Pack and go meals for a new school year

By Marcia Kyle | Sep 16, 2008

Summer school break is over. Parents and kids are geared up for the start of a new school year … backpacks, pens, pencils and maybe a new pair of sneaks. Have you thought about starting this year with a new nutrition plan in place before school starts?

The first few weeks of school are the most challenging: practicing sports, joining new clubs and getting back into the swing of studying can lead to meals on the run and mindless snacking. As a parent, I know how hard it is to fit healthy meals into the day.

Breakfast 101

Breakfast eaters have better attendance and less tardiness. Plus, eating breakfast reduces the likelihood of becoming overweight. Don't let your late sleeper skip breakfast. Start with something quick like cereal topped with fruit and milk. Get nonperishable breakfast foods out the night before and set the table. Better yet, have your kids help with the preparation.

And don't worry if they pick a nontraditional food for breakfast. Any good food can be a breakfast food -- even a slice of pizza or a peanut butter sandwich and low-fat milk can be good choices. Try banana or thin slices of peaches with the peanut butter sandwich in place of jam for a sweet surprise.

Have a pack-and-go breakfast ready just in case you run short on time. Dry cereal, nuts and dried fruit packed in individual size baggies make for quick backpack fillers. Don’t forget to pack a midmorning snack, too. Yogurt frozen the night before will be thawed by midmorning snack time and won't need refrigeration.

Brown bag or school lunch?

Help your child plan lunch, whether they buy it or pack it. Have the school's menu posted on the refrigerator and discuss choices. Ask them if they prefer to pack it and then let them get involved in the planning. It is a well-known fact that the more involved they are in the menu planning process, the greater the likelihood is that they will eat those carrot sticks.

Variety is the key to keeping it interesting. Try making sandwiches with different types of bread. Fill a whole-wheat pita pocket with salad fixings. Raw veggies with dip, fruit, string cheese and yogurt cups are easy and fun as well as healthy. Be sure to regularly wash the lunch box or insulated bags. If they prefer paper sacks, use a new one every day.

Don't forget after-school snack attacks

Young children need to eat every two to three hours. Since many schools schedule lunch as early as 11 a.m., an after-school snack is in order. Don't forget to keep to that schedule on home days. Children who are provided consistent meals and snacks are less likely to develop stress eating or obesity as adults.

For the adolescent, have the pantry stocked with healthy after-school snacks that should include some carbohydrates and a little protein.

Keep a variety of fresh fruit in a bowl on the kitchen counter and a variety of whole-grain cereals in the cabinet. Include low-fat dairy products like yogurt, cottage cheese and milk to assure strong bones and the added protein for growth.

Did you know that one cup of yogurt has twice the calcium and three more grams of protein than a cup of milk? Remember that your teen is also still growing and requires more calories than an adult. It is not surprising that so many teens regularly frequent fast-food restaurants and vending machines after school. They are truly hungry.

Having a plan before the school year starts may prevent this. Keep salad fixings, sliced deli meat, tuna or beans available for even the most finicky teen.

Homemade Hummus

Try this great protein-rich spread from the Middle East for a dip for crackers or vegetables.

15 ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons water
2 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons oil (olive oil works and tastes best)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2-3 tablespoons minced parsley (optional)

Puree the chickpeas with the water and lemon juice in a mixer or blender. Add remaining ingredients. Blend to a creamy paste, adding more water if needed. Sprinkle with a little paprika before serving.

Tossed Tuna Salad

Makes about four main-dish portions.

Use this light salad to fill a whole-wheat pita pocket.

4 cups lettuce
1 can (15 ounce) white or pinto beans,
rinsed and drained
1 can (6 ounce) tuna in water
Chopped tomato, cucumber and onion (choose amounts to your taste)
3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
Low-fat Italian dressing

Toss the lettuce, beans, tuna and vegetables in a large bowl. Add just enough dressing to coat the salad. Toss again. Sprinkle on the feta cheese and serve.

Quick Quesadillas

Makes 4 to 6 portions.

For whole-grain goodness choose soft corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas. Cut up leftover cooked chicken into small pieces and add with the cheese for extra protein.

2 6-inch soft corn tortillas
Grated cheese
Plain yogurt
Prepared salsa
Nonstick spray

Spray the nonstick oil in frying pan. Put one tortilla in pan, add the cheese and cover with the second tortilla. Grill on both sides until the cheese melts. Cut in triangles and serve with yogurt and salsa.

Merry Berry Sundaes

Low-fat yogurt in place of ice cream makes this a healthy alternative to the traditional high-fat version. To crush graham crackers, place in a plastic bag and invite your child to work away with a rolling pin.

Graham crackers, crushed
Vanilla yogurt
Strawberries, blueberries and bananas

Wash the fruit. Slice bananas and strawberries. Place all three fruits in a bowl and mix gently. For each sundae, put 3 tablespoons yogurt in a dish. Top with 2 tablespoons fruit and 1 tablespoon graham cracker crumbs.
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