The ABC's of back-to-school lunches

Dear Kitchen Shrink,

It's only the start of the school year and already I'm flunking School Lunches 101. The other day, I overheard my son tell his friends that his barf lunches are so bad even the dorky kids won't trade with him. I'd be grateful for any suggestions on preparing healthful, kid-friendly lunches that don't end up in the trash.

  • M. Haber

A: Buy a cool-looking lunchbox. Last year's SpongeBob is this year's Hannah Montana or Jonas Brothers. Toss inside an ice pack to keep cold things cold and a wet wipe so your kids can wash their hands and refresh their faces (yeah, right). Stock up on an array of lidded containers and design your own organic version of Lunchables. Have your kids be the sous chefs and fill the containers with their faves so long as you supervise.

B: Pack at least one fruit or veggie, and we're not talking fruit-flavored gummies or ketchup. Try something Crayola colorful such as wild blue yonder blueberries or brink pink watermelon balls. How about a newbie on the block such as crunchy Persian cucumbers, sugar snap peas, pluots or the ones they find "least gross"? Most kids love to season and dip, so include something sweet for the fruit such as organic yogurt, a natural probiotic that promotes intestinal health, and something savory for the veggies. Mine concoct a blend of sea salt, garlic, cayenne and chili powders that they put into a mini shaker and sprinkle on their carrots or whatever.

C: Also pack foods to fuel their engines such as beans or legumes loaded with fiber, protein, iron, magnesium and selenium. Avocados can be cleverly camouflaged as guacamole - a powerhouse of vitamin C, potassium and carotene for the eyes. Eggs, a great protein-vitamin B12 source, are all they're cracked up to be whether devilled, hard-boiled or made into a salad sandwich. Nut butters are a healthy and hearty protein. Since peanut butter is persona non grata in many schools, try almond, walnut or cocoa hazelnut butters loaded with fiber, vitamin E, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids.

To gain some brownie points, include a chunk of super antioxidant bittersweet chocolate, a slice of halvah loaded with heart-healthy sesame oil, wholesome oatmeal date cookies (recipe below) or banana bread cut in funky shapes. Williams-Sonoma has the coolest cookie cutters of sea critters, trains and planes, and the fashionista series with stilettos and sunglasses.

D: To wash it all down and keep them hydrated, a bottle of electrolyte H2O is your best bet. Or make your own designer waters by infusing them with splashes of juices, concentrates, extracts or a few drops of organic syrup.

E: So those young taste buds don't get bored, try some fun ethnic themes. On Mediterranean Mondays, do pita and hummus with a Greek salad; an Italian feast on Tuesdays with foccacia pizzas, a green salad and biscotti; and a Mexican fiesta of veggie quesadillas, guacamole and salsa on Wednesdays. Have a yen for Asian on Thursdays with a Chinese chicken salad, while on Yankee Doodle Fridays, pack an almond butter-and-jam sandwich with organic whole-grain bread or fake them out with white whole-wheat bread, carrot sticks and an apple bar.

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