Pack a Natural Lunch

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PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
School children digging in to their natural lunch.

Though lots of parents take great pains to provide their
children with nourishing meals at home, such folk don’t
always give as much thought to what the youngsters eat when
they’re out of the house. And unfortunately, the
menus that are dished up in public school cafeterias are
quite often full of those very “demons”–such as white flour,
sugar, and other highly processed foods–that you’re
probably trying to eliminate from the family’s diet
(furthermore, current federal budget trimming could soon
force cutbacks in school lunch programs).

Therefore, the only way to know that your small
student is getting a nutritious noontime meal every day is
to send the food with him or her. By preparing it
yourself, you can be sure the little one has a satisfying,
well-balanced natural lunch. And since it’s likely that nobody
knows the idiosyncrasies of your youngster’s palate better
than you do, you can match the contents of the “dinner
bucket” to the child’s particular likes and dislikes.

Here, then, are recipes for some nutritious
carry-along edibles that were developed by MOTHER EARTH NEWS’
favorite health food chef, Deborah Dunn (who also whipped
up the spread for “A Summer Fish Bake“). The meals are all easy and fun to put together
…which means that youngsters may even enjoy helping with
the preparations!

Sandwich Ideas

Probably the single most popular item of lunch-box fare is
the sandwich. This simple noonday treat can
be more appetizing–and nutritious–than the old
white-bread-and-bologna standard. To prepare a
slightly sweet and energy-boosting sandwich, spread peanut
(or any nut) butter on whole wheat bread, and top
it with banana slices, sunflower seeds, and raisins. Or, as
a variation, cover the protein-packed filling with grated
carrot (or cucumber slices) and alfalfa sprouts.

Sprouts can also make a delicious and crunchy addition to
cheese sandwiches: Just spread the bread with
mayonnaise, add thinly sliced cheddar, Swiss, or Monterey
Jack, then pile on a thick layer of tender alfalfa
sprouts.

Cheese sandwiches can benefit from the addition of raw
vegetables, too. Butter your slices of bread (or use
mayonnaise), and add the cheese, either sliced or grated,
plus any one–or all–of the following vegetables: sliced
cucumbers, avocado, tomato, grated carrot, and diced onion.

You can also create many scrumptious lunches by whipping up
special fillings during the evening, and then making the
sandwiches the next morning (and, again, slip in fresh
sprouts to provide a nutritional bonus). A blend of 1/2 cup
of cottage cheese, 1/4 cup of chopped broccoli, 2
tablespoons of primary yeast flakes, and a dash of sea salt
tastes great on rye or cracked wheat bread. And any time
you have oatmeal loaves on hand, try putting two
pieces together with a tomato slice and a spread made of 4
ounces (half a large package) of cream cheese, 1/4 cup of
chopped walnuts, and a chopped half-stalk of celery. The
sweet taste of tahini spread will please any child when
it’s smoothed on dark bread. Just mix together 1 cup of
tahini with 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds, 1/4 teaspoon of
honey, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon.

Other Options

Of course, sandwiches–as nutritious and filling as
they are–don’t have to be the only main courses your
children ever carry to school, because many leftover dinner
dishes can be recycled for the next day’s lunch. A piece of
cold quiche travels well, as do
macaroni and cheese wedges. You might also like
to cut a slice or two of the previous evening’s lentil nut
or millet loaf (or even a few spoonfuls of rice salad) to
be served alone or stuffed into pita bread pockets. Or
simply prepare a bag of finger food (such as cauliflower
and broccoli florets, whole mushrooms, carrot sticks,
asparagus spears, cherry tomatoes, cucumber strips, celery
stalks, and green pepper rings) along with a yogurt or sour
cream dip.

When packing snacks, don’t succumb to the “easy out” of
grabbing individual bags of potato chips or cookies.
Instead, throw in a small container of homemade popcorn to
satisfy the munchies. Fresh fruit makes a delicious
dessert, too … and it just may be sweet enough to help
your child avoid the urge to visit the candy machine! Toss
together whole strawberries, blueberries, banana sections,
melon cubes, and pineapple chunks, then turn that fresh
fruit salad into a special treat by adding a cream
cheese or carob-honey sauce. Whole wheat or bran
muffins–with nuggets of dried fruit inside–are
also great school lunch desserts. They’re
a lot more wholesome than are cake squares or candy bars!

Drink Up!

While you’re concocting imaginative dishes for your child’s
noontime meals, remember that take-along lunches
don’t have to be accompanied by plain milk, sugary
fruit punch, or (worse) soda pop. You can, instead, fill
your child’s thermos with a hot, hearty soup
…or–while the weather’s still warm–try one of
the following cooling drinks that Deborah has devised. (You
can easily mix a large batch of any one of these in the
blender make a healthful breakfast for yourself
at the same time)

To whip up a carob-bananashake, blend
together 1 1/2 cups of milk, 1 teaspoon each of honey and
carob, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, and half a banana. Or, if
you think that your child would prefer a creamy drink,
combine 1 cup of plain yogurt, 2 teaspoons of honey, and 1
cup of any juicy fresh fruit (such as peaches,
strawberries, or oranges). A honeydew
delight–
which can provide a pleasant change from
milk-based drinks–requires 1/2 cup each of chopped
melon and orange juice, plus 1 teaspoon of lemon juice.

A thick and tasty peanut butter shake will provide
enough protein to keep your youngster going all day! To
make one, blend 1/2 cup each of milk and plain yogurt with
1 tablespoon of peanut butter and 1 teaspoon of honey. You
might also want to try a tomato supreme …which
is made by mixing together 1 cup of diced ripe tomatoes,
1/2 stalk of chopped celery, 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, and
a dash of salt. Finally, you can include a nice surprise in
your child’s lunch box by making spiced apple
juice.
Simply soak a cinnamon stick in one cup of
apple juice overnight, then remove it before pouring the
beverage into the thermos.

As you can see from the recipes provided here, box lunches
don’t have to be either dreary and unappetizing or
low in nutritional value. If you want to be certain
your children are eating as well at school as they are at
home, send the young scholars off each day with a lunch box
full of homemade foods that you know you can trust. Sure,
it may take you a few minutes longer to prepare such meals
in the morning, but you can likely get the youngsters
themselves actively involved in the task … which would
not only ease your workload, but would help them
become aware of sound eating habits, too!