Monday, August 29, 2011

School is Coming.......So Are School Lunches

As school vacation draws to a close - for some it already has - here in the Northeast next week marks the beginning of another school year.
So it was little surprise when I clicked on Time Magazine On-line Edition to find a story - Back to School: Best Lunchboxes for Kids (and Their Parents!)

Read more:,28804,2090274_2090267,00.html

In my travels from school to school teaching children of all ages about food, healthy eating habits, and how to cook simple foods I talk to lots of parents and teachers.  I look at this feature about buying a new lunchbox at Pottery Barn, and think of all the families struggling today.  If you're in the category of shopping for a new lunch box for your child maybe you should also give some thought to another less fortunate child in need of last years lunch box - even to donate it to the Salvation Army or Goodwill.  For everyone though I have some interesting ideas to get you thinking about school lunches.

Bento Boxes

The Bento Box has become increasingly popular offering children a great selection of their favorites fresh foods.  The following recipes I developed for Doggity, which can be viewed weekly on PBS/Sprout Network, or On-Demand is your local TV System does not carry PBS/Sprout.

Dipping Vegetables ---blanched broccoli flowerettes, carrots sticks and red pepper strips

Ranch Dip( recipe below)
Prepared hummus
Small cheese cubes
Rolled sliced turkey
Pita Chips(recipe below)

Dipping vegetables
1 cup small broccoli florettes
1/2 cup baby carrots, sliced in half lengthwise, or 1/2 cup thin carrot sticks
1/2 cup thinly sliced red pepper cut in 1-inch pieces
Wash all vegetables.
Cut broccoli into small tree like pieces leaving short piece as bottom stem
Cut baby carrots in half lengthwise.
Remove seeds from red pepper and cut in thin, short strips about 1-1 1/2 inches in length.

Fill medium/large pot 2/3 full of water, bring to a boil.
Fill large bowl 2/3 full with ice water, set aside.
Place vegetables into pot of boiling water. Allow for water to return to boiling and boil for 3 minutes.
With slotted spoon or strainer remove vegetables from boiling water and put into ice water to cool.
Drain and pat dry.
Refrigerate until ready to use.
Ranch Dip
1/4 cup  light mayonnaise
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

In small bowl combine all ingredients. Mix with wire whisk until well blended.
makes 1/2 cup  ranch dip.

Pita Chips
2 round whole wheat pita bread
Olive oil,olive oil or canola oil non stick cooking spray
Kosher salt, garlic powder,or other seasonings of your choice.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Using Scissors cut each pita bread in half. Pull apart each half into 2 pieces. Lightly brush or spray the rough side of each half with oil or cooking spray.
Lightly sprinkle with salt and other seasonings.
Using scissors, cut each half into 6 -8 wedges.
Arrange in a single layer on large baking sheet.
Bake for 5-7 minutes or until browned.

Bento Box Containers Made Easy
Like the idea of a Bento Box Lunch or Snack for yourself and your children it's really easy - all you need is a plastic container with individual compartments and a lid.  Look and around and get creative.  You can find ideal containers in unusual places like your Sporting Goods Store, or Local Hardware Supply Shop.

DIY Freezer Pack
While most of us grownups have probably survived a lunch in a brown bag in a backpack, or a desk drawer without refrigeration it's really not a wise thing to do.  Children can be extremely susceptible and run a serious risk of severe illness from food stored improperly in the Food Temp Danger Zone 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Here's a neat idea to make with your children, and if for some reason they discard the freezer pack at lunch time - just make another. 

What You Need

1 plastic zip top freezer bag (or vacuum seal type)
1/2 cup liquid dish soap (your choice)
1 glass jar (optional)


1. Open Bag: Although this sounds like a silly first step, it's an important one. Even though it's not rocket science to squirt soap into a bag, any residual soap could end up on your lunch, so we take an extra second to roll back the lip of the bag to eliminate any chance of contact later on.
2. Add Soap: Although you can just squirt the soap right in the bag, we use a small jar to help hold the bag open and also to keep the zip-closure out of the way. This ensures that we won't have any external soap that could come in contact with our tasty lunches or picnic food!
3. Different Colors: These days you can buy Dishwash Soap in almost every color - so why not a freezer pack in your favorite color?
4. Remove Air: This is easiest done on the first try, once you flip it upright to squeeze any excess out of the bag, you'll have new found air bubbles that will need to work their way to the surface. Keep the bag flat and let it almost flow out the top and seal right before it gets to the end. You can of course choose any method you wish, this one just happens to work well for us.

5. Freeze: Your ice pack will take to whatever shape it rests on in your freezer and even though it will spend most of it's time in your lunch box as a thick cold gel, when it's first removed from the freezer it's more solid than not (depending on the size of your ice pack). Sometimes we keep them flat, other times we roll them up and store them in a glass until frozen, that way it will keep your fruit perfectly chilled, but not your peanut butter sandwich.
6. Tips On Using These packs will work forever as long as you take care of them. If you're worried about them leaking you can use a double bag or a vacuum seal bag. They're super inexpensive to make and at only a few pennies a piece, you could make one for each day of the week or different shapes or sizes.