Video: American Kids Trying School Food From Around the World

A big facet of the current debate over healthier school nutriton standards is whether kids are actually rejecting the new meals on a widespread basis.  Just yesterday, as a matter of fact, I got into a Twitter debate with someone on this key question, with each of us offering conflicting data on school meal participation before and after the implementation of the new school food law.

So it was a needed bit of comic relief to watch this video of cute American kids trying out school meals from around the world, and seeing which foods they rejected (spoiler: most of them!) and which ones they dove into with gusto:

My main takeaway:  we clearly need to be outsourcing our school food to Kenya.  :-)

(Hat tip: Huffington Post)

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 10,100 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join almost 6,000 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing to my posts. You can download my FREE 40-page guide to “Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom” and be sure to check out my free rhyming video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!

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Is It Any Wonder We’re Confused?

Earlier this month, the New York Times published a humorous piece mocking Americans’ dietary habits and all the ways in which “expert dietary advice” gets so muddled.  Here’s an excerpt:

 . . . nuts are good for your cardiovascular system because they contain unsaturated fatty acids. I’ve taken to eating them with raisins in trail mix and discovered that if you buy the kind with enough M & Ms you barely taste the nuts and raisins. It’s almost like eating candy.

That piece was on my mind the other day when I walked into my local Whole Foods and was met with this back-t0-school display:

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 1.51.47 PM

Parents are being told here that the “best” and “smarter” lunches come from Whole Foods, but almost every item in this display is just a health-washed version of foods our kids really ought to consume less of:  apple juice pouches; cheesy, white-flour-based snack mix; “fruit” gummies; and more.

I don’t remark on this in a judgmental way. More than a few of those items have made it into my own grocery cart — almost always when my kids are shopping with me. And, of course, if you’re going to eat a packaged white-flour snack mix, better to choose an all-natural brand than one with an ingredient list like this.

But this sort of health-washing can lead to so much dietary confusion, even among well-intentioned parents. For example, everything about this packaging says “healthy” and “wholesome:”

back to nature

And everything about this package screams “Big Food:”

cheez its

Yet the from a nutritional standpoint, the two products are virtually identical:

As I discuss in my free e-book, The Lunch Tray’s Guide to Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom, it’s just this sort of confusion that complicates matters greatly when parents are asked to send in “healthy” food to school parties and events. Unless you’re highly educated about nutrition, figuring out what’s “healthy” is no easy task; what’s considered “healthy” among any given group of parents can vary wildly.

And what about our kids?  I find that even my own two children easily fall for this sort of health-washing, an outcome that’s all the more likely because these products just plain taste good. It’s no wonder kids might prefer a sweet and chewy gummy candy to a piece of fresh fruit, when fresh fruit can challenge the palate in so many ways: unexpected sour or bitter notes, a fibrous or mushy texture, and more.

If the gummies are sold at Whole Foods, are “organic” and “made with real fruit,” why can’t we buy them, Mom???

And so we have to sigh deeply and work all the harder at explaining to our kids why these products are really no better than the supermarket brands, why they have to be regarded as the occasional treat, and all the benefits of eating a whole-food diet most of the time.

But some days it feels like an awfully uphill climb, doesn’t it?

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 10,100 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join almost 6,000 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing to my posts. You can download my FREE 40-page guide to “Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom” and be sure to check out my free rhyming video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!

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Artificial Sweeteners, Sugar and Kids

cola splashLast week I was surprised to read a piece in the New York Times entitled “If You Drink Soda, Choose Artificially Sweetened,” by Aaron E. Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine.  In it, Carroll purports to lay out all of the health arguments against both artificial sweeteners and sugar and then, as the headline reveals, he comes down squarely on the side of the former.  Carroll is so sure of his conclusion, he tells Times readers, that he allows his own kids to drink four to five sodas a week, most of them artificially sweetened.

What troubled me most about Carroll’s piece was that his discussion of artificial sweeteners focused primarily on their purported cancer risk, which may be unfounded or overblown.  But he totally neglected to mention a different and equally important reason to avoid these chemical additives: they might not even work to prevent obesity.

