September signals the start of the school year and always seems to trigger the feeling that a fresh year begins the Tuesday after Labor Day. Along with an astounding number of school supplies, we’ll be packing lunches that help brain activity.
My girls buy once a week for variety and because they like the big salads (very happy about school salads, by the way), but mostly we try to create nourishing meals they can take. I also pack my lunch because, even though I work in the same building as a lovely whole foods café, I only allow myself to buy about two days a week to better control fat intake and spending.
You’ve read about adventures in cooking with my family—Arden, the vegetarian; Peter; the meat eater; Olivia, who needs lean protein for sports; and my own natural “foodie” exploits—but these days many families have diverse dietary preferences. Most of us are looking for ways to get more fiber, produce, and clean, body-restoring protein while reducing saturated fats in our diets, but it’s especially vital that our kids have the right fuel. Their food intake has to be on target, or we are literally crippling their bodies since the risks for debilitating diseases increase sharply in children and adolescents who are poorly fed.
Today my lunch box contained organic arugula, mixed baby greens, cucumbers, and organic sun gold cherry tomatoes, tossed with candied pecans, strawberries, red onion, and goat cheese crumbles and a red wine vinegar and flax oil vinaigrette. (Yeah, now, you want me to pack your lunch, too.) This is also great with blueberries instead of strawberries and feta subbed for the goat cheese, but in my life goat cheese rules. Then I pack fruit and maybe cinnamon flax crackers to satisfy the inevitable sweets craving.
Yesterday I had the Heritage Cafe’s tuna, which I love because it’s got naturally brined pickle chips and red onion in it. I also chose the wasabi broccoli slaw. another all-time favorite. Sandwiches or salads allow us to pack every food group into a meal. Here are some ideas:
• Whole grain pitas and thin flatbreads are great for stuffing with spicy falafel, spinach potato cakes, hummus, black beans, and so on because they can hold lots of complementary vegetables.
• Or grab a sprouted wheat tortilla and wrap up some olives, avocado, and sprouts, or vegetarian luncheon meat with mustard and provolone.
• Arden enjoys fresh mozzarella, basil, lettuce, and pesto.
• Olivia prefers cream cheese with herbs, turkey, mozzarella and lettuce.
• We enjoy paninis and quesadillas on our mini electric grill with artisan breads, cheese, and choice of meat or vegetables.
Disposable dip containers (saved from take-out meals) with crudités are another great choice. Puree each of the following in the food processor or mash them up chunky style and divide into dip containers. These will stay fresh in the refrigerator for 3-5 days. They can be slathered into wraps or pitas, too.
• Mash up chickpeas, olive oil, and fresh lemon juice, a dash of salt and maybe curry powder or cumin. Accompany with two top antioxidant veggies: red bell pepper and broccoli.
• Try black beans, roasted garlic, cumin, and salsa pureed and accompanied by carrots and baked tortilla chips.
• Or a pesto dip made with 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, one clove garlic, juice from 1/2 lemon, two tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese, two tablespoons olive oil, a teaspoon fresh-cracked black pepper, and 1/2 cup firm tofu mixed with 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt.
The bulk food section can also yield bountiful snacks. Hazelnuts, tamari almonds, roasted soybeans, wasabi peas, sesame sticks, walnuts, cranberries, cherries, malted chocolate chips, dried mango, yogurt covered raisins—blend your pick and divide into 1 or 2 ounce portions in snack bags ready to grab for soccer game, dance class, or gym workout.
The key is to involve your family in the planning, shopping, and preparation. Have each person make a list of favorites, post the list on the fridge, purchase the ingredients together at the farmer’s market and natural grocery, and prepare the dishes together or assign each family member a dish. For example, my husband is usually at the grill as he is the primary meat eater, Arden does salads and spreads and pastas, and Olivia prepares vegetables, homemade fish sticks, and paninis. By revolving meals each day, everyone gets what he or she wants, and we all have variety. Many hands do make a lighter load, and despite our hectic schedules at least we are together making nourishment for each other.
Chipotle Ranch Broccoli Slaw with Tortilla Strips
This is the bomb at lunchtime!
1 bag broccoli slaw
1/3 cup red onion, finely diced
1 cup Green Mountain Tortilla Strips
1 chipotle with 1 tbsp. sauce
1/4 cup lowfat ranch
1/4 cup lowfat Greek yogurt
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. Hain’s iodized sea salt
Chop whole chipotle and whisk with dressing ingredients. Combine onion, slaw, and dressing. Right before serving, break up chips and toss in. Even though the chips eventually get soggy, it’s still delicious two days later!
Heritage Café’s Cranberry Tuna Salad
2 cans light tuna, drained
4 scallions, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
½ cup fruit juice-sweetened dried cranberries
½ cup veganaise
¼ cup Dijon style mustard
2 tsp. lemon juice
Ezekiel Sprouted Wheat pitas
Combine all ingredients and stuff into whole grain pita pockets halves with mixed greens, shredded carrot, and other veggies for a nutritious lunch!
Anya Wolfenden, M.A, is director of communications for The Heritage Store: Health Foods, Books & Gifts, Cafe, & Holistic Center,, 314 Laskin Road, Virginia Beach, 757-428-0500, www.heritagestore.com