Lunch Box Inspiration

I often have parents asking for easy, fun ideas for lunch boxes. With the first day of school just around the corner, I thought it would be a good idea to do an entry on back to school lunch ideas.

Children have little bellies, it’s important that the foods that they eat be nutrient packed so they aren’t filling up on empty calories. Make each bite count by providing your child with a balanced mix of protein, healthy fat and fiber (carbohydrate).

Key Lunchbox Proteins:
— Roasted, grilled or baked chicken
– Legumes
– Eggs
– Quinoa, Teff
– Cottage Cheese
– Plain Greek Yogurt
– Hummus
– Nut Butters (Almond, Cashew, Peanut)

Key Lunchbox Healthy Fats:
– Avocado
– Nuts
– Olives
– Chia

Key Lunchbox Fiber:
– Whole Grain Bread
– Quinoa, Millet, Bulgur, Barley
– Fresh Fruit, Vegetables
– Popcorn, Whole Wheat Pretzels
– Bean Dip

Ideas for the Main Event:
– Mexican Sushi
– Whole Grain Flaxseed Waffle with Nut Butter or Soft Cheese Spread (maple syrup or jam on side)
– Mini Veggie Packed Quiches
– Bean & veggie quesadilla
– Hummus & Pepper Sandwich
– Roasted Chicken/turkey Sandwich
– Roasted Chicken/turkey Salad
– Quinoa Vegetable Salad
– Lentil Burgers
– Turkey Meatball Pepper Boats
– Cottage Cheese “Salad” (mix cut up veggies into this protein packed, calcium rich curd)
– Hard Boiled Egg or Egg Salad
– Homemade Chicken Fingers on a Stick with Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce
– Kale Fritters with Sour Cream, Applesauce or Yogurt Dipping Sauce

Ideas for Sides:
– Fresh Cut Fruit (Apples, Grapes, Strawberries, Blueberries)
– Finger Friendly Veggie Sticks (Snap Peas, Carrots, Peppers, Grape Tomatoes, Cucumbers)
– Baked Sweet Potato or Zucchini Wedges
– Chia Seed Pudding

Consider:
– Fruit makes a great treat! Dried fruit like figs, dates and apricots are sweet, nutritious and delicious.
– Using stainless steel bento boxes that are all over the place these days. The little compartments help ensure that all nutrients have been accounted for. Use one compartment to first pack your protein and build the lunch from there. Older children might enjoy making their own sandwiches! For example, place the protein in one compartment, and the healthy fat or carb in another. This will also keep the bread from getting too moist.
– Using cookie cutters to make sandwiches more fun! Stars, fish, hearts, triangles or circles make great little shapes for little hands.
– Putting sides in muffin tins! These colorful little cups make great containers for the inside of a bento box without a divider.

Wondering where all the recipe links are?? Stay Tuned! Or, feel free to comment on how you might go about making the recipes! I would love to learn different techniques

Creating a Healthy “Go-Gurt”

This post was inspired by a comment from my previous post on Creating a Healthy Breakfast Cereal.  Today I successfully created my own version of Yoplait’s convenience yogurt: the “Go-Gurt”.  Other companies have other names for this yogurt that is in a squeezable pouch and is fun for kids, but I think most of us are familiar with this particular food item.  Whenever I hear the coined term “Go-Gurt”, I am reminded of Ellen Degeneres’s stand up act on “Go- Gurt”.  In this segment, she is talking about what a fast paced society we have become and how we need “Go-Gurt” now to be able to keep up! I got the biggest kick out of it.  Anyway, when I looked at the ingredients/ nutrition facts label of the “Go-Gurt” this is what I found:

The pouches come in 2.25oz servings and quite the variety of flavors!

One 2.25oz serving contains: 10g of sugar and the ingredients are listed as followed, by weight: Cultured Pasteurized Grade A Low Fat Milk, Sugar, Modified Corn Starch, Kosher Gelatin, Tricalcium Phosphate, Citric Acid, Natural And Artificial Flavor, Potassium Sorbate Added To Maintain Freshness, Carrageenan, Yellow # 5, Blue # 1, Vitamin A Acetate, Vitamin D3. Chill-Out Cherry
Cultured Pasteurized Grade A Low Fat Milk, Sugar, Modified Corn Starch, Kosher Gelatin, Tricalcium Phosphate, Potassium Sorbate Added To Maintain Freshness, Carrageenan, Natural And Artificial Flavor, Red # 40, Vitamin A Acetate, Blue # 1, Vitamin D3

Just to compare, Stonyfield Farms makes a similar product “Sqeezers”.  Their “squeezers” are contained in about 2 oz packets with 9g of sugar, and each “Chillin Cherry” yogurt contains:

Chillin Cherry: Cultured Pasteurized Organic Reduced Fat Milk, Naturally Milled Organic Sugar, Organic Tapioca Starch, Organic Cherry Juice From Concentrate, Natural Flavor Organic Carob Bean Gum, Pectin, Carrageenan, Organic Beet Juice Concentrate (For Color), Vitamin D3, Contains Our Exclusive Blend Of Six Live Active Cultures Including L Acidophilus, Bifidus, L Casei And L Rhamnosus. .

Of the 2, I would definitely consider the Stonyfield Farms the healthier one.