In recent years, a growing body of research, including a 2010 meta-review published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine and a 2014 study published in the journal Nature, has raised legitimate concerns that the consumption of artificial sweeteners actually increases the risk of weight gain and metabolic disorders, possibly by interfering with our gut bacteria.  Or, as the researchers in Nature put it, artificial sweeteners “may have directly contributed to enhancing the exact epidemic they were intended to fight.” I can’t account for Carroll’s failure to at least raise this line of scientific inquiry, as it’s obviously relevant to the discussion, but I was pleased to see that several experts wrote into the Times to take issue with Carroll’s omission.  You can read their published letters here.

I personally believe that the apparent ineffectiveness of artificial sweeteners in preventing obesity coupled with any possible health risks these chemicals may carry, lands them squarely behind sugar in the “lesser of two evils” face-off.  That’s one reason why, back in 2013, I helped lead a coalition of 29 leading health experts and organizations to block a dairy industry plan to get artifically-sweetened flavored milk into schools on a widespread basis.  (That proposal is still pending before the Food and Drug Administration; you can read our open letter here.)

I’m certainly not a fan of sugar-sweetened beverages, either, which we already know are a leading driver of obesity.  In an ideal world, we’d drink nothing but water when we’re thirtsy.  But let’s face it:  sometimes we all crave a more interesting drink than plain water.  So what should you do when you or your kids just have to have a sweetened drink?

In my house, we make our own sweetened drinks using a Soda Stream, an appliance that will pay for itself if you’re already lugging home bottles of seltzer from the grocery store.  To our homemade seltzer water we add just a splash of all-natural grape or pomegranate juice — enough to lend the drink a pretty color and a hint of sweetness, but with only around 2- 4 grams of sugar per serving.  (Contrast that total with the whopping 33 grams of sugar in a can of soda.)  We also like Soda Stream’s own brand of all-natural fruit essences, which contain no sugar or artificial sweetener.  The resulting drink isn’t sweet, of course, but it’s fruity enough that it can satisfy a soda craving. And you can also read this 2011 Lunch Tray post, “My Solution to the ‘Boring’ Drink Problem,” which talks about brewing low-sugar, fruity herbal teas to create fun lunchbox drinks for your kids.

Where do you come out on the sugar/artificial sweetener debate when it comes to your kids? Let me know in a comment below or on TLT’s Facebook page.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 10,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join 5,600 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing to my posts. You can download my FREE 40-page guide to “Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom” and be sure to check out my free rhyming video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!

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A Food News Round-Up!

When I hblank phone note padaven’t been blogging regularly, I like to share a round-up of interesting or important stories you may have missed:

  • Parents are failing to recognize obesity in their own children, resulting in a failure to seek timely intervention.  (New York Times)
  • Chipotle is working to reformulate its tortilla, hoping to get it down to just four all-natural ingredients.  (New York Times)
  • Positive parenting skills influence how kids eat, according to a new study.  Dr. Dina Rose of It’s Not About Nutrition digs in to the findings.
  • The FDA has effectively banned trans fat in our food supply, ordering manufacturers to phase out the heart-unhealthy ingredient over the next three years. (CNN)

Happy reading!  And later this week I’ll have an update on the continuing battle over federal school food standards — and what you can do to help protect them.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 10,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join 5,600 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing to my posts. You can download my FREE 40-page guide to “Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom” and be sure to check out my free rhyming video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!

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Kids Are Eating Less Fast Food, and McDonald’s Is Feeling the Pinch

fried chicken junk food competitive greasyTwo related news items to share with you today.

According to a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics, kids are eating less fast food on a daily basis, and when they do eat fast food at burger, pizza and chicken restaurants, they’re consuming fewer calories in a sitting.

This promising trend may be due to nutritional improvements instituted by restaurants, a societal shift away from fast food generally and/or a decrease in portion sizes.  Reuters has more here.

In a related story, both declining birth rates and kids’ drop in fast food consumption are hitting McDonald’s hard, which is bad news for a company already struggling against increasingly popular “fast casual” chains like Chipotle.  Business Insider looks at McDonald’s woes here.

[Hat tip to Casey Hinds of US Healthy Kids for alerting me to the Business Insider story.]

 

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 10,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join 5,600 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing to my posts. You can download my FREE 40-page guide to “Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom” and be sure to check out my free rhyming video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!

