Easy recipes to give the brown bag lunch a face lift

The days of being that kid in the cafeteria with the odorous egg salad or tuna sandwich are long gone. The typical brown bag lunch has gotten a facelift – and a healthier (and better-smelling) one at that.

The best part? The lunch-packing responsibility no longer falls only to the parents.

“When children have some choice in meals, are involved in the shopping and preparation, they learn about healthy food, acquire valuable cooking skills, and have fun,” said Patricia Ritter, owner of Nature’s Wonders in Rye, which offers cooking and nature classes for children.

Packing their own lunches can be empowering, and being involved in the cooking and preparation process teaches children about the ingredients going into their food. Showing off the tasty and homemade lunches they made themselves gives kids a sense of pride for being an essential part in the dish’s creation.

“Every so often I have my kids help me experiment with new recipes or ideas to make their lunches more fun with variety,” said Erika Bragdon, mom of four and blogger at Living Well Mom based in the Lakes Region. “We look for ideas online or simply get creative in the kitchen. They love it and are far more likely to try new things if it's something they chose than if I picked it out.”

Getting kids involved in the cooking process is a great way for them to gain more knowledge about food, but making sure what they’re packing each day is nutritious – yet still fun for them – is just as important.

“You can pack a variety of anything healthy and make a great meal out of it,” said Sarah Pelletier, mom of a three-year-old daughter and owner of Birch Landing Home handmade goods in Wolfeboro.

“My daughter actually isn't a big fan of sandwiches, so lunches for us are often an assortment of healthy snacks…pretzels with hummus, cheese and crackers, or peanut butter on crackers for filling protein along with a fruit pouch, carrot sticks, a cup full of berries, etc.”

Ritter suggests packing a meal, comprised of snacks, into divided containers to make lunch seem more exciting.

“I have found kids love dips of any kind: veggies and Ranch dressing or tzatziki, or fruit and yogurt with lemon, or hummus,” Ritter said. “You can find the divided containers and offer a few different options – a dip and crackers or pita bread.”

Homemade lunches made up of snacks can also remind kids of popular yet less nutritious store-bought lunch options, such as Lunchables that are higher in sodium and fat.

Having kids pack their own, similar lunch not only cuts out a large amount of that fat and sodium, but it keeps them satiated longer thanks to healthy proteins and fats, without taking away the fun of eating a lunch made up of snacks.

Other easy yet healthful lunch ideas that will resonate with everyone from a kindergartner to a high school senior include vegetable-packed pasta salad, meat and cheese roll-ups, Bragdon’s gluten- and dairy-free Tasty Taco Muffins, or even “breakfast for lunch” with whole wheat pancakes, banana and peanut butter.

“You can also use flatbread to make roll-up sandwiches and cut them into pinwheels,” Ritter said. “Cream cheese, cucumbers and dill are a great combination.”

No matter how your child decides to change up their weekly lunches, making small, healthy, homemade changes can make a world of difference, not just in their own health, but also in their energy levels as well as their interest in food and cooking.

“Really, I feel that you don't have to pack a sandwich for lunch, you can pack a variety of anything healthy and make a great meal out of it,” Pelletier said.  

Michelle Lahey is a food writer who was born and raised in New Hampshire. She also blogs about food at www.ahoppymedium.blogspot.com.

Categories: Recipes