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Back to school means back to packing your child’s lunchbox! Maintaining a balanced diet, with lots of fruits, veggies and whole grains, promotes better learning, especially in children. You’ve heard breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but that doesn’t mean you should skimp out on lunch. Pack your child’s lunchbox with nutrient-dense, fueling foods and give them the energy they need to stay active both mentally and physically. Between getting the family back into a rhythm and routine, gathering new school supplies, and taking care of other such back-to-school matters, we understand how busy this time of year can be. Below are a handful of simple and convenient lunchbox tips to ensure your child is getting the nutrients they need to be energized, succeed and stay focused as they re-adjust to the routine of school.
– Double up: If you’re having pasta for dinner, make a little extra and turn it into pasta salad for the kids’ lunches the next day. And, keep in mind, whole wheat pasta provides more nutrients than white flour pasta.
– Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth: Fruit makes a great lunchbox dessert and a healthful afterschool snack. Make it portable by having fresh fruit cut into bite-sized pieces ready to snack on after school, or put into individual serving-size containers and pack into a lunchbox for dessert. Keep bulk supplies of freeze dried fruit in the pantry. Freeze dried fruit is a fantastic way to make sure your kitchen always has fruit without worry about spoilage – not to mention it’s an easy and foolproof way to travel with fruit whether in a lunchbox or backpack!
– Shake Things Up: Kids tired of eating – and parents tired of serving – the same traditional lunchbox dishes? Serve breakfast for lunch! Switch up the mealtime menu and send you child breakfast to eat at lunch. For example, whole wheat pancakes, yogurt, and hard boiled eggs make a fun lunchbox surprise for your little one.
– Think Outside the Box: Think outside the “lunchbox” and prepare “bowls” instead of traditional sandwiches. Enjoy a balanced bowl that includes all of the food groups and is packed with nutrients, such as a whole grain salad with a variety of colorful vegetables, beans, and even a touch of sweetness from a chopped up dried fruit incorporated within. For example, opt for a dish prepared around brown rice, quinoa, or whole wheat couscous, which are rich in important vitamins and nutrients.
– Crunch: Switch out the lunchbox side dish chip for fresh cut vegetable sticks or freeze-dried veggies. Pack a serving of dip or nut butter for a dip.
– Make Lunch Fun: Use favorite shaped cookie cutters to carve sandwiches into fun shapes before packing in the lunchbox. It’ll make eating healthful (whole wheat) sandwiches more fun.
Cricket Azima is a dynamic professional chef who specializes in cooking for and with children. Cricket has worked with a variety of food companies, including Whole Foods Market, Foodnetwork.com, Organic Valley, Happy Family and General Mills, to name a few. She’s published several books, including her children’s cookbook, “Everybody Eats Lunch,” (Glitterati Inc., 2008) and coauthored “The Happy Family Organic Superfoods Cookbook for Baby & Toddler.”
Since 1999, Cricket has been teaching cooking classes to children of all ages at various locations in New York City. Cricket wrote her master’s thesis on the benefits of teaching cooking to children, which led her to launch The Creative Kitchen in 2003 (www.thecreativekitchen.com). The Creative Kitchen hosts hands-on children cooking classes and events at venues such as schools, Whole Foods Market, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy’s.
In 2012, she founded the Kids Food Festival (www.kidsfoodfestival.com), a New York City celebration to educate families on how to make balanced food choices. The annual weekend of events serves as an effort to prevent childhood obesity through fun programming and entertainment for the whole family. The Kids Food Festival partners with the James Beard Foundation, the American Heart Association, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, and the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation.
Cricket has a MA in Food Studies & Food Management from New York University and Peter Kump’s New York Culinary School (now, The Institute of Culinary Education, where she received her professional culinary degree). Cricket is a member of the Board of the American Heart Association Go Red for Women Committee and the NYC Autism Charter School.