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A Thanksgiving Mini-Cookbook for My Kids

As my kitchen is filling with the Thanksgiving aromas of roasting sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and the spiced pecans I make every year, it occurred to me that I ought to gather for my kids not just my recipes but the hard-earned nuggets of cooking wisdom I’ve accumulated over many years of making this meal.

So all morning, as I’ve been busy cooking, I’ve paused now and then by my laptop to type in another recipe or cooking note:

Thanksgiving

It will be fun to hand off our family’s Thanksgiving cookbook to them when they’re older and, in the meantime, it’s also not so bad for my middle aged brain to have this information – including the all important Master Shopping List! – in one central place.  :-)

Wishing all TLT’ers a safe and happy Thanksgiving!  Before I sign off I’ll share a link, as I do every year, of some of my favorite anti-hunger charities in case you’re moved by the season to make a donation.

See you all next week!

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 9,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join over 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing here. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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In the Worry Over Halloween Candy, Are We Missing the Bigger Sugar Picture?

This Halloween is a bittersweet one for me and Mr. TLT:  for the first time, neither of our kids are going trick-or-treating!  Our 14-year-old daughter will be out of town but doesn’t seem especially bothered that she’ll miss the ritual, and our son, aged twelve, declared he was “over it” and that he’d rather pass out candy at our front door.

That’s a big change from years past, when I fretted, as many parents do, over what to do with the massive amounts of candy my kids would bring home on Halloween night.  Should you let your kids eat all they want and hoard the rest?  Should you have them throw out all the candy that doesn’t meet certain nutritional standards?  Does the Switch Witch come by your house and leave a present in exchange for the candy?  (Or do you dislike the idea of the Switch Witch?)  Do you take the candy to the dentist’s office as part of a “buy back” program?  Do you send it to the troops?  Do you make a gingerbread house out of it?

In prior TLT posts I’ve told you how, when I was a kid, I was given total control over my candy bag — my mom came by to comment on that post, explaining her rationale – and that’s pretty much what we’ve done with our kids, too.   Each parent has to find the solution they’re most comfortable with, of course, but the fact that my kids aren’t missing the candy this year makes me think our laissez-faire approach paid off.

All of that said, though, maybe the attention we devote each year to Halloween candy is misplaced. As dietitian Andy Bellatti noted last year, if our kids’ diets were lower in sugar overall, a little candy binging wouldn’t be such a big deal.  But take a look at this startling new infographic from the Union of Concerned Scientists:

UCS infographic sugar

In light of current World Health Organization and American Heart Association recommendations for much lower daily sugar consumption, that’s a real problem. So here are some things you can do to help your kids cut back on sugar year-round:

Go Halfsies

I love this recent post from Sally Kuzzemchak at Real Mom Nutrition sharing her easy “fixes” — such as mixing quick cooking oats with flavored oatmeal packets —  to cut in half the sugar in many kids’ favorite foods.  These tweaks are a great way to significantly improve your child’s diet, likely without your kid even noticing the change.

Cut Back on Sugar in Baking

Even sugar’s greatest nemesis, Dr. Robert Lustig, admits his family eats sugar-sweetened treats at home.  But as he points out in this interview, his baking enthusiast wife has found that cutting back sugar by 1/3 not only doesn’t adversely affect most recipes, the flavor is actually improved.  I’ve found that to be the case in my own baking, too. (Remember these once-very-sugary pumpkin muffins?).

Kick Sugar Out of the Classroom

Many of us know first hand that school classrooms can be an unexpected source of sugar in our kids’ daily lives, whether due to parents bringing in birthday cupcakes, junk-food-heavy classroom celebrations or teachers handing out candy rewards.  I’m currently working on compiling into one document a huge trove of resources to help with these issues, but here are a few favorites to share right now:  School Bites’ awesome guide to healthier classroom parties, US Healthy Kids’ white paper advocating against the use of food rewards, and my Food-in-the-Classroom Manifesto.

Watch Fed Up With Your Kids

If you’re kids are older (say, fourth or fifth grade and up), you may want to sit down as a family and watch the recent documentary Fed Up, now on DVD (disclosure: I’m on the film’s advisory board).  The film was criticized by some as being a bit too focused on excess sugar in our food supply but, putting that criticism aside, I found that it was useful way to get this message across without having to be the messenger — in which case my kids would likely have tuned me out! My 14-year-old is now an avid reader of labels, sometimes putting sugar-filled products back on the store shelf without even asking me if we can buy them.  It’s a relief to have the burden of saying “no” to such foods taken off my shoulders.

