Almost every parent knows the challenge of trying to create a lunch every day that kids will actually eat, instead of throwing or trading away.
As part of the "Go Back to School Early" series, chef and mom Domenica Catelli, author of the cookbook "Momalicious," shared on "The Early Show" Friday a few fun and innovative ways to make brown bag lunches tastier.
Catelli said getting the kids involved in planning their school lunch menu is a good idea, even if you give them just a few choices, such as oranges or apples, soup or sandwich.
"Don't leave it open-ended," Catelli said. "Know what they like. Also, if you bring them to the grocery store, have them pick something from the produce aisle first -- a veggie and fruit for their lunch."
But what if you have more than one child? How do you manage the week-long menu for multiple taste buds?
The key to picky multiple palates is to be prepared, according to Catelli. "There is nothing worse than having three different lunches to make in the morning rush."
However, Catelli has a remedy to avoid crazed mornings. She freezes sandwiches. If well sealed, she says, the sandwiches can be frozen a couple of months. She added you want to be careful of freezer burn.
Catelli said, "I make them for a week all on Sunday night. By lunchtime, the sandwich is thawed and serves as a cooler for the lunch."
Catelli's Tips for Packing Lunches:
Freeze your sandwiches. We save time during the week making sandwiches on Sunday for the next week and freezing them. This works with turkey and cheese, PB & J, or AB & J (almond butter and jelly). You can't freeze lettuce or tomato, so bring these on the side. Keep the sandwiches in a sealable plastic bag or wax paper bag. They will be thawed out by lunch and not in the least bit soggy. Get the kids to help and make an assembly line Sunday night, one can spread mayo, someone else stacks the turkey & cheese, someone to cut and bag. You can make with roast beef or chicken as well.
Pack non-squishy fruit! (brown bananas are always in the garbage). List of non-squishers: apple slices, grapes, frozen organic berries, orange slices, pineapple, these hold up and are delicious at lunch. Tip: don't peel the apples for more nutrition, and sqeeze a lemon over them to prevent browning. Sprinkle with sugar or honey to counter lemon taste.
Veggies and Dips. Some studies show that less than half of children are getting the recommended 5 servings of veggies a day. You've heard this tip before--kids need a dip with their veggies. You can make a hummus or a high-protein creamy yogurt dip that lasts at least a week. It is satisfying, easy to throw together and delicious....have kids pick their veggies (cucumber, baby tomato, celery, carrots, Romaine spears, bell peppers, jicama, etc.) if you can, have some of these choices growing in your garden--children are more invested in food that they've helped grow.
Think outside of the brown bag and bring the thermos back. When we were kids they were part of the lunch box, now you have to buy them separately. Thermoses are a huge time and money saver. When the weather turns cool nothing is quite as soothing as chicken noodle soup from home or a homemade version of the classic canned tomato soup.
All bread is not created equal. Check bread ingredients--careful of hidden sugars, high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. Get a bread that is low in sugar but high in iron for teens.
Homemade sodas--Get two recyclable sports bottles and alternate each day for ease. Can control the amount of sugar, avoid high fructose corn syrup, good for the environment, and cheaper. Can do a visual of teaspoons of sugar in a glass of water to show how much sugar in a soda- almost 10 teaspoons of sugar in a can of Coke (comes out to about a 1/4 cup).
***As important as it is to consider what to put in a lunch is what to make sure you do not put in a packed lunch. Some lunch pantry no-nos--what to have and what not to have in the pantry. Avoid: dyes, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, fake sugars, and prepackaged lunches high in preservatives and sodium.
Catelli's Tips by Age Group:
Ages 6-10--Kids in this age bracket are absorbing nutrients like crazy. From www.drgreene.com: Due to their smaller, fast-growing speedy metabolisms, and less varied diets, infants and children are more vulnerable to health and developmental damage. Give them an organic option in their lunchbox each day--to make it affordable, go with an in-store named brand--have many options now in grocery stores. And, no need to hide the ingredients--establish their healthy ways now. Have fun--add a handwritten note, joke or picture in your child's lunchbox.
