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The art of packing healthy lunches

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POSTED: December 10, 2013 2:00 p.m.

My daughter, Reese, started at a new day care two months ago. My husband and I had been pleased with her former day care until they went through several leadership changes, and the resulting policy alterations were disconcerting. The facility’s lunch menu, which had been pretty healthy when we first enrolled Reese, took a turn for the worse — lots of processed, preservative-laden food; fruit drowning in sugary, heavy syrup; and snacks full of sodium and food dyes. No thanks!
This might not have been such a big deal if the day care had allowed us to pack our daughter’s lunches and snacks, but we were told that doing so would violate the center’s policy. So that problem — combined with several other issues — led us to make a change.
So far, we love Reese’s new day care. She seems happier and healthier; the facility’s staffers are kind and cheerful; the center itself is nearly brand-new and full of spacious, clean, sparkling classrooms drenched in natural sunlight; and, best of all, I get to pack my daughter’s lunch.
That may sound silly, seeing as how it’s extra work for me, but I don’t mind a bit. In fact, I look forward to my nightly lunch-packing sessions. This day care makes proper nutrition a priority, so I am required to follow several guidelines when choosing which foods to send. No junk food (cookies, chips and candy) is allowed; most processed, prepackaged foods are frowned upon; and the packed lunch must contain one food from each of the five food groups.
To make the food-group requirement easy on myself and cut down on the waste that results from relying too heavily on plastic sandwich bags, I bought a special lunchbox that is divided into five compartments.
So Reese doesn’t get bored with her lunches, I try not to pack the same food more than once a week — except when it comes to the dairy group because other than milk, yogurt and cheese, there aren’t many choices.
On Sundays, I map out my options. For protein, my go-to items are organic, hormone-free sliced turkey or ham, diced grilled chicken breast or cubed apple-and-gouda-stuffed chicken sausage. Occasionally, I’ll whip up a batch of turkey meatballs on the weekend and then cut a few into fourths and pack those in Reese’s lunch. Another tasty main course is sunflower-seed butter spread on a miniature whole-wheat bagel. The day care is a peanut and tree-nut-free facility, but sunflower-seed butter is safe, loaded with protein and similar in taste to peanut butter.
When it comes to fruits and veggies, the options are limitless. Some of Reese’s favorites include grapes, apples, pears, melon, berries, roasted asparagus, carrots, broccoli and green beans. Sometimes, I’ll pack her a blend of two or more, just to shake things up. For grains, in addition to whole-grain miniature bagels, we do crackers, crunchy bread sticks, tri-color veggie rotini, Multi Grain Cheerios or a wheat tortilla cut into strips.
Once in a while, I send leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. After I made homemade turkey-noodle soup with leftover Thanksgiving turkey, I used a slotted spoon to dish out the turkey chunks, egg noodles and sliced carrots and celery. I portioned it out into Reese’s divided lunchbox, added a diced pear and string cheese, and voilà — a ready-made lunch with an item from each food group.
Often, I’m so proud of my creations, I envision Reese’s teachers and the other students gazing in amazement at the edible masterpieces in her lunchbox. I once asked my husband, who takes Reese to and from day care every day, whether the facility’s staffers ever remark about the delicious, well-rounded quality of our daughter’s midday meals.
He shot me an incredulous look and said, “Uh, no.”
OK, OK — just thought I’d check! In all seriousness, though, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to ensure my daughter is eating a wholesome, tasty lunch. I’d be wise to spend half as much time and effort packing my own lunch as I do Reese’s. But then Campbell’s might notice a serious dent in tomato-soup sales.

 

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