And Speaking of Labels….

If you haven’t yet seen it, definitely take a few minutes to watch this recent and hilarious segment from comedian John Oliver, in which he skewers the food industry for trying to obscure on the new nutrition facts label just how much sugar it adds to our food. (Note: the clip contains some off-color language and humor.)

Have a safe and happy Halloween, all!  And let me know in a comment below how you manage your kids’ sugar intake, whether on Halloween or year-round.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 9,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join over 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing here. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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Interview and Book Giveaway: Lisa Leake (100 Days of Real Food) on Packing “Real Food” School Lunches

lisa leake
photo credit: Kelly Trimble

Continuing with TLT’s 5th annual “It Takes a Village to Pack a Lunch” series, today I’m sharing my recent interview with Lisa Leak, blogger at 100 Days of Real Food.  Last week I reviewed her fabulous new cookbook which, Lisa reported this morning on Facebook, has already made the New York Times bestseller list!  That recognition is well deserved, and today I’m so happy to chat with Lisa about the challenges and rewards of packing “real food” school lunches.  After our conversation below (complete with a lunch box recipe), I tell you how to enter to win your own free copy of  100 Days of Real Food:  How We Did It, What We Learned and 100 Easy, Wholesome Recipes Your Family Will Love,

TLT:  When your family made the switch from processed foods to real food, what challenges did you face at first in packing your girls’ lunches? 

LL: To be honest my biggest challenge was not only sticking to real food, but also adhering to our school-wide nut-free policy at the time. I was terrified of messing up and accidentally baking a batch of whole-grain muffins with nuts in them! So, at first it felt like one more “limitation” to stick to, but – as with any big changes in life – once we got over the initial transition it eventually became much easier and our “new normal.” My favorite real food nut butter substitutes are sunflower seed butter and cream cheese. Yes, we classify organic cream cheese (and anything out of a package with 5 or less whole ingredients) as real food!

TLT: A lot of parents rely on processed foods like snack packs and Lunchables because they make lunch packing so incredibly convenient.  In your opinion, how much more time does a parent have to invest in preparing real food for school lunches?

LL: I am not going to lie – it does take more time to eat real food than the premade alternatives. But you have to think of it as an investment because the extra 10 minutes or so that you might spend actually making a sandwich (after you’ve sourced high-quality ingredients of course), washing some fresh fruit, and putting it all together will go a long way when it comes to teaching your children healthy habits. Not to mention many experts think if you spend more (time and money) on real food now you’ll spend less on healthcare costs later in life. So it’s honestly up to you to prioritize and decide that wholesome family meals are just as important – or even more important – than other responsibilities in your life.

TLT:  Can you offer any tips or shortcuts for parents who want to cut processed foods out of their children’s home-packed lunches? 

LL: My #1 tip for packing real food lunches is to make homemade items in advance (like waffles, smoothies, muffins, soups, etc.) and freeze them. It’s basically like making your own convenience food! So when it’s time to pack lunch you can just reach for a couple of those premade (homemade) foods instead of a packaged one. My second tip is to not experiment with new real food choices at school. I would stick to the ones you know they love and save breakfast and dinner for the new food introductions!

Lisa shares her recipe for this cinnamon raisin bread below!
Lisa shares her recipe for this cinnamon raisin bread below! Photo credit: Carrie Vitt

TLT:  Do your daughters participate in packing their own lunches?  Do you think that’s important? 

LL: Yes and yes! My daughters do help and sometimes even pack their lunches themselves (although not always). I recommend getting them involved as soon as possible and putting out a variety of real food choices for them to pick from. And the bonus is that they’re more likely to eat everything in their lunch as a result!

TLT:  Do you have any favorite tips on reducing lunch packing waste?  

LL: I try to pack waste-free lunches as much as possible, and now that I am used to the idea I can’t imagine doing it any other way. I love the Ziploc divided (reusable) containers because they are easy-to-find, really inexpensive, and make lunch packing easy. Once you’ve filled up all the compartments in the container you know you are done! In addition to the reusable container we also send insulated Thermos cups with water, little cloth napkins, and inexpensive stainless steel silverware I found at Target. My girls do a pretty good job keeping up with everything, but most of it’s labeled just in case!

