Turkey and gravy, a strawberry cup, mashed potatoes, green beans, whole-grain roll and one pat of butter.
That’s just one example of a sample lunch menu set by the Ohio Department of Education.
When kids buy their lunches at school, they’re guaranteed a certain amount of fruit and veggies with each meal. For parents who pack, preparing a nutritious lunch for your children—and actually getting them to eat it—can be a little trickier.
Misty Davis, with the Ohio Department of Education, said every school-served lunch has to have five components: milk, meat, grain, fruit and vegetable. Schools are encouraged to provide as much free produce as they can.
Some of the other rules about lunches mandated by the federal government include: Sugar, sodium and calories are limited. Whole grains must account for more than half of grains offered. Free drinking water must be available. Legumes and dark green, red and orange vegetables must be offered weekly.
To hit those standards while keeping meals filling and appealing, the Agriculture Department suggests schools offer more fruits and veggies, prioritize whole foods over juices, flavor foods using herbs, spices and low-sodium sauces and put more veggies in pastas and sauces.
At Plain Local Schools, Director of Nutrition Services Jennifer Rex does samplings with the students to get a sense of what they like and to introduce them to new foods she’d like to put on the menu. This past year, the high school students did a full taste-test activity with a dozen vendors to try items such as flavored hummus, infused water and cookies made with spinach. (Those were the favorite—because they were sweet.)
One of Rex’s most popular items across grade levels this year was breakfast parfaits, which previously only had been available for the high school students. But once she debuted the parfaits in the lower grades, it was the highest participating breakfast.
“It was our biggest day, so it’s interesting to me,” she said. “When I think I know what they want for breakfast, they surprise me.”
If your child prefers to pack instead of buy, here are some tips from Rex for keeping lunch healthy:
• Always include fruits and vegetables.
• Pick frozen or fresh fruit over canned.
• If you’re going to put snacks (cookies, chips) in your child’s lunch, have a conversation that those need to be eaten last.
• Focus on lean proteins.
• Opt for non-sugary drinks. Limit the juice.
Apple and Cheddar Quesadilla
2 8-inch tortillas
1/2 apple, sliced thin
2 slices American cheese
1. Heat a large skillet on medium-high heat. Place one tortilla in the skillet, top with American cheese slices, thin apple slices and second tortilla.
2. Press down gently on the tortilla with the spatula. Lower the heat to medium.
3. When the cheese inside the quesadilla begins to melt, flip quesadilla over, grill for another minute to crisp the outside of tortilla and remove from pan onto a cutting board.
4. Slice quesadilla into 6 triangles, pack in lunch container(s) and inside insulated lunch bag.
Healthier Taco Salad
1 cup chopped sweet Vidalia onion
1 clove garlic, minced
8 ounces ground turkey
2 teaspoons oil
1/2 cup black beans, cooked or canned, drained
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 scallion, chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
8 cups lettuce of choice, chopped
1/2 cup shredded, light Mexican-style cheese
1 cup cracked tortilla chips
Optional toppings: black olives, avocado
1/2 cup chunky salsa
1/4 cup sour cream, light
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1. Heat the oil in a large saute pan on medium heat. Add garlic and onion, and cook until onion is translucent and softened.
2. Add the ground turkey, and cook until browned.
3. Mix in the cumin, chili powder and beans, and simmer for about 5 minutes.
4. Stir in the cilantro, tomatoes and scallion. Set aside.
5. In a large bowl, place the lettuce. In a small bowl, mix the dressing together and pour into the bowl of lettuce. Top with the turkey mixture.
6. Add the cheese and cracked chips, and mix it all together. Serve with extra dressing and optional toppings.
Hot Dog Cornbread Muffins
1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup yogurt (preferably whole fat)
2 eggs, beaten
3 hot dogs
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Grease a muffin tin well. Don’t use muffin liners!
3. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, cornbread, sugar, baking soda and salt. Stir in yogurt and eggs.
4. Slice hot dogs lengthwise, then chop.
5. Add hot dogs to the batter and stir.
6. Divide batter in the muffin tin.
7. Bake at 375 degrees for about 17 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
8. Remove the muffins from the tins and line on a baking sheet. Flash freeze for 30 minutes, then toss them all in a plastic bag and store in the freezer.
Rainbow Veggie Pinwheels
4 large tortillas
2/3 cup whipped cream cheese (can use light)
1 tablespoon dry ranch powder (you can also use store-bought)
1/2 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper strips
1/2 cup thinly sliced carrot strips
1/2 cup thinly sliced yellow bell pepper strips
1/2 cup baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup shredded purple cabbage
1 cup cooked shredded chicken (optional)
1. Mix together the cream cheese and ranch powder until thoroughly combined.
2. Spread the cream cheese mixture evenly over the 4 tortillas.
3. Leaving a 1-inch border on all sides, lay out 2 tablespoons of each vegetable in rows across the tortillas; top with shredded chicken.
4. Roll up each tortilla tightly; if the ends don’t stay shut, you can add a bit more cream cheese to seal. Cut crosswise into pinwheels and serve.
After-school snack recipes
Cheesy Pepperoni Pizza Sticks
1 tube pizza crust
40 pepperoni slices
10 mozzarella cheese sticks
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
Optional: marinara sauce for dipping
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
2. Spread pizza dough out on a lightly greased baking sheet. Cut the dough into 10 equal-size rectangles.
3. Arrange 4 pepperoni slices on each rectangle, and top with a mozzarella cheese stick.
4. Roll up the pizza dough, enclosing the cheese stick, pinching the seams closed.
5. Melt the butter and add the garlic powder and dried parsley. Brush the pizza sticks with the butter.
6. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.
7. Enjoy warm with a side of marinara sauce for dipping, if desired.
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/2 cups dry cereal
1. Line an 8-inch-by-8-inch pan with parchment paper and set aside.
2. Combine the peanut butter and honey in a medium size sauce pan. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
3. Add in the dry cereal, and stir until completely coated. Then press into the lined pan. Use a piece of parchment paper to firmly press down on the bars.
4. Refrigerate bars for one hour, or until ready to serve. (These cereal bars are best kept chilled in the refrigerator to keep shape.)
Super Duper Fruity Pizza
6 whole grain sandwich thins, tops only
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons vanilla Greek yogurt
4 kiwi, peeled and sliced
1 cup strawberries, sliced
1/2 cup blueberries
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a small bowl, combine melted butter, cinnamon and sugar. Spread evenly over each sandwich thin top. Bake for about 5 minutes and set aside to cool.
3. When tops are cool, top each one with 1 tablespoon of vanilla Greek yogurt, strawberries, kiwi and blueberries. You can make any design you want with the fruit!
4. Serve and enjoy!
Easy Cucumber Sushi for Kids
2 slices of your child’s favorite cheese
2 slices of all-natural deli meat, such as ham, turkey, chicken
Handful of fresh matchstick carrots
Optional: sesame seeds, for garnish
1. Slice cucumber into large 3/4 of an inch or 1-inch thick slices (removing peel if desired).
2. Hollow out center of cucumber using a melon baller. Leave about a 1/2 inch of cucumber inside.
3. Stuff cucumber with small rolls of cheese, deli meat and carrots until center is filled.
4. Garnish with sesame seeds if desired.
5. Serve cold. Refrigerate leftovers in tightly sealed container.