September typically marks the back to school time. One thing I remember well, was not wanting to bring my lunch from home as it was always bologna sandwiches, chips, and a drink. What I am attempting to do here is give you some suggestions to alternative ideas for your childrens school lunches. Lunch ideas that are not only nutritionally balanced, but also fun. Something that your children will look foreward to taking to school everyday. Now this is a bit of a challange for me as I do not have children of my own, but at the same time somewhat easy because well all this sounds much more exciting than the typical lunch I ate everyday. Included in this feature are a couple links to Nutritional Information, loads of recipes, tips for making healthy lunches and tips on how to make the lunches you provide for your children to be safe lunches.

School lunch can be one of the biggest challenges of the school year. One of the surest ways to please the kids and meet the basic dietary guidelines is to make them part of the planning and shopping.

Here are a couple links to help with the nutrition information:
Dietary Guidelines for children ages 2-11
Nutrition and your child newsletter

A nutritious lunch doesn't have to revolve around a traditional sandwich; consider different wrappings for the fillings, meat and cheese kabobs, or a macaroni salad. Salsa and chips, or veggie sticks with dip are sure to please most kids. Below are a few lunch and snack recipe ideas.
Recipe list: (Click on the recipe name to be taken to the recipe)
Chewy Microwave Granola Bars
Chicken Spread
Easy No-Cook Salsa
Egg Spreads
Ginger-Oatmeal Cookies
Peanut Butter Crispy Rice Bars
Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich
Chicken Tortilla Roll-ups
A Hola Granola
Turkey Wraps
Apple Crispies
Popnut Puffs
Blueberry Muffins
Low-Fat Tortilla Chips
Brownie Bites
Tiny Bear Cookies
Tips For Making Lunches

Chewy Microwave Granola Bars

1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups quick-cook rolled oats
1 1/4 cups crispy rice cereal
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup chocolate chips or raisins
1/3 cup wheat germ

Grease a microwave baking dish about 12- X 8-inches. In large bowl, cream sugars with margarine until fluffy. Add honey vanilla and egg; mix well. Gradually blend in flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt, beating at low speed. Fold in remaining ingredients by hand; press firmly in prepared baking dish.
Microwave on MEDIUM (50%) for 7 to 9 minutes or until set. Rotate dish 1/2 turn every 3 minutes (bars will firm as they cool). Cool and cut into bars.
Makes about 24.

Chicken Spread

1 1/2 cups minced cooked chicken
1/4 cup mayonnaise
salt and pepper, to taste
seasoning (cayenne, garlic, onion powder), as desired

Other additions:

1/2 cup minced celery and 1 tablespoon minced onion.
1/2 cup minced ham and 1 teaspoon prepared mustard.
1/2 cup crisp crumbled bacon.
1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds and 1 teaspoon curry powder.
1/2 cup chopped water chestnuts and 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce.
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley and 1 teaspoon minced onion.
3 tablespoon minced celery and 1 teaspoon dried tarragon (or 1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon).

Easy No-Cook Salsa

2 cans chunky diced tomatoes, (14 oz each)
1 can (4oz) diced green chiles
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Drain tomatoes, reserving only 1/3 cup of the juice. Combine tomatoes and juice with remaining ingredients; cover and chill at least 4 hours. Serve with tortilla chips.
Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

Egg Spreads

4 hard-boiled egg, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons mayonnaise

Combine with one of these:

1/4 cup minced celery, 2 tablespoons minced onion, and 2 tablespoons chili sauce.
1/4 cup cooked chopped chicken and 1 teaspoon curry powder.
1/2 cup minced ham and 2 teaspoons prepared mustard.
2 tablespoons minced pickles, 1 teaspoon prepared mustard, and 1 teaspoon minced onion.
1 tablespoon minced green bell pepper , 1 tablespoon chopped pimiento, and 1 teaspoon chili powder.

Ginger-Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
3/4 cup margarine, softened
1 egg
1/4 cup light molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
2 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped nuts

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease cookie sheets. In large bowl, beat brown sugar and margarine until light and fluffy. Add egg; beat well. Blend in molasses and vanilla. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. Add flour and remaining ingredients and mix together well. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet, about 3 inches apart.

Bake at 350 degrees for 7 to 12 minutes or until browned. Immediately remove to wire racks to cool.
Makes about 48 cookies.

