to eat a healthy and balanced lunch?

In my daughter’s case, I hope that her pickiness will soon come to end so I can get all my kids on the same eating schedule, the usual fare of turkey sandwiches, yogurt and soup for lunch.  Hummus is a great lunch, too although some may be allergic to the tahini since it’s made from sesame seeds.  It doesn’t qualify for the “peanut butter” table and is more or less safe in a lunch box with carrot sticks and celery.  Throw in a whole wheat pita and a piece of fruit and you have a nice balanced lunch.  A spoon might be necessary to help get all the hummus in in that 20 minute allotment.  You can find some nice singles of hummus in individual cups at the grocery store that are about 150 calories each; it’s worth the extra money in this case for the convenience.  Another great option is greek yogurt.  It’s high in protein and calcium and is appealing to kids because of its sweet taste and creamy goodness.  The low fat options have more staying power in little bellies than the nonfat options, so pick up the low fat containers when they are on sale.  I also like to give soup in a thermos, although I’ll admit that I would not give this to my eleven year old son as that Thermos would go to school filled with delicious soup, only to disappear in the void of “I don’t know where it is, Mom  . . .” I’m not quite sure how you lose a thermos but I’ve often wanted to follow my son around like a fly on the wall to see what happens in his world once he is out of my sight!  But that does bring up a good point for many parents, the losing of containers and ice packs.  One idea is to have the kids take the ice pack out of the brown bag before they go to lunch and leave it in their lockers.  This only works for the middle school and high school kids who have lockers.  I know at Fort Washington the packed lunches go to the cafeteria in a big bin that the custodians pick up so that the kids can go right from Recess to the lunch room without having to carry their lunch.  If you save your take out containers, the plastic ones with the lid, and wash them in the dishwasher, then it isn’t as upsetting when they don’t come home at the end of the day.

Speaking of plastic containers . . . . cold leftovers make a great lunch also, particularly pasta because it can be eaten cold without sacrificing taste, such as an Asian Chicken Noodle Salad, see recipe below.  Another tasty option is Brown Rice Chicken,  also below.  These can be served as meals for dinner and leftovers frozen and packed for lunch, simply throw the frozen container in the fridge the night before and it will thaw by lunch, no freezer pack needed!  Add a fruit and a drink and your meal is complete.  If your child likes guacamole with chips think outside the box and put some fresh or prepared guacamole in a small plastic container with a sprinkle of lemon juice to prevent browning and serve with multigrain tortilla chips, a filling and fun lunch.

Happy packing!

Suzanne Smith, RD LD

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Recipes courtesy of Prevention Magazine©

Asian Chicken Noodle Salad

This pasta salad is chock full of crunchy vegetables, chunks of chicken and slippery noodles to slurp. It’s quick to make and fun for the kids.


4 oz. cooked whole-wheat linguine or spaghetti and rinsed in cold water

1 cooked chicken breast shredded

1 carrot, peeled and sliced into long maatchsticks

1 red bell pepper, seeds and core removed, sliced into thin matchsticks

1/2 cup sliced sugar snap peas

1/4 cup bottled sesame ginger salad dressing

Combine the ingredients in a large bowl, tossing well to combine. Pack with fruit and milk to complete the meal. Makes 2-4 servings, depending on age and appetite.

Extras: Try soba or udon noodles in place of the whole-wheat pasta. Add sliced green onions, minced cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lime juice for adventurous eaters.

Kids can: Measure the ingredients, toss the salad.

Broccoli Chicken Brown Rice Salad

With orange juice in the dressing and dried cranberries, this salad pairs child friendly flavors with parent-pleasing broccoli and brown rice. Hearty and full of textures, you’ll want to pack some for your lunch, too.


2 cups cooked brown rice

1 cup small broccoli florets, cooked tender crisp

1 cooked chicken breast, cut into small chunks

1/4 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup canola oil

2 Tbsp. orange juice

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

In a large bowl, toss together the rice, broccoli, chicken and cranberries. Pour the canola oil and orange juice in, season with salt and ground black pepper. Serve with unsweetened applesauce and milk. Makes enough for 4-6 servings, depending on age and appetite.

Extras: Use a brown rice and wild rice blend for extra texture. Use 2 Tbsp. raisins for the same amount of dried cranberries for a sweet-tart mix. You can also substitute 1/4 cup of bottled dressing instead of making your own.

Kids can: Measure the ingredients, stir the salad.