First things first, though. Yes, you can pack a healthy – and safe – lunch for your children. Just use many, not one, of those freezable ice packs. Put them on the bottom, top and sides of the perishable lunch items. I bring this up due to this morning’s report about one study showing preschoolers packed lunches were unsafe, and in the danger zone (between 40°F and 140°F).
Instead of overreacting and not packing our kids’ lunches, let’s be prudent and use this one study as a reminder we always need to keep food safety top of mind. Make sure your own refrigerator is at 40°F and the freezer at 0°F. Invest in thermometers for both and check them frequently.
Now, on to Shapes, LO’s and Dunk ‘n Dip and Better Bread creative lunch box ideas!
Shapes. Every food in the lunch has to be the same shape foods, like all circles, squares or rectangular. My favorite – and one of the easiest and fastest – is the Circle. Choose round cheese slices, round cold cuts and spinach leaves and place on either toasted waffles or whole-grain bagel. Include round veggies: slices of cucumber, zucchini or summer squash, carrot coins or green peas. Include round fruits: apple, banana, kiwi, orange, grapefruit, grapes, blueberries, cherries, peach, plum or nectarine. For squares, use pineapple chunks, diced cheese and ham cubes. Rectangular shaped foods – and you need to be a little open minded here – could be strips of chicken, pork or beef, strips of red, green and yellow bell peppers, asparagus or jicama and slices of apples, pear or long strips of watermelon, cantaloupe or honeydew melon.
LO’s. That’s my lingo for Left-Overs, one of the best timesavers when it comes to food/cooking. Simply re-use last night’s dinner, like a pork chop, baked potato and honey-glazed carrots, by tossing strips of the pork with diced potatoes and tossing lightly in BBQ sauce. Place in a whole wheat flour tortilla and roll-up. Serve honey-glazed carrots as is – since they are different than the same old hard baby carrots. Throw in some fruit, like apple, pear or dried plums.
Dunk ‘n Dip. Everything gets dunked or dipped! Try lettuce roll-ups with strips of beef, pork, tofu or chicken, add some beans, shredded carrot, chopped water chestnuts, chopped peanuts and serve with a tiny container of hot or sweet chili sauce for dipping. Or make cheese-ham/turkey-pineapple kabobs and serve with honey mustard sauce Dip veggies –broccoli, carrots, sugar snap peas and even the new orange, purple and green cauliflowers – in light Ranch dressing or Hummus or Bean Dips. Best dipping fruits include strawberries, apple and pear wedges, pineapple, bananas and kiwi. Yogurt is the dipping choice for fruits.
Better Breads. Just varying the bread could make all the difference between mundane and magnificent! Instead of the same white or whole-wheat bread slices, use whole-grain hamburger or hotdog buns, bagels, waffles, English muffins, focaccia, hearty bakery breads in flavors like rosemary-olive or parmesan-garlic or flatbreads like Naan. Even cinnamon-raisin bread or bagels is a nice change for peanut butter sandwiches. Or serve multiple “mini sandwiches” on mini bagels, mini rolls or Hawaiian buns or whole-grain crackers.
Apples get A+ for Creativity. Never underestimate the power of the apple to give new life to old favorites. Simply add sliced apples to your favorite cold cut and cheese sandwich, peanut butter sandwich or roll-up or wrap, pita pocket sandwich, or even gourmet bakery bread sandwiches. The sweet and crunch of apple slices compliments so many flavors….plus they help you get even closer to “Half Your Plate Fruits & Veggies” at every meal! Pears can be used as well.