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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

School Lunch in the Bag Basics

Back to school fashions are strutting their stuff in the cafeteria, too. Brown paper bags are fading away and insulated lunch containers are taking over.
The Little Mermaid for Little Lunchers 

Bento Boxes are great for kids who don't want food "to touch" 

 The simple sandwich is being replaced by a selection of bites presented bento box style, “It’s kind of like making your own “lunch-ables," says Sandy Nissenberg dietitian and author of Brown Bag Success: Making Healthy Lunches Your Kids Won't Trade. “You buy a plastic container and fill the compartments with fun lunch options like cherry tomatoes, cheese cubes on a kabob, turkey tortilla roll-ups, cold chicken pasta salad or mini chicken drumsticks. Add a fruit on the side, get milk at school and you’re good to go.” Nissenberg likes this mix-and-match small bites approach because it appeals to child-sized appetites and lunch periods at most schools are pretty short, “By the time a child finds a seat, talks to his friends, and finally pulls out his lunch, there may be only 15 minutes to eat. Most large lunches will probably get thrown out." Easy to peel Clementines or pre-sliced oranges and apples are more likely to be eaten than whole fruit. That’s especially true for kids with loose teeth or braces.  
Kids don't know the half of it.....half should be fruit/veggies. 

My Lunch MyPlate
Whether the cafeteria bound container is festooned with Hello Kitty, Justin Bieber or the Atlanta Falcons’ logo – what’s inside matters to child nutrition experts. The new USDA My Plate nutrition icon indicates one half of a healthy plate should be filled with fruit and vegetables, with the two other quarters occupied by a lean protein and a whole grain starch. To complete the meal -on the side of MyPlate is a cup of milk. This same food philosophy can be used to fill a lunch box. How do you get beyond the usual carrots and celery sticks solution?  Liz Weiss, dietitian and co-author of No Whine With Dinner suggests mixing in chickpeas and blanched broccoli florets to pasta salads and add variety to veggie snack offerings, “Cucumber wheels, red or orange bell pepper strips, sugar snap peas or snow pea pods. Add some Ranch or other dressing like hummus for dipping because the oil in these dips actually helps kids absorb more nutrients from the veggies.”  
What about the teens and ‘tweens easily distracted by the lunch time social hour? That table of ‘gossip girls’ busy checking out the handsome new boy don’t want to be seen gobbling a big sandwich like a hungry ranch hand. The new breed of whole grain sandwich or bagel ‘thins’ might be a better fit with 100 calories and 5 grams of fiber. For something sweet yet figure-friendly they may prefer to daintily dip grapes, strawberries or pineapple chunks into protein packed Greek yogurt.

Food Safety Patrol
Thrown in a locker, stuffed in a backpack or stashed under a desk for several hours, sandwiches and other lunch foods can linger in the bacteria friendly room temperature “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees for too long.  Researchers at the University of Texas in Austin found that 95% of packed lunches in a recent study were at an unsafe temperature. That’s why insulated lunch bags and boxes- many with a space to add an ice pack- get an “A” from food safety experts. Dietitian Jo-Ann Heslin author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books suggests you start thinking ‘cool’ the night before, “If you pack lunch in the morning, chill the lunchbox in the refrigerator overnight. If you pack lunch at night, put the food in the lunchbox and refrigerate both overnight. This helps keep all foods cooler longer.”  A thermos can keep hot soups hot but it can keep salads cool, too so they’re still crisp and cold at lunch time. Note: Perishable foods can sit in the danger zone for up to 2 hours before the lunch becomes risky.
Some lunch bags are built to carry cold packs 
                        
Something Extra.
Since fast food restaurants succeed in attracting attention to their childrens’menus with toys and prizes perhaps two can play at this game. Nissenberg suggests, “Don't forget to add a character napkin for fun or maybe an inspiring note or fun message. It will bring along a smile during lunch.” 


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