Ages11-16--Adolescents are harder to change; set in their ways and there is peer pressure. Growth and physical changes are so high during this period---high nutrient foods are needed--especially calcium and iron. Avoid diet colas, etc. junk foods high in salt--have to make your food taste good. Iron deficiency linked to lowered school performance--pack lunch foods high in iron: whole grain bread, beans, green leafy vegetables, nuts and dried fruit. By no means should you put a handwritten note, joke or picture in their lunchbox!
Recipes for Frozen Sandwiches:
Chiara's Favorite Sandwich
This is a simple but delicious sandwich and my daughter Chiara's favorite. You can also take straight from the freezer to the toaster oven and enjoy this sandwich warm as well.
2 Slices sourdough bread
1-2 slices nitrate-free or imported proscuitto
1-2 tablespoons soft cheese such as brie or goat cheese
Spread a layer of cheese on both sides of the bread
Top with proscuitto.
Enjoy or freeze.
Sun Dried Tomato Pesto, Havarti and Turkey on Multigrain Bread
2 slices seeded multigrain bread
Slice of havarti cheese
1/2 tablespoon sun dried tomato pesto (see recipe below)
2 slices of nitrate free turkey
Spread the pesto on one side of the bread, top with cheese and turkey.
Freeze and enjoy.
Sundried Tomato Pesto
2 cups sun-dried tomatoes rehydrated in hot water then drained
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup - 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup (packed) fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, crushed under a knife and peeled
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Process all the ingredients and half of the olive oil in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Slowly pour in the remaining oil as the pesto is processing. Blend until the mixture forms a coarse paste; add more oil if you desire a thinner paste.
For more recipes for your thermos and for dips, go to Page 2.
Protein-packed Tomato-Basil Soup
This delicious, protein-packed soup will leave you warm and satisfied. Don't let the creamy color fool you. This is a vegan soup! This is a great to take to the office or send with the kids for lunch on a cold day.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon red pepper chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 medium onion, chopped into small pieces
1 tablespoon chopped fresh garlic
2 handfuls of fresh basil leaves, one handful chopped
2 28 oz cans of organic tomatoes
1 cup of water
1 lb. of soft organic tofu
Heat olive oil in large sauté pan over medium heat. Add chili pepper flakes and chopped onion. Sauté for 5 minutes until onions are soft, but not brown.
Add garlic and one handful of chopped basil and sauté for two minutes.
Add tomatoes, salt, and water; simmer for 10-15 minutes.
Add tofu, crumbling into sauce, heat thoroughly for 5 minutes.
Use immersion blender, or pour sauce into a standard blender (make sure to keep crack in lid, to relieve pressure. Careful not to blend when liquid is too hot). Add a handful of fresh basil. Thoroughly blend and serve immediately. Serve with toasted bread.
Dips for Veggies:
Creamy Dill Dipping Sauce
If you love ranch dressing, this is a much healthier veggie dip, packed with probiotics. It is also a great salad dressing.
1/3 cup plain kefir (can substitute plain yogurt)
1/3 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons dill (dried) or 1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
2 teaspoons granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1-2 cups of red bell pepper, celery, carrots or broccoli, cut for dipping
Place sour cream and kefir in a medium size bowl and whisk in remaining ingredients.
Stir until well blended.
Serve with cut up veggies and enjoy!
Keeps in refrigerator for up to a week.
1 can chickpeas, drained
1/4 cup of lemon juice
1 tablespoon tahini
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/3 -1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
Place all ingredients in food processor except extra virgin olive oil and pulse.
Pour olive oil through top of processor or blender while it is on high.
Blend until smooth…or if you want your hummus to have more texture, stop pureeing when there are tiny pieces of bean still visible.
Homemade 'Sodas' or Fruit Juice Spritzer
When you want to reach for the soda take a minute to try this tasty, healthy and refreshing drink instead.
1/2 cup sparkling water
1 cup lychee juice or favorite juice (pomegranate, apricot and cherry are good choices)
Mint sprig, lemon slices, or frozen berries
Combine all the ingredients in a small pitcher and finish with mint, lemon or berries. Add to child's sports bottle for a lunchtime treat.