A friend who claims she can’t and won’t cook recently asked me for ideas for what to put in her child’s lunchbox everyday besides the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Well I’m a mom who cooks a lot and you would think a cook’s daughter has an extensive palate and is an ambitious eater but no, no, no. My 5 year old surprised me as a toddler, pretty much refusing many of my nutritious and tasty meals and snacks. She’s come a long way now though, after years of persistence on my part. However, she has also declared herself a vegetarian in the last month or so, which has nothing to do with her parents and probably has everything to do with her grandparents. So I’ve figured out many lunch ideas for her picky but healthy tastes and here are a few which I hope will help you!
1) Carrot-Cream Cheese Sandwich on Raisin Bread:
It’s just that: a layer of plain cream cheese on cinnamon raisin bread and then sprinkled with a pile of shredded carrots. Alternately, for a bit of added nutrition and fiber, I occasionally make this on 100% whole wheat thin sandwich bread and slip in some fat raisins with the carrots.
To round it out, add some celery sticks to dip into almond butter, slivers of red bell peppers, some fruit, and a glass of milk, piece of cheese, or cup of cottage cheese for added calcium and protein.
This is one example of a well-balanced lunch that I aim to feed my kids. It doesn’t mean I don’t give them cookies with milk in the afternoon because they need treats once in a while as I do!
2) Theplaa with Jam Roll-ups
These are turmeric-colored Indian flatbreads that are tortilla-thin, or thinner if my mom is making them. They are lightly spiced with coriander and cumin and turmeric and salt. Though not the healthiest bread of all, vegetables like fenugreek or spinach can be added to the dough for added nutrition. Spread with jam, or the traditional “chhundo” (a sweet mango marmalade with Indian spices), this is a favorite with my children.
3) Rotli and Gol
Indian whole wheat flatbreads cooked on the stovetop puff up beautifully if rolled out correctly. If we have any of these rotis leftover from dinner the night before, I make one of my childhood favorites for my kiddos. I crumble about 3-4 rotis (again these are tortilla thin) with my hands into a bowl. I add a couple of tablespoons of ghee (my girls could use the calories though maybe not the saturated fat–we are a family that believe that everything should be in moderation). I then blend in, with my fingers, soft sticky perfumey jaggery, one of the best sweeteners in the world. I wish everyone could once at least taste jaggery (gol) by itself and let it just ooze off the tasting spoon and melt in your mouth. Jaggery is made from unrefined raw cane sugar, simply by boiling it down and retaining its natural nutrients.
The final rotli and gol mix resembles a coarsely ground bowl of oats with lumps of jaggery. Mmmmm. I want some NOW.
4) Turkey Kheema and Rice
If we have leftover kheema, I just mash it with a little hot basmati rice and there you have a satiating lunch or dinner. Always serve with plain homemade yogurt. And if you don’t have that, use Greek-style yogurt if your kids will eat it. If not, mix in the Greek yogurt with what I call in my house “sweet dessert” yogurt, meaning the hundreds of 20-grams-of-sugar-plus flavored yogurts in your grocery store. Again, I’m not opposed to sugar. Trust me. Ask my friends. I just think if you’re going to have sugar, have a LOT of it -in a high quality baked good or homemade dessert!
5) Turkey/Cheese/Apple Sandwich
Simple. Deli turkey, sliced cheese, and thinly sliced apple on 100% whole wheat sandwich bread. This may not fly with my newly vegetarian 5 year old. P.S. I have on occasion spread the bread with a very thin layer of jam. I once tried a jalapeno jam and it was well received!
6) Cilantro Chutney and Cucumber Sandwich
This is fantastic and extremely popular in India. Make a batch of cilantro chutney, leaving out the green chilies. Freeze in ice cube trays and then remove from trays and keep in ziploc baggies in the freezer. Thaw a cube out, spread it on the bread, and layer with thin slices of English cukes. Spread the other side with either butter or more chutney. Delish. Served this as one of many tea sandwiches at one of my kid’s birthday parties.
Perhaps I’ll have more lunchbox ideas in a few weeks, after I exhaust all of the above possibilities…there are so many ideas and so many great kids cookbooks out there. Check out the Moosewood series!