Better Lunch Box ideas from Chef Kelli

Ninety percent of what we eat and serve our children food should come from one-word foods, like strawberries, celery, broccoli, tomatoes, asparagus, eggs, chicken, beef, vegetables, rice, potatoes, etc. Even foods that use to be real food such as yogurt are now being corrupted with dyes, artificial sweeteners. 

For a better lunch box revolution to succeed, we have to get our kids in the zone of eating real food vs. the; box, bag, pouches and cartons that make claims of nutrition but leave our children tired, poor learners, often over weight and Type 2 diabetic.

We have to think of food as fuel, and why would we want to put bad fuel (i.e.; white sugar, flour, high fructose corn syrup, manufactured foods) with very little to no nutritional value. 

The Dos and Don'ts

- Avoid plastic containers and vinyl lunch bags
- Look for materials such as stainless steel, silicone, or plastic labeled FREE of; PVC, BPA and phthalate's
- Choose reusable snack bags
- Avoid foods with additives such as; artificial dyes & flavors, refined sugars and processed foods available prepackaged
- Look for REAL, WHOLE and Fresh ingredients 

What to Pack in a Good Lunch

Colorful Veggies: You want an appealing salad bar so kids will take what's offered, the brighter the veggies, the more nutritious. Try some of the baby organic carrots, celery with sun, peanut or almond butter.  Cucumbers cream cheese sandwiches or just with homemade or better yet just cucumbers.  Add spinach and other greens whenever possible in sandwiches, casseroles, soups etc.

Whole Grains: The fiber in real whole grain and brown rice breads or even the sprouted grain tortillas are a lunch box home run. Don't be afraid to include cold brown rice for a salad or side, kids and people in general have a preconceived idea that certain food has to hot and other cold, pack your kids favorite sides cold for lunch. Cold meat balls in a lunch with some crunchy veggies and a side of fruit!

Good Fat: From real food sources vs. manufactured foods! Homemade dressing rich in olive oil vs. the msg, proceeded veggie oil and high fructose syrup you will find in many off the self-dressings.

New Foods: Don't forget to expose your kids (and yourself) to the bounty around us here in Michigan. Regularly incorporate unfamiliar vegetables like butternut squash, pea pods, and bean sprouts as well as ethnic dishes. Variety is vital to good nutrition, so increasing kids' food knowledge. The more food choices they have, the more they'll try.  Don't let your kid be the chicken-nugget-or-bust kid.

6 Tips for Prepping Ahead
(Compliments of our friends at Whole Foods Market)

I realize that it will likely take us much longer to make lunch together than it would if I did it by myself. I'll need to be close at hand making sure she's packing the essentials (protein, fruit, veggies, whole grain, etc.) and to take over any sharp knife or stove activities. But the future payoff is so big, so it's worth it to me. Here is some advice I've received. 

1. Take the kids shopping. Give them choices in the produce section for the upcoming week's lunches. Shop the bulk bins and have them pick out the type of dried fruit, trail mix or grains they want to try. They just might surprise you!
2. Have the right containers for the job. Many kids like storing their lunch in multiple containers. Imagine grapes in one container, cheese cubes in another, carrot coins and cherry tomatoes in yet another, and hummus and pita triangles on the side. The next day it will be a different combination.
3. Prep extra staple ingredients while making dinner. Make another chicken breast for shredding, slice more bell peppers, or cook another cup of rice or greens for your child to incorporate into lunches.
4. Avoid the morning rush hour. After dinner, start an assembly line on the dining room table, which may be easier for smaller kids to work on than counter tops.
5. Don't fear the food processor! Little fingers are perfect for pressing the buttons. Have them help chop and shred veggies for salsas, dips and spreads.
6. Do the dip. Have your child package up single servings of salsa, dip or hummus and grab veggies, crackers or pita chips for dippers.

Sample Recipes

Kid Club Kebobs
4 thick slices whole grain bread, toasted and cut into (1-inch) cubes
4 slices deli ham
4 slices deli turkey
16 cherry tomatoes
4 leaves butter or romaine lettuce
1/4 pound cheddar, cut into cubes
1/4 pound provolone or mozzarella, cut into cubes
2 kosher dill or sweet pickles, thickly sliced

Method: Alternating ingredients thread bread, ham, turkey, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese and pickles onto skewers and serve.