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Many thanks to Lisa for coming by TLT today — and now for the giveaway!  For a chance to win your very own free copy of  100 Days of Real Food:  How We Did It, What We Learned and 100 Easy, Wholesome Recipes Your Family Will Love just leave a comment below by Monday, September 8th at 6pm CST to enter.   You can tell me why you’d like to win or you can just say hi.  I’ll use a random number generator after the comment period closes to select one lucky winner and if you comment twice (e.g., to respond to another reader’s comment), I’ll use the number of your first comment to enter you in the drawing.   I’ll email you directly if you win and announce the winner on TLT’s Facebook page, too.  This offer is open to U.S. residents only.

And now here’s Lisa’s no-fail recipe for a bread that works well in kids’ lunch boxes.

Cinnamon-Raisin Quick Bread

from 100 Days of Real Food by Lisa Leake

Lisa says:  “This bread is divine. I’d be lying if I told you otherwise. No bread machine or fancy equipment needed . . . all it takes is a little bit of time and a few wholesome ingre- dients, and you’ll be incredibly pleased with the outcome. Toast a slice and top it with butter for breakfast, create a sandwich with some softened cream cheese in the middle for lunch, or eat it plain as a snack. You won’t be disappointed!”

Difficulty: Easy
Prep Time: Less than 20 minutes
Bake Time: Less than 1 hour
Special tools needed: 5 x 9-inch loaf pan

Makes one loaf

Ingredients:

  • 1⁄2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 1 and 1⁄2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 and 1⁄2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1⁄3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 3⁄4 cup raisins

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease a loaf pan with butter and set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, bak- ing soda, baking powder, and salt.

3. Using a fork, mix in the eggs, applesauce, melted butter, and syrup until well combined, taking care not to overmix. Gently fold in the raisins.

4. Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes.

[Blogger disclosure:  As with most of my book reviews, I received a free copy of this book for my perusal.  However, I never accept any other form of compensation for the book reviews you see on The Lunch Tray.]

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 8,600 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, see my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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Guest Blogger Brianne DeRosa: “Little Known Lunch Secrets”

On day two of TLT’s “It Takes a Village to Pack a Lunch” series, I’m so happy to turn the floor over to Brianne DeRosa, a busy mom of two young sons who blogs regularly at Red Round or Green.  When it comes to family dinner, Bri is a master of the art of advanced planning and today she brings that same expertise to lunch box packing.  Take it away, Bri . . .

Little Known Lunch Secrets

by Brianne DeRosa

Brianne DeRosaI’ve been packing lunches for 7 years now, which means that my kids’ lunch boxes and I are, I think, officially in a common-law relationship. Some days, it certainly feels that way. I swear there are evenings when I think I’ve seen more of the insides of those bento containers than I have of my husband.

Seven years of pretty much non-stop lunch packing doesn’t come without a few epiphanies, good ideas, and excellent shortcuts. (These moments, of course, are fewer and farther between than the moments of cursing and bemoaning the fact that my boys attend a school where lunches have to be ordered a full week in advance – so there’s no emergency lunch-money fallback available in our house!) Somehow, I still kind of enjoy the packing ritual. How? Not sure. But here are some of my lesser-known lunch packing secrets, which may shed some light on how I’ve managed to stay sane.

