Raising healthy eaters- What’s for lunch, Mom?
I apologize for bouncing around between topics a little bit in this series, but I am trying to address questions and specific areas of interest as they come up. Recently I received an email asking specifically for lunch ideas, because although dinners are often talked about, lunches tend to be overlooked.
So here we go!
I will let you in on a little secret. These days, I don’t actually make lunch from scratch very often. Why not? Because I have actually adapted my menu planning to incorporate the needs of my family for lunch as well. I used to cook somewhat smaller dinners, because otherwise the fridge would fill up with leftovers and food would go to waste. However, now that my daughter is a great eater (who must be going through a growth spurt- lately she’s been eating about 4 mandarin oranges a day, and enough breakfast to rival a football player!) and my husband often works from home and eats lunch with us, I needed to find a way to make lunches easy, yet filling, without resorting to convenience foods.
These days, I simply plan to make dinners a little larger than I used to (I aim to cook for 6 adults, which gives enough for my husband and I twice, as well as enough for a lunch and dinner for Abbie, and sometimes I still have extra). It takes virtually no extra work, because I was already cooking dinner anyways, the meals are healthy and balanced (because I make sure they are when I meal plan my dinners), and it takes me virtually no time and makes very little mess (maybe a pot, or a casserole dish, etc.). I love this system!
Now, what about those days when I didn’t make enough extra the night before, or we’re tired of eating leftovers for lunch? How do you come up with something simple, quick and easy, healthy, and still kid pleasing?
It’s also important to make sure that we get some protein into our sweet kiddos, to help keep blood sugar stable and to maintain energy levels (I know, I know, your kids don’t really need more energy, but I’m talking about energy in the most positive sense- trying to avoid that 2:30pm afternoon slouch when everyone gets a bit tired and grumpy, including us). It’s also important to keep them filling up on a variety of vegetables and fruits throughout the day. We need to see every meal we serve as an opportunity to give our children something truly nourishing and worth eating, rather than just something to fill them up.
So how to accomplish this without spending 30-60 minutes making an elaborate lunch (and a bunch of dishes)? Here are a few of our favorite lunch ideas to give you some inspiration (and please note how simple they are- lunch does not need to be a big, fancy meal!):
- Pita bread or tortilla pizzas (we prefer sprouted wheat, spelt or corn)- I make a very quick sauce with tomato paste, a bit of honey, garlic, italian seasonings, etc. then add whatever veggies I happen to have (we like peppers, mushrooms, onions and fresh herbs the best), whatever meat is in the fridge (sausages or sandwich meat- no nitrates is best!, cooked chicken, ground beef or turkey, etc.), and some cheese (feta is a nice addition).
- Fried rice– Fry up some finely diced onions and carrots in olive oil. Add leftover brown rice, then add frozen corn and peas. Beat a couple of eggs and mix it in well as you continue to fry the rice. Add in some soy sauce (or Tamari or Bragg’s), a bit of garlic, ginger, and some sesame seeds (keep in fridge or freezer to prevent them from going rancid), and that’s it.
- Yogurt sundaes– I use plain, Balkan style yogurt (usually homemade) sweetened with a little honey or Stevia, and add either a favorite healthy granola (or my favorite homemade raw buckwheat granola- yummy!) or a big handful of nuts (almonds, walnuts, whatever you prefer) and/or seeds, then add fruit- we like frozen or fresh berries, bananas, cherries, peaches, etc. or dried fruit like organic raisins and unsulphured apricots. You can also mix in freshly ground flax seed (most kids won’t notice it), or other superfoods, if you like.
- Sandwiches– our standards are grilled cheese (whole grain bread, cheese, butter- not margarine!, and either nitrate-free sandwich meat or sliced tomatoes), open face toasted peanut butter and honey and cinnamon (my daughter likes to make raisin faces on top), w/w pitas with meat (almost any kind) and cheese and lettuce and sprouts and tomato and olives plus some dressing or mayo, or “fishie” sandwiches (as we called them, aka salmon melts) which are open face with canned salmon (mixed with a little mayo or yogurt and spices, and maybe celery or onions) spread on top then topped with cheese and baked. With any sandwich we usually do veggie sticks with a yogurt based dip.
- Quesadillas– another way to use up leftover meat, but also leftover beans (or you can use refried beans, too). Sometimes I add some peppers or tomatoes as well, then grated cheese. These fry up so fast, and if I have ripe avacados, I will whip up a simple guacamole dip to dip them into.
- Sweet potato chips– I slice sweet potatoes (or yams) into rounds, toss them with a bit of olive oil and sea salt, then bake them at 350 F, for about 20 minutes (usually flipping them once). Make sure to spray a bit of oil on the cookie sheet first, because they like to stick. These are amazing!!!
- Hummus– with pita or veggie sticks. I make my hummus in a large batch, and then freeze at least half of it. It stays well in the fridge for quite a while because it has no dairy in it.
- Pasta– around here, we use brown rice pasta (Tinkyada is our favorite brand). We are trying to avoid wheat for a number of reasons, but also, brown rice pasta is a little easier to digest than other types. For quick lunches, I will often add a can of salmon, some mayo or yogurt, spices of choice (we love Spike), and whatever veggies I have around. Or, I will make a quick cheese sauce by making a white sauce (melt butter, add flour, then add milk) and then cheese and spices, and again, veggies of choice. Sometimes I add a few bread crumbs (which I keep in a bag in the freeze) on top and bake it.
- Fruit smoothies– we are smoothie-fanatics. Our smoothies are made with a yogurt base, frozen fruit (berries, peaches, bananas, etc.) and sometimes fresh fruit, coconut milk or water or (occasionally) juice, and honey, plus green powders, flax oil, etc. If I’m out of yogurt, I make a nut or seed base (you have to have a pretty good blender to be able to do this) but adding a couple handfuls of whatever (almonds, walnuts, sunflower, pumpkin, etc.) in with a couple cups of water- good for getting in some healthy fats.
- Now it’s your turn…
Just because this is a great topic for all moms wanting easy and healthy lunches, I thought I would open this up and ask for all of you to share some of your favorite lunch ideas (but remember, we’re focusing on good nutrition right now!).
What a wonderful post on eating healthy and sharing this gift with your children. My husband and I are waiting to adopt our first child, and I’ve spent the last year practicing the lessons you mention here. When you have a chance, check out my blog on healthy cooking:
What great lunch ideas. I am always looking for new ideas to feed my kids for lunch.
Karen, how exciting you’re about to adopt!!! And I did visit you- nice blog!
Thanks Tami, hope the ideas were helpful!