Putting some green into school lunches

This morning I was watching a television show discussing green bagged lunches. By this I mean using reusable rather than throwaway packaging, including prepackaged food.

Not only are they better for your health and Mother Earth, but the show claimed you could save about $500 per child per year.

By coincidence, I was also in a store today buying canning jars and I came upon the lunch box section. My own bagged lunches are pretty simple, so I was not up on all the new ideas.

The insulated lunch bags were amazing and not expensive if you shop carefully.

There are many choices. Some have firm inserts so the food will not be crushed. Some have zippered areas. Some have shiny plastic handles that would be cold and hard in the winter. A cloth strap would be more comfortable and durable.

There are also several choices in insulated containers for single serving cold and hot food.

Choose a wide mouth container if you will be packing soups and stews. It is much easier to eat from the container and not necessary to pour the food into a bowl. Take your children when you buy these products so they can test opening and closing them.

And then I saw the cutest ice packs, sold in pairs for less than $2.

Are the wheels turning yet? Yes, insulated lunch bags, little ice packs and reusable containers offer a plethora of opportunities for nutritious lunches. With the experience of a teacher, I suggest you write your child’s name in permanent marker on all these items.

There is no need to make special lunch food all the time. You can use hot or cold supper leftovers. There are $1 gel packs that can be heated or frozen. The Thermos containers also keep food hot.

Now for the other green that is good in lunches: vegetables. Nutritious snacks and lunches are not always possible during crazy busy times but here are some suggestions.

Health Canada says one-third of your child’s daily nutrient requirement should be provided at lunchtime. Canada’s Food Guide shows us how much food is required each day. This varies with the age of the child or teen. Therefore, it is important to pack carefully.

In addition to nutrients, our body needs fibre, found mainly in fruit, vegetables and whole grain.

Processed food provides an over abundance of salt and sugar, both of which we are over consuming. Beverages are important to keep the body hydrated. Water is best. Milk would be second. Juice should be consumed in moderation. Soda pop has no place in regular daily meals.

Now back to the canning jars. I use them all the time for packaging food as varied as milk, yogurt and soup. They are durable, seal well and can be put directly into the microwave with the screw top removed. Here are a couple of recipes that would pack well in a mason jar.

Strawberry Banana Frozen Fruit Smoothie

  • 3 c. frozen strawberries 750 mL
  • 1 frozen banana
  • 3/4 c. plain yogurt 375 mL
  • 3/4 c. milk 375 mL
  • 1 tbsp. honey, optional 15 mL

Purée in blender until it resembles ice cream. Freeze in one cup mason jars (250 mL). Leave two inches (five cm) head space to allow for expansion. After frozen, tighten metal screw top and lid. Take out of the freezer as needed. It will soften by snack time or lunchtime. Makes four smoothies. Be sure to pack a straw and spoon.

Salad in a Jar

Make these on Sunday and they will keep all week in the refrigerator. Make a variety so monotony doesn’t set in.

The guide for making a layered salad is simple. Place dressing and liquids on the bottom. Then add ingredients that hold up well when submerged in dressing such as beans, cucumbers, radishes, onion and hard cheese. They may even pickle a little in the dressing.

Next add heavier items that you may not want directly touching the dressing when stored. That might include a type of protein such as eggs, chickpeas, lentils or meat. On top of that add leafy greens and light ingredients that take up a lot of space such as spinach, kale, chard or lettuce.

Then place a small amount of accent items such as nuts, seeds, dried fruit, croutons and accent spices. And finally, on top place colourful ingredients to perk up the taste buds when you pop open the jar, such as fruit, herbs and nuts. Grains and pasta could also be placed near the top so they don’t get soggy in the dressing. Many schools are nut-free so be sure to follow the guidelines of your school.

Tear rather than cut salad greens to prevent browning on the edges.

Beet Green Salad with Peaches and Feta

  • beet greens, washed and dried
  • peach, sliced
  • cucumber, diced or sliced
  • lemon juice, real or bottled
  • feta, cubed
  • sliced raw almonds
  • canola or olive oil
  • tarragon white wine vinegar or any light vinegar
  • Dijon mustard
  • salt & pepper
  • honey
  • wide mouth Mason jar 500 mL

Amounts of ingredients will vary depending upon how many jars you wish to make.

A few issues back, I shared my recipe for tarragon white wine vinegar. If you made it, then it can be used here. Otherwise, simply use something light such as cider, white wine or rice wine vinegar. Use one part vinegar to three parts oil and add a teaspoon or two of Dijon mustard (5-10 mL) to help create the emulsion. Whisk vigorously. Add honey and salt and pepper to taste and whisk again. To each mason jar, add in the following order:

  • 3 tbsp. vinaigrette dressing 45 mL
  • 1/4 c. cucumber sliced or diced 60 mL
  • 1/4 c. cubed feta cheese 60 mL
  • greens to fill almost full, well packed but not tightly packed
  • 2 tbsp. sliced raw almonds 60 mL
  • peach, unpeeled, sliced and drizzled with lemon juice to prevent browning

The great thing about salads is that you can make them to suit your taste. If you can’t find feta, use another firm cheese. Be creative and try new combinations. I make salads like I make soups and use what is on hand. At lunchtime, turn the jar upside down and shake so the dressing is distributed throughout. Open and enjoy.

Sarah Galvin is a home economist, teacher and farmers’ market vendor at Swift Current, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. Contact: team@producer.com.

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