School lunches: 5 ways to veggie it up.

Last week, I dropped my daughter off for her first day of preschool. Big milestone. The cubbies and coat hooks, the circle of carpet, the playdough and paste, the faint smell of library books — so many things brought me back to my own childhood.  And Austen was so excited she was literally jumping in the school hallway over her giraffe stickered cubby label.
Austen goes to school

In the parent meeting a few nights before school started the school director told us to please not experiment in our children’s school lunches.  It could end in a very hungry kid. I love to try new things with Austen all the time. Crap! How will I get her veggies in?

I stood at my kitchen counter the night before the first day of school, palms sweating, wondering what to do. It was that feeling right before the test began, or when I couldn’t think of the answer to the essay question. So I made a sandwich with ham, avocado and cheese.  I chopped up some Dixon cantaloupe, packed plain yogurt sprinkled with a little cinnamon, and stuck in a cheese stick and some carrot sticks.  And a pre-packaged granola bar.  All the things she craves. Yes, it was more food than her little three-year-old tummy needed. I was nervous, people.  This kid has never been to school before. And I have never sent my kid to school before. I did not want to get in trouble on my first day.

PS — all she ate was the sandwich and a little yogurt. She was nervous too.

Next week, I am determined to get more farm veggies in there.  I’ve been researching.  Here are some highlights:

1. Meat wraps

I’ve written about using a collard, Napa cabbage or romaine leaf in place of lettuce, but you can use sliced meat, too. Using meat as your wrap, fill any of your kids favorite veggies (sweet peppers are on the CSA menu for most of our farms — a kid favorite, shredded carrot, slicer or cherry tomatoes, lettuce mix. . . If you have ham, put a little Dixon melon in the wrap).  These can be easier to make than a sandwich.  I spread a little mayo or whatever you child’s fave is (Austen likes guac) on the inside of the wrap. Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo suggests tying a strand of chive or spring onion around the bundle to keep it together. Safer than a toothpick!

This meat bundle is one of Michelle’s many lunch ideas.  She writes all about Paleo foods.  Now, whether you think Paleo is the best thing since sliced onion, or think it is just a passing fad, OR just really have no idea what it is, let me just say this: when you are looking for a healthy, whole foods recipe that makes a lot of use out of veggies and meat — throwing Paleo in as a search term is a great idea.  I am not Paleo, but I’ve learned a lot from the recipes on how to make many, many simple alterations that include my vegetable bounty.  The thing the Paleo diet is – it’s less about eating like our caveman ancestors and more about improving gut health, and eating whole foods. Not really that crazy at all, right?

2. Dips and Sauces

Kids LOVE dipping things, I’ve found. I am not suggesting that you make hummus, baba ganoush or other eggplant dip, salsa or salsa verde (apparently you can ferment your salsa verde for extra health bennies),  or pesto (this one is dairy free and delicious) just for lunch, but you might just want to make some for dinner or a snack — and make lots.  Freeze your sauces in ice cube trays and thaw them out overnight for school. I also plan to use some almond butter and pre-made organic guacamole when there just isn’t anything in the fridge (wring hands here). I think I have made my own hummus. . . once?

And of course, instead of bread (or in addition to the bread) use veggies to scoop up the goodness: celery, cucumber slices or sticks, bell peppers, carrot sticks, zucchini sticks. . . And if you’ve made lots, veggie chips or plantain chips can be great in this area, too.

eggplant dip

3. Veggie Chips

Kids love kale chips.  It is a fact.  And any of your greens you can make into chips.  Here are 7 alternatives from the Kitchn.

And beyond leafy greens — there is SO MUCH MORE!

Beet Chips

Eggplant Chips

String Bean Chips

Winter Squash Chips (They will be here before you know it!)

Zucchini Chips

And, of course with a food processor or mandolin, you can make your own potato chips now. YES.

Also, with apple season upon us, slice your apples thin, and they can sandwich or scoop nut and seed butters like nobody’s business.  I sometimes make Austen a apple and almond butter sandwich with a little cinnamon and a few raisins in the middle.

Leftovers.  The best easiest lunch.

You just need a thermos. Rewarm your meal from the night before, throw some fruit or yogurt on the side and blamo - into the Klean Kanteen and off to school! LunchBots also has some great options that are stainless steel/nontoxic.  I’m still doing research on these options . . . Cause these two are quite expensive. Any advice would be greatly appreciated — comments section!

Some of our favorite kid leftovers (these are especially good now that the weather is cooler): spaghetti squash with tomato 3 meat sauce (that’s ground beef, pork, and bacon) or meatballs, meatloaf muffins (meatloaf baked in a muffin tin — Danielle Walker’s recipe, which I could only find in her cookbook) with garlic faux-tatoes, chicken soup with as many veggies as I can cram (kale, spinach, carrots, celery, celeriac, kholrabi. . . ) — with a bone broth base. With a solid thermos, the food will be hot at noon.

Protein + Veggie Salad

Good old fashioned chicken salad has always been a hit with Austen.  She and I love mayo. Salads like chicken salad are a great way to slip in carrots, celery, apples, grapes, bell peppers . . . anything with a little crunch. Bean or egg salads works really well for vegetarians.

Put it in a sandwich or lettuce wrap, or just eat it with a fork.  Great with cherry tomatoes on the side! And of course, some of those veggie chips.

Next challenge: how to pack it all.  What has worked for you?

Good luck this week. May the lunch force be with you.