Peanut Butter Crispy Rice Bars

1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 package (10oz) marshmallows
6 cups chocolate flavored crispy rice cereal
1 cup peanut butter chips
1/2 cup chopped peanuts, optional

Grease 13- X 9-inch pan. In a large saucepan over low heat, melt the marshmallows and butter, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in remaining ingredients; mix until well coated. Press mixture into the pan, cool, and cut into bars.

Makes about 36 bars.

Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich

Recipe from: The Presley Family Cookbook - Vester Presley, Nancy Rooks Wimmer 3 tablespoons peanut butter
2 slices light bread
1 banana -- mashed
2 tablespoons margarine -- melted

Mix soft peanut butter and mashed banana together. Toast bread lightly. Spread peanut butter and mashed banana on toast. Place into melted margarine; brown on both sides.

Chicken Tortilla Roll-ups

1 250 g (8oz) pkg. cream cheese softened at room temperature
2 tbsp (30 mL) mayonnaise
1 cup finely chopped cooked chicken
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 medium sized red pepper, finely chopped
5 green onions, finely chopped
1 tomato, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 tsp (2 mL) garlic powder
1/2 tsp (2 mL) chili powder
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1 pkg. 10" flour tortillas

In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, mayonnaise, chicken, cheddar cheese, red pepper, green onions, tomato, garlic powder, chili powder, and salt. Spread 2 generous tbsp (30 mL) of mixture evenly onto each tortilla, leaving approximately 1/2" from the outside edge of the tortilla without the filling. (If you spread the filling to the edges it will seep out when rolling up the tortilla). Roll up each tortilla tightly. Wrap in saran wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight. Remove saran wrap and slice evenly into 1" pieces. Discard the ends of each roll.

Serve with sour cream and salsa.

A Hola Granola

3 cups cracked oats
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup unsalted peanuts
1/3 cup shredded coconut
1/3 cup mixed dried fruit
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup honey

Mix all ingredients together, spread on cookie sheet, and bake at 350 degrees F. for 15-20 minutes. Let cool and break into pieces.

Turkey Wraps

1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 teaspoons ketchup
1 teaspoon sweet pickle relish
8 ounce slices cooked turkey breast
8 five-inch bread sticks
8 slices American cheese

In a small bowl, mix together the yogurt, ketchup and relish. Set aside.

Cover a smooth working surface with waxed paper. Place 8 slices of turkey breast side by side on the prepared working surface. Spoon 1 tablespoon of yogurt mixture onto each turkey slice. Place slice of cheese on top.

Lay a bread stick on each prepared turkey slice. Roll each turkey and cheese slice around a bread stick.

Enclose each turkey wrap snugly in plastic. Secure ends with twist ties. Store in refrigerator until time to travel. Place 2 turkey wraps in each lunch box.

There are millions of combinations for roll-up sandwiches.
Here are some suggestions:
  • Roll-ups
  • Peanut butter and jelly
  • Cream cheese and ham with celery sticks on the side
Lay out 8-inch tortillas. Spread cheese, peanut butter or whatever you've chosen. Lay a slice of lunch meat on top and roll tightly. Slice on an angle.

Apple Crispies

Nonstick vegetable spray
6 cups peeled, thinly sliced apples
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup margarine
2 cups toasted rice cereal (such as Rice Krispies)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare a baking pan 8-by-8-by-2-inches with nonstick vegetable spray. Spread the apples evenly in the prepared pan.

In a mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar and margarine with a pastry blender until crumbly. Using a wooden spoon, stir the cereal into the margarine mixture. Sprinkle the cereal topping over the apples.

Bake for 20 minutes or until apples are tender and topping is lightly browned.
Remove pan from the oven. Place on a wire rack to cool.
Place 1/2 cup of apple crispies in each of 6 small plastic containers with snap-on lids.

Popnut Puffs

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup honey
1 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup unpopped popcorn

Pop popcorn in an air popper, microwave or on the stove with a minimum of oil. In a heavy-bottom pot, boil sugar, corn syrup and honey for 2 minutes.

Remove, and add the peanut butter and vanilla. Pour over popcorn and form into balls. Place on waxed paper to dry, then wrap individually in foil or plastic wrap. Makes about 12.