Nutritional Info: Per Serving:370 calories (180 from fat), 19g total fat, 12g saturated fat, 80mg cholesterol,1110mg sodium, 17g carbohydrate (3g dietary fiber, 4g sugar), 31g protein

Forget-the-Bread rollups

Salami & cheese with mustard rolled in a piece of lettuce
Ham rolled with hardboiled egg, mayo in lettuce
Almond butter with organic jelly and slivered almonds
Pizza roll up; sauce, mozzarella & pineapple, salami or ham
Almond Butter & Jam on rice cake
Tuna Salad with avocado and yogurt stuffed in a tomato
Organic cream cheese and cucumbers
Cheddar or mozzarella cheese with apple slices
Meatloaf with a smear of ketchup
Lunch meat and cheese wrap with organic ranch 
Yogurt parfait
Veggies with dip
Nut butter and raisins on celery stix
Hand fruit
Cut fruit
Side salads
Chips and salsa
Hard-boiled egg
Chicken salad or tuna salad with crackers
String cheese
Apples and nut butter
Fun dips & Chips
Sausage bites with cheese

2 U Parmesan Chicken Finger (gluten free)                     
yield 1 dz

3 free range eggs & 3 TB water~ mixed well
½ cup brown rice flour
12~ 2 oz pieces of raw sliced free range or organic chicken breast or tenders (you will usually get 3 strips from an average free range chicken breast)

Mix below ingredients together:
1/3 cup organic grated parmesan cheese
¾ cup organic cornmeal white or yellow
1/4 cup brown rice flour
Season with sea salt and pepper

1. Season raw chicken with sea salt and pepper
2. Lightly toss with brown rice flour
3. Then dip completely in egg mixture
4. Press firmly into breading mixture
5. Lay flat on cookie sheet tray and temper in freezer for about an hour.  Pan fry
6. In oil of your choice until golden and cooked through or brush with oil of your choice and bake in oven 

Southwest Meatballs Muffins                       
Yield 18 ish
(Great Cold in the better lunch box!)

1 1/2 pounds lean grass fed ground beef
I cup cooked brown rice (or ½ cup = 2 Tb oatmeal soaked in eggs)
3 cage free eggs
¼ cup mild salsa
1/4 cup diced onion (optional)
1  1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon onion powder 
1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
¼ cup organic or mild salsa

1. Mix the ground beef, rice, chopped onion, salt, eggs,  and spices
2. Shape the mixture into giant meatballs into muffins cups
3. brush with tomato product and bake in muffin cups for 12-18 minutes until baked through
4. Shelf life up to 5 days in fridge or make extra and freeze raw of baked for future lunch making!

More Better Box Lunch Ideas

- Mexican Layered Lunch-refried black beans, salsa, taco meat or shredded chicken, lettuce, sour cream, tomato, onion, cheese with organic corn chips and a piece of fruit for dessert cold in lap top lunch box
- Chicken Quinoa salad with cucumber slices, organic cookie and fresh melon or strawberries-served cold in lap top
- Celery sticks with nut butter dip, organic cheese sandwich triangles and grapes-served cold in lap top
- Leftover meat and potato bowl served hot in a thermos.  Layer potatoes, vegetable and meat serve with side salad and vinaigrette and grapes
- Meatball muffins with carrots, celery and apples slices and peanut butter for dipping-served cold in lap top lunch box
- REAL chicken tenders, carrots, celery and ranch with a piece of fruit or cookie for dessert
- Teriyaki chicken kebob with peanut noodles, mandarin oranges
- Mini fresh mozzarella balls with grape tomatoes and pesto vinaigrette served with walnuts and grapes

Sandwich & Fillings

Try some of these sandwich fillings with a variety of; breads, veggies, wheat pocket bread, on whole-grain bread, bagels, crackers, English muffins, rice cakes, tortillas and flatbreads.
- Mini organic waffles with peanut butter and apple
- Grilled cheese on multigrain, cut into shapes is always fun too!
- Leftover grilled vegetables (bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, eggplant, zucchini) with a smear of marinara
- Cheddar or mozzarella cheese with apple slices
- Sliced leftover chicken or turkey, cranberry sauce, and lettuce
- Sliced leftover chicken or turkey, honey mustard, tomatoes, and lettuce
- Sliced leftover beef with mayonnaise or horseradish, sliced tomato and cucumbers
- Quesadilla of any flavor

Plan Overs (aka leftovers)

If you're making a salad for dinner, slice some extra vegetables, such as cucumbers, carrots, bell peppers, and celery, or make an extra undressed salad directly inside your bento box. (Make extra salad dressing and pour it into your dip container.)

- While you're making dinner, boil a few eggs. Pack the eggs whole, make deviled eggs, or use them in egg salad.
- Make extra pasta, couscous, or rice and prepare side salads for lunch by cutting up vegetables and adding salad dressing.
- Grill extra vegetables and use them in sandwiches.
- Make an extra baked potato and pack it with nutritious toppings.
- If you're concerned that eating the same meal two days in a row might lead to boredom, consider packing it for lunch two days later. (Of course you'll need to make sure that the food you've chosen will remain fresh for an extra day.)