20 ideas for packed-lunch pizzazz

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

You don't have to be a chef or spend hours in the kitchen to provide fun and healthy lunches. Here are a few fun ideas for inspiration:

It's all in the presentation

Use cookie cutters to add a little fun to sandwiches. Edible flowers, cars and dinosaurs are sure to make even a picky eater enjoy their food.

Use hard containers. Avoid soggy or squished sandwiches and crushed potato chips.

Add in some color. A drop of food coloring can be the trick to getting picky kids to eat. How about potato salad with pink potatoes? Try a little color in pasta as well.

Make it mini. Mini-muffins, croissants and baby carrots are all wonderful options. Try mini-bagels for homemade mini-pizzas and sandwiches.

Keep food the right temperature

Warm lunchmeat, cold mac and cheese-the wrong temp will not only turn up noses, it may turn stomachs. If a dish is designed to stay a certain temperature for food-safety reasons, take the time to make sure it stays the required temperature.

Invest in reusable cold packs. Or other containers designed to keep food cold.

Frozen juice boxes can be used as an alternative to cold packs. Place juice boxes next to sandwiches made with lunchmeat to keep them cold.

An old fashioned Thermos goes a long way in keeping foods nice and warm. Look for shorter, wide- mouthed versions with easy utensil access.

Yummy sandwich alternatives

Dips are great for lunches. Yogurt and pretzels, salsa and whole-wheat crackers or tortillas, raisin or cinnamon breads with whipped cream cheese-the possibilities are endless. Use kids' own preferences to help give you ideas-if they love green beans dipped in ketchup at home, chances are they'll love it at school. Or add a twist (with a little more veggie content) and use salsa instead.

Break up the sandwich. It's likely they'll peel off half of what you put on their sandwich anyway, so separate the sandwich's components and let them mix and match their own meal.

Salad mixes are great alternatives. Tuna, chicken, couscous and pasta salad are good ways to mix up lunchtime.

Breakfast for lunch. Mini- pancakes, blueberries and a dash of maple syrup are kid favorites. Homemade pancakes can be cooked and frozen ahead of time for easy prep on school mornings.

Meatballs taste great warm or cold. They go great with mini bread sticks and veggies.

Forget sliced bread. Use tortilla or spinach wraps instead. Pita bread, crackers and whole-wheat dinner rolls are also good options.

Disguise healthy food as junk food

Sneak it all in. Finely chopped green pepper, carrot or wheat germ can be easily mixed with ground hamburger or turkey meat.

Wrap it in butcher paper. Trick the kids into thinking they've got a store-bought lunch.

Use baked items. Baked chicken, chips and snacks are lower fat than their fried counterparts.

Up the quality and health content. Make your own trail mix by choosing high cocoa content organic chocolate, dried fruits, cereal, pretzels and crackers for a yummy treat.

For the vegetarian child

Veggie kabobs are another alternative to the sandwich. Tofu, cherry tomatoes, cheese and mushrooms on a straw make a tasty and versatile treat.

Salad sandwich. Stuff a pita pocket with baby greens, sweet corn and serve tomato with a honey mustard sauce on the side to keep the bread from getting soggy.

Tofu tacos. Seasoned tofu, salsa, cheese with soft or hard taco shells on the side-yum!

Green ideas for lunches

Green alternatives are on everyone's minds and kids' lunches are no exception. Here are a few tips on greening up lunchtime.

  • Pack reusable containers. Bento sets, reusable water bottles and organic cotton lunch sacks are all green alternatives to paper bags. Check for non-toxic plastic containers. Let your kids decorate the outside of containers with stickers and markers-their artwork will help them to remember to keep them out of the trash.
  • Cut down on waste. Prepackaged foods cost more, can be high in sodium and preservatives, and can generate more waste. An apple doesn't need to be encased in plastic wrap.
  • Do something great with those bread crusts! Encourage your children to bring home any leftover food to compost.
  • Use cloth napkins. Fabric with fun colors and cartoon characters are a great start. Cut material into kid-sized squares with pinking shears to keep the edges from unraveling. Parents can also use recycled material from bed sheets and stained tablecloths and let their kids use fabric markers to decorate them.
Serves 4 (makes 16 fritters)

1 15-ounce can pumpkin

1/2 cup flour

1 egg, beaten

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In large bowl, combine pumpkin, flour, egg, 1 tablespoon sugar, baking powder and salt. Heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Drop spoonfuls of mixture into pan and lightly flatten with a spatula. Cook until golden, about 4 minutes per side. Cook in two batches. In small bowl, combine remaining sugar with cinnamon and sprinkle over hot fritters before serving.

Recipe courtesy of Everybody Eats Lunch, by Cricket Azima.

Terreece M. Clarke is a freelance writer and journalist. She lives in Columbus with her husband and two daughters.

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