Blueberry Muffins

Preparation time: 15 mins
Total cooking time: 25 mins
Makes 12

You'll need:
A little melted butter or oil, for greasing
2 1/2 cups (310g) self-raising flour
1/4 cup (60g) caster sugar
2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) milk or buttermilk
160g butter, melted
155g fresh blueberries

Here's how:
Preheat the oven to 190C (moderately hot).
Brush a 12-hole muffin tin with melted butter or oil.
Sift the flour, sugar and baking powder into a bowl. Make a well in the centre.
Add the combined beaten eggs, milk and butter.
Stir with a wooden spoon until almost smooth.
The ingredients should all be moistened.
Stir in the blueberries.
Spoon the mixture evenly into the tins. (If you only have a 6-hole tin, you can cook the muffins in 2 batches.)
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.
To test the muffins, insert a skewer in the centre. It should come out clean if they are ready.
Loosen the muffins from the tins and cool on a wire rack.

Low-Fat Tortilla Chips

Take corn tortillas and cut them in sixths (I use my pizza cutter and cut through a stack of 5 or 6 at a time). Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray, spread out the tortilla pieces in a single layer, and spray the tops with cooking spray. Lightly salt (the salt won't stick if you don't use the spray!) Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned and crispy. They will crisp more as they cool. You may have to repeat several times, depending on the amount of chips you are trying to make.

Brownie Bites

You can certainly make homemade, but I bought a brownie mix to find out how many brownie bites one could make. The mix I bought was for fudge brownies and makes a 9"x13" pan full. I added 1/2 cup oil, 1/2 cup water, and one egg. I sprayed the mini-muffin pans with cooking spray and put a heaping teaspoonful in each. They bake in about 12-14 minutes. I happen to have several mini-muffin pans, so it didn't take very long. The mix made five (5) dozen brownie bites! If you don't have mini-muffin pans, put a heaping tablespoonful in regular muffin pans. The key is to make individual portions, not a pan full. If you make brownies in a pan, you are more likely to cut them in larger portions. Brownies cut in squares crumble more in going from the pan all the way to the lunch room via a paper sack or other lunch vehicle.

After they cool, bag them in a large zip-loc and stash them in the freezer. For each lunch, two or three brownie bites will seem like a lot to a child!

Tiny Bear Cookies

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark molasses
1/4 cup water
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon soda
3/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Cream shortening and sugar. Blend in molasses, water, flour, salt, soda, and spices. Cover, chill 2 hours.

Pre-heat oven to 375 F. Roll dough 1/4" thick on lightly floured cloth covered board. Cut with cookie cutter. Place on ungreased baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes. Immediately remove from baking sheet. Cool.

For crisper cookies, roll dough 1/8" thick. Bake 8 minutes.

Dough may be frozen. It will keep in the freezer for 6 months. To use, let dough thaw in refrigerator overnight. Then proceed as above. If you do not have a pastry cloth to roll cookies on, it may be easier to roll the dough between two pieces of cling wrap, or wax paper. This recipe will make about 3 dozen medium size cookies. If you make large gingerbread boys, it makes less; if you make tiny bears, it makes a lot more!

Tips for making lunches:

Children are often told by their parents that they have to carry a lunch to school every day as it is cheaper then letting them buy the school lunches. This is true, and if done correctly, these homemade lunches can be as healthy, and more appealing to children then the school lunch. This has to be the most difficult meal to prepare because if you don't do it right, there is no second chance. Not only that, but children can be very fussy, and usually want a variety of different lunches and treats. Not the same stuff everyday. Im going to offer some hints and tips in this section to make this an easier job and using the above recipes, hopefully a more appealing choice to your children.
  • Make them the night before school & work and put them in the fridge.
  • Use an insulated lunch bag. The ones I use have a removable inner bucket and I put the food inside it and then place in the fridge.
  • My kids may have different things in their lunches so I have put their names on the outside of each bucket. You may forget what you had put in each bucket.
  • Use small freezer packs that can be refrozen every night. Nothing is worse than a cold lunch pretending to be a warm one If you don't have freezer packs, freeze a juice box overnight and then put in the lunch bag. It will keep the contents cool and will be nicely thawed by lunch time.
  • Wrap lettuce separately in a baggie with a sprinkle of water. It keeps it nice and crisp If you run out of lettuce for sandwiches, use sliced pickles.
  • Kids are usually sick of sandwiches within 2 weeks of starting school so use substitutes such as cheese & crackers, cup of soup (if the school has hot water available) or something hot in a thermos.
  • Use a variety of breads, such as pita pockets, Kaiser buns, croissants, and bagels.
  • Buy plastic forks & spoons to use with soups or puddings. They can be reused if your kid remembers to bring them back. Keep the plastic spoons or forks you have used at fast food places. Same with napkins, if you happen to grab more than what you actually used at the eatery.
  • Use lunchmeat without bread but add servings of sliced cheese, pickles, carrots, celery, broccoli, and cauliflower. The kids will wrap the meat around the other stuff.
  • Take deli meat and wrap around a cheese stick.
  • If you have a meat grinder, try ground up bologna with pickle and mayo.
  • Buy individual serving packages of ranch salad dressing to use as dip for carrots & celery or with salad that has been put in plastic containers.
  • Buy individual packages of peanut butter to use with crackers. Check with your child's school in regard to peanut products. More schools are adopting a "no peanut" policy due to children having allergies.
  • Put drinks from large containers and into re-usable plastic drink containers (some containers have built-in straws).
  • If you don't want to use the plastic drink containers, use juice boxes because they are time-savers. They may cost a bit more but shop around at food warehouses for deals.
  • Try using grilled cheese sandwiches prepared the night before. Put a bit of pizza sauce on the bread.
  • For a while, my kids were asking for the packaged Oriental noodle soup. They would sprinkle the flavor pack over the dry noodles and eat it like a sandwich ( a little dry if you ask me).
  • Buy at the bulk food store. The kids like to have interesting things like fortune cookies, gelatin creatures, sesame snaps, licorice, and caramel corn.
  • Kids really like bananas, but they seem to send an odor throughout the whole lunch. Use them for home snacks or for muffins.
  • Make your grocery-shopping trip an everlasting memory. Wait until there is no food in the house and when you come home with bags & bags of treasures, the kids think it's Christmas all over again! Make it clear to the kids that certain treats are only for lunches and not for snacking around the house. If all else fails, hide it.
  • Breathe a sigh of relief when your kid's school has a special lunch day. (In case you don't know what that is: At our schools they have a hot dog day or hamburger day once a month. The parents pay for the meal, but at least you don't have to make a lunch that day).
  • When temperatures rise above 75 degrees, unrefrigerated meats, mayonnaise, eggs, yogurt and milk can become deadly by noon. Freeze a single-serving box of 100 percent juice overnight and put it next to the food. By lunch, the food will still be cold and the juice will be mostly defrosted.
  • Make a low-fat dip from yogurt mixed with seasonings to make the carrots and other veggies more interesting.
  • For a healthy, balanced lunch, include a piece of fruit or veggies, bread, crackers, pretzels or other grain product, and a protein source such as meat, tuna, eggs or cheese. A carton of milk from the school cafeteria will round out the meal.
  • Avoid the pre-packaged lunches in a box from the grocery store. They have more fat, sodium, sugar and preservatives than your child should have in one day, much less one meal. Check the labels on low-fat cookies and other goodies. Often, the calorie savings is minimal due to high amounts of sugar, used to offset the lack of fat.
  • For a dessert, send raisins and other dried fruit such as apricots, peaches, apples and prunes. They taste sweet and come with lots of vitamins and minerals.
  • Low-fat fruit yogurt often has as more sugar than a can of soda and minimal fruit. Make a healthier version in your blender or food processor with non-fat plain yogurt, bananas for sweetening, and your favorite fruit.
  • "Natural" or "Organic" on a label doesn't guarantee it's healthy. Organic fried potato chips still get more than 75 percent of their calories from fat, and honey has as many calories as sugar and no nutritional advantages. Check the label and look for maximum nutrition (vitamins and minerals) and minimum fat, sweeteners, sodium and calories.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables still make the best snacks. Processed foods containing fruits and vegetables may seem healthy, but you are better off with an apple than an apple-flavored granola bar.
  • Check the fat content before buying baked chips and snack goods. While many baked chips and crackers are very low in fat, others have almost as much fat as fried snacks. Most bagel chips are especially high in fat.
I'd like to take a moment to thank the many websites, magazine articles, and parents for all of these wonderful hints, tips and recipes.