  • Make it while you sleep. Got a slow cooker? Got a chili recipe (or soup, or baked oatmeal)? You’ve got a lunch-packing weapon. Set it all up the night before, let it cook while you’re snoozing, and when you wake up in the morning you won’t have much to do beyond pre-heating a Thermos and tossing in a couple of side items.
  • Make it while you prep. You’re probably spending at least SOME time in the kitchen doing things other  than packing lunches, right? When you’re making dinner, slice an extra pepper or cut up a spare carrot or two to stash in the fridge for the next morning. Cube a couple of portions of cheese before you grate the rest of the block. And make just one or two extra servings of rice, pasta, or roasted potatoes that you can re-purpose for lunch boxes.
  • Make it while you’re making breakfast. So many people make waffles, pancakes, eggs, and quick breads for their kids’ breakfasts, and many of them think of freezing the leftovers for additional breakfasts – but not for lunch boxes. Many kids love breakfast for lunch. Scrambled eggs can be made into egg and cheese burritos; today’s waffles are tomorrow’s waffle sandwiches. Good food is good food at any time of day.
  • Make it when you pack up the leftovers. As long as you’re putting away the rest of that roast chicken from dinner, throw some of it into the lunch containers (or between two slices of bread) and you’ll be that much closer to a finished lunch in the morning. If you’re putting away soup or stew, stash a few single-portion jars in the freezer – that way, on a hectic bare-fridge morning, you’ll have emergency portions of healthy meals ready to heat, throw in a thermos, and go.
  • Make it when you need it least. Who wants to think about lunch-packing during the summer? Or on a Sunday? Or anytime when you’re not facing the daily pressure of hungry kids who need to be out the door at a certain time with some form of nourishment packed by you? Well, actually, I have a theory that the daily pressure of packing lunches is what wears us down, not the task itself. So think about lunches on Saturday night before you hit the couch to watch a movie and unwind with your spouse. Think about them on Sunday afternoon, when you’re calm and relaxed and don’t have an immediate chore that needs to be done. And think about them during school vacations, when you can stock up a little here…pop something into the freezer there….and slowly build up a sanity-saving stash that you can turn to when the actual rush of the school year hits. Doing a little (or a lot) of work when you’re not rushed and are in a positive frame of mind can get you set up for a much less stressful experience later on!

Need more intensive lunch-packing help? Get my downloadable e-guide, “Back to School the Organized Way,” offering 12 weeks of lunch menus, recipes, and a game plan for making and freezing 60 school lunches and 14 family dinners – all fully customizable for both vegetarian and gluten-free diets.

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Brianne DeRosa is a freelance writer who blogs at Red, Round, or Green. She’s also a regular contributor to HandPicked Nation and a team member for The Family Dinner Project, and was a featured contributor to the “Cooking with Trader Joe’s: Easy Lunchboxes” cookbook. Bri has packed approximately one skillion lunches, by her modest estimation.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 8,600 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, see my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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TLT’s Table: Three Savory Fruit Ideas for Kids

When the school food policy stuff starts getting really heavy around here, as it certainly has this week, I sometimes like to take a head-clearing break by sharing a recipe or a fun kid/food idea with you.

A while back, I told you how my veggie-averse son (he’s getting better, really!) used to spurn what I thought was a really kid-friendly dish (sweet potatoes mashed with orange zest, butter and brown sugar), but then he surprised me by digging into some burnt (and therefore very bitter) kale chips.  A reader of that post pointed out that my son might just prefer salty, bitter and sour flavors over sweet and so, armed with that advice, I’ve found that both of my kids often eat more fruit if I present it to them in savory or salty dishes.

One example is my attempt to re-create a side dish at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants, a place specifically devoted to Mexico City street food.  (Yeah, when you live in Houston, the Mexican food scene is so vast it can get that segmented!)  It was just a simple salad of orange slices, jicama and cucumber and sprinkled with lime juice, salt and chile powder.  My kids aren’t huge cucumber fans, so I left that out and just winged it.  It’s a nice change of pace from plain sliced oranges:

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More recently, I served this beautiful dish at a summer dinner party.  (Well, not this exact iteration — this photo is from Epicurious because my own photo somehow disappeared on my cell phone.)

Photo credit: Sang An / Epicurious
Photo credit: Sang An / Epicurious

It’s just cubed watermelon topped with crumbled, sharp feta and shreds of fresh basil. (Recipe here.) At the party I set aside a plate of plain sliced watermelon for kids, but my son (consistent with that TLT reader’s insight) preferred this “grown-up” version and I even wound up making another batch for him later in the week.

And another way I work fruit into savory dishes is via a recipe from the wonderful Katie Morford of Mom’s Kitchen Handbook.  I adore her book, Best Lunch Box Ever, and in it she suggests packing kids a sandwich filled with Gruyere cheese and apple slices and then pressed in a waffle iron.  My kids love that version, but sometimes I skip the waffle iron in favor of a traditional frying pan, and I always add some spicy arugula, which contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the apples.  (I’ve also subbed out thin slices of pear for the apple.)  Here’s a picture I took before the sandwich went into the pan:

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I typically serve these sandwiches with homemade soup and, honestly, my kids would eat this dinner every week if they could.

