School has started in many places, but it’s never too late to rethink what we’re packing in our kids’ lunches.
While nutrition is my first priority when it comes to choosing what to eat, I’m all about reducing the barriers that keep people from eating healthfully. I do that by making food that is affordable and convenient (aka quick and easy) to make.
When cooking for kids, sometimes it’s important to consider a third criteria: food has to look fun and colorful!
I can hear the eyes of every parent reading this roll.
Stay with me!
Kids also love finger foods and being involved in putting them together. Before I go any farther, I want to make three things clear. Although I’m not a mother yet:
- I’m not recommending that kids play with their food.
- I believe in raising kids to be flexible and adaptable while being free thinkers.
- What I’m about to show you IS NOT A KIDS’ BENTO BOX! (Google it. I dare you.)
Soapbox moment: I’m not a fan of these or other Pinterest creations, despite being an overt perfectionist. I don’t like what they do to the covert perfectionists out there. Instead of finding enjoyment in crafts that bring their kids joy, covert perfectionists approach such things with a tremendous amount of pressure all in the name of competing for their kids [and sometimes other parents’] praise, which ends in extreme guilt. After all of that work and stress, this type of perfectionist is left feeling like their kid’s jumbled-up Bento Box.
*Steps down from soap box*
Back to my point about kids loving finger foods…
Food for kids must be fun and colorful for this reason: While at school, kids are left to their own devices to eat what they’re going to eat at lunchtime. If they don’t eat their lunch, then they don’t get proper nourishment. This not only impacts their physical health but also their mental health – their ability to learn.
When I was a kid, one particular lunchtime favorite captured hearts through its affordability and convenience: Lunchables. However, they were a public health nightmare for their poor nutrition profile, which includes saturated fat, processed meat, excess sodium and the laundry list goes on.
Somehow we survived, but I don’t want to settle for that for my own kids – in more ways than just health-wise! While I’m going to be a working mom someday, I want to take the time to show my kids that they’re worth my extra effort with putting together a thoughtful meal (within reason, of course). Here’s an example of one that hits all of the marks: affordable, convenient and fun/colorful! It’s a win-win!
Mini English Muffin Pizzas
- 1 toasted open-faced whole wheat or multi-grain English Muffin
I eat light multi-grain.
- ½ cup homemade pasta sauce
There are a lot of quick and easy recipes out there. If you must use store-bought sauce, watch out for sodium and sugar. The recommended daily allotment for sodium for most children is about 1,500 milligrams. The recommended daily allotment for sugar for children ages 1-4 is no more than 25 grams, and the recommended daily allotment for children and adults age 4 and older is no more than 50 grams. A serving of red sauces is typically ½ cup, but always check that first when comparing labels.
- 2 Tbsp. part-skim reduced-fat mozzarella cheese
Additional toppings (optional):
- 2 pinches of bell pepper, diced
- 2 pinches of mushrooms, diced
- 2 Tbsp. lean ground turkey (93 percent lean/7 percent fat), cooked, one on each half
- 2 Tbsp. reduced-sodium/nitrate-free ham, diced
- Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a small baking sheet with aluminum foil, and spray it with oil. Slice the English Muffin in half, and place it crust side down on the baking sheet. Bake or toast until toasted (about 10 minutes). Remove from oven and allow to cool. Once cooled, place in container.
- Package the sauce, cheese and additional toppings separately, and the rest is up to your child!