But, like I mentioned, I was able to re-create this yogurt successfully today.  It took me less then 10 minutes and I had ingredients left over.  Here is what you need:

-Blender

– 4, 4.5oz Re-usable pouches (there are a few different brands, they can be purchased on diapers.com or amazon see my note below for the links)

– 2 Cups Plain Yogurt

– 1.5 Cups of Berries (Frozen or Fresh) or fruit of your choosing

– 1 TBS of Honey

-1 Tsp of Chia Seeds

– **Optional (I added to help thicken but the one I tried without this worked out fine too) 1/2cup ground oatmeal

1. If using the oatmeal, put the 1/2 cup oatmeal in the blender first to process to a fine powder.  Using oatmeal will increase the fiber content.  If not- skip right to the next step

2. Add all ingredients to the blender and blend until smooth.

3.  Pour into a measuring cup- should be about 2 1/2 cups.

4.  Put tops on re-usable pouches (I forgot to do this at first, whoops!) and pour the mixture into the pouches.  Seal the bottom of the pouches.  Store in the fridge and provide as a healthy snack.

Cost breakdown:

Squooshie brand re-usable pouches= 4/ $19.00

16oz Plain Organic Low-Fat Yogurt $2.56

1.5cups of Berries ~$2.00

1 TBS Honey = $ 0.28

1 Tsp of Chia Seeds = $0.12

Estimated total Cost per 4.5 oz pouch =$1.24 (I subtracted the initial cost of the Squooshie because they are re-usable) = $0.27/ ounce

Estimated total Cost per 2.5 oz pouch of Yoplait’s “Go-Gurt” $3.29 for 8 pack = $.41/ 2.5 ounce pouch = $.16/ ounce (price based on Fresh Direct website)

So for only $0.11 more per ounce, you can really increase your nutritional benefits.

** WIth this recipe, you could easily omit the honey and chia, I just added those for added flavor and nutritional benefit.  Although the honey will increase the sugar content, it is a natural sweetener with nutritional benefits.  Honey has been known to be a natural anti-biotic and has powerful anti-oxidants. It also contains in small quantities: Manganese, iron, B2 and B6. I’ll have to talk about how amazing honey is in another post… stay tuned.  However, if you are making this for a kiddo under the age of 1, PLEASE DO NOT ADD HONEY!!!

So, you can understand the distribution of ingredients and you know exactly what each one is listed by weight with brief description of added nutritional benefits we have: Plain Yogurt with live active cultures (probiotic, calcium), Berries (Fiber, antioxidants, Vitamin C), Honey (mentioned above), Chia (Omega 3 fatty acid, fiber), oatmeal if you used (fiber and acts as a thickener).

Another HUGE plus to the “Squooshies” is that they are re-usable, so you can be “green” =), be sure to hang on to the caps and seal the bottom of the pouch after you’ve poured the mixture in!!

Squooshies or other re-usable pouch links:

http://www.diapers.com/buy?s=squooshies

http://www.amazon.com/Little-Green-Pouch-4-pack/dp/B00AM5NTIS/ref=pd_bxgy_ba_img_z

Enjoy!!

 

 

 

Creating a Healthy Breakfast Cereal

Often times you hear “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”.  I am a firm believer that this tagline is true.  Breakfast is the meal that our body wakes up to.  It kick starts our metabolism and sets the tone for our eating habits throughout the day.  Some of the breakfast options out there on the shelves these days are so discouraging to see as a dietitian.  Cinnamon Toast Crunch? Trix? Coco Puffs?  Go-Gurt? All of these claiming to have some sort of nutritional benefit.  When you look at the labels, “sugar” is in the top two ingredients in all of these.  Remember that ingredients are listed by weight.  The first ingredient is the predominant ingredient in the food item.  When purchasing these foods, I cannot stress the importance of reading the nutrition labels enough.  I am a firm believer that we are what we eat.  Sugar has absolutely NO nutritional value, none whatsoever.

Cereal can be a simple, convenient way to start your day off right.  But it’s so easy to buy the wrong kind.  A good breakfast cereal should abide by the rule of 4’s:

  • Contain as few ingredients as possible AND you should know what all of these ingredients are
  • Contain 4g of sugar or less (preferably none!)
  • Contain at least 4g of fiber or more- top  off with fresh fruit and ground chia or flax to increase the fiber content
  • Contain at least 4g of protein- top off with ground chia or flax to increase protein content

One thing I like to do to pump up my breakfast cereal is to add a small amount (2TBS) of another high protein and fiber cereal blend.  By adding a blend of Chia, Buckwheat and Hemp to your regular cereal, you are not only bumping up the fiber and protein content, but you are adding an additional nutritional boost of Omega 3 fatty acids and iron.  You can find cereal blends like these through online vendors (such as Amazon), health food stores such as Whole Foods or the Natural/Organic section of larger supermarkets or simply create your own.  Although the blends are great and will add an additional nutritious, flavorful crunch- plain Chia or ground flax seed is also an excellent addition for a breakfast cereal to boost protein, fiber and healthy fat content. Another alternative is to add a handful of unsalted nuts to your cereal.  Ground Almonds or crushed walnuts will also add more fiber, protein, healthy fats and vitamins and minerals.  Remember to look at your serving sizes! The serving size for most breakfast cereals is usually around ¾ cup, but they all vary.  Try adding any of these recommended nutritional powerhouses to plain, yogurt instead of milk for an additional nutritious enhancement of protein and healthy, gut friendly bacteria.  Top this breakfast off with some sliced fresh fruit and you will be starting your day off on the right foot! Enjoy!!