So, do you ever do the savory/salty fruit thing for your kids?  Share your thoughts — and recipe links! – in a comment below.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 8,600 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, see my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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A Mom Says, Just Leave the Snacks at Home!

A few months ago, I shared on Facebook and Twitter a terrific piece in Parents magazine about how today’s kids are being offered food more often than ever before.  Written by Real Mom Nutrition‘s Sally Kuzemchak, “The Snack Epidemic” reported that:

In the late 1970s, the average kid between the ages of 2 and 6 ate one snack a day between meals, but today kids typically eat almost three . . . .  Obesity experts now believe that the frequency of eating, not just bigger portion sizes, is also to blame for the uptick in calorie intake for kids and grown-ups alike.

Potato chipsI think these findings jibe with the observations of many parents.  Even those of us who get annoyed when our kids are offered junk food by others might admit to engaging in some “over-snacking” ourselves, such as always carrying around a packaged snack (healthy or otherwise) to ward off crankiness or boredom — but not necessarily hunger — when we’re out with our kids.

In light of all that, today I’m sharing this post by blogger Karen Perry, urging parents to take kids to the playground without bringing any snacks along at all!   Radical!  

While Perry believes kids need to work up a healthy appetite before meals, she’s really arguing for a return to a time when kids were less hovered over by parents generally.  (And given that thesis, it’s no surprise that I learned of Perry’s post via Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids, to whom I owe a hat tip.)

What do you think of all this, TLTers?  Do you agree that kids are “over-snacked,” even when the offerings are healthful ones?  Or do you think frequent eating is no big deal?  Let me know in a comment below.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 8,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, see my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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Gatorade Pulls Anti-Water Video, And How to Protest This Campaign

I want to update you on yesterday’s Lunch Tray post, in which I shared Nancy Huehnergarth’s excellent reporting on a Gatorade video game which was explicitly designed to teach kids that “water is the enemy” of athletic performance.

In that piece, Nancy linked to a video created by Gatorade’s media agency in which it explained the strategy behind the game (research showed that teen athletes believed water was adequately hydrating) and in which it crowed about how successful the game has been in countering that (entirely true) belief.

Nancy’s post garnered a lot of attention (I noted that the New York Times‘ Mark Bittman tweeted it this morning)  and, clearly feeling the heat, Gatorade pulled down the video yesterday.

Gatorade video sorry

Fortunately, Civil Eats, the outlet in which Nancy’s piece appeared, had at the ready a complete transcript of the video which now appears in the original post.

Meanwhile, Nancy has been asked how we, as consumers and parents, can express our concern over this particularly egregious, kid-targetted campaign.  She writes on Civil Eats:

My suggestion is to write your state attorney general and ask him/her to investigate Gatorade’s claim that Gatorade is superior to water and that water is the enemy of athletic performance. Here is a link that gives contact information for each of the U.S. state attorney generals: http://www.naag.org/current-attorneys-general.php –

I’ll keep you posted of any further developments.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 7,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join over 4,000 TLT followers on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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Cooking with Kids on Food Day!

Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 8.16.14 AMHappy Food Day, TLT’ers!

As most of you know, Food Day is an annual, nationwide celebration of healthy, sustainable and affordable food and a campaign for better food policies.  In the past we’ve celebrated Food Day on The Lunch Tray in a variety of ways, including some fun “virtual dinner parties” hosted with my fellow food bloggers.

But this year I’m especially excited because the 2013 Food Day focus is on teaching kids to cook.

As I’ve written about often here, teaching children basic cooking skills may well be the most important thing we can do to reverse current trends in childhood obesity and poor nutrition.  And in support of that goal, Food Day organizers are offering a range of free resources to help kids get cooking, including a downloadable Food Day Cookbook with easy recipes from celebrity chefs such as Rick Bayless, Mario Batali, Mark Bittman and Dan Barber.  There’s also a set of free Food Day Recipe Cards, a nutrition toolkit (available in English and Spanish), and more.

Most of my readers are already in the kitchen cooking with their kids, but I hope you enjoy these free recipes and resources and share them with others.  And speaking of cooking with kids, next week I’ll be hosting a reader giveaway of a new kids’ cookbook from one of my favorite magazines, ChopChop.  Stay tuned!

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 7,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 4,000 TLT followers on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Bettina Elias Siegel