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Natural Awakenings Tucson

The ABCs of a Plant-Powered Back-to-School Lunchbox

Aug 31, 2016 10:34PM ● By Ro

It’s that time again—as kids return to class, along with new clothes and school supplies, it’s time to think about healthy lunch foods. With more and more research amassing to support the health and sustainability benefits of plant-based eating, many people are seeking more plant foods both at home and on the go. Whether strictly vegan, mostly plant-based, or flexitarian, plant-based eating is easier and yummier than ever. Thanks to an explosion of new products, tried-and-true fresh choices can be augmented with select healthier convenience foods for a fast and fit lunchbox.

A school lunch can be loaded with plant-based goodness for sustained energy, to keep kids’ attention focused and bodies fueled for a busy school day. Here are some ideas that will not only keep children from trading their lunches for Twinkies—they might even have the other kids wanting to trade with them.

Draw up a three-column list—the main meal, the fruit and the snack column. Let kids “build” a different lunch each day by picking items from the A, B and C column like a menu. This can be a great lesson, involving not only math but planning skills and accountability. And what’s more important than learning about what’s good for fueling our bodies?

Main Attractions

Wraps are easy and can be packed full of bright, satisfying, nutrient-dense fillings. Start with an organic, grainy tortilla, whether whole wheat, quinoa and flax or gluten-free. Spread with hummus, guacamole or a delicious vegan mayo like Hampton Foods Just Mayo Chipotle, and layer a few slices of Tofurky or Field Roast plant-based “lunch meat” or veggie “bacon”. Other bright fixings include shredded carrot, red/yellow pepper strips, cucumbers, pickles or even sweet potato. Try adding one of the many plant-based “cheeses” now available. These are easily prepared the night before and wrapped to grab the next day.

For old-school sandwiches, try the same ingredients above on a whole-grain bun or bread, with favorite condiments. Or go for a soy-free veggie burger like Amy’s Sonoma Burger (made with nuts, grains and veggies), adding ketchup, BBQ sauce, relish, mustard, pickles and/or garden tomatoes. Some weekend, try making your own—search the internet for fast, fun veggie burger recipes made from beans, legumes, grains, nuts and veggies. Freeze a large batch, defrosting one at a time as needed.

For the PB&J traditionalist, choose a healthy organic peanut or almond butter and pure fruit jam. Feeling adventurous? Try an unusual nut butter, like Nuttzo 7-Nut Power Fuel or brazil nut, pistachio nut, sunflower or cashew butter.

Consider tucking in a small baked sweet potato. Several can be baked in advance and they keep for days. Lightly sweet, energy-boosting, loaded with fiber and other critical nutrients, they make a super-fast healthy meal or snack.

Snacks, From Sweet to Savory

Fruit is a go-to healthy pick for kids. But how to make it more fun? Let kids pick a new apple variety instead of the same old Delicious or McIntosh (one little girl loves the delicate color of Pink Lady). Adding small squeeze packs of nut butter (Nuttzo, Wild Friends and Justin’s make unique ones) can help with the promise of dipping. Grapes and cherries, while available, make sweet treats that are also shareable.
A homemade smoothie may not be tote-able—although, with a small stainless steel water bottle, why not?—but for the ultimate in speed, toss in a Mamma Chia’s Chia Squeeze Vitality Snack, with only 7 grams of sugar each. Try Berry Cherry or Mango Coconut; some kids even like Green Magic.
Trail mix can be not only a vitalizing protein/carb/fiber-rich energy boost, but it’s fun to make. Gather assorted organic nuts, dark chocolate chips and various dried fruits, and let the child design his or her own blend. Prepackage daily handfuls in little baggies for quick grabs.

Assuming the child is not nut-allergic, nuts by themselves are handy—standby almonds are good, but try hazelnuts, toasted flavored pumpkin seeds or pistachios for a change. Toasting walnuts in the oven with cinnamon and a dusting of sweetener is one way to make these nutritious nuts more appealing to kids.

In place of greasy potato chips, healthier crunchy snacks abound. Crackers can be paired with small containers of hummus or bean dip. Gluten-free cracker varieties come in more inventive flavors all the time, if desiring to limit flour in a child’s diet. Many kids really enjoy veggie chips, especially if they can help make them. If kale chips aren’t their thing, try serving sweeter parsnips or beet chips. Pretzels are a beloved standard—Newman’s Own Organics makes a High Protein version, and gluten-free brands like Mary’s Gone Crackers Sticks & Twigs are really tasty.

Crunchy garbanzo snacks are fun to make and can be seasoned sweet (cinnamon and date/coconut sugar) or savory (garlic salt, pepper), or they can be bought in bags (Saffron Road brand and The Good Bean are two).

For a protein boost, include a plant-based jerky like Primal Strips.

Finishing Touches

To include a truly sweet “candy” treat, a few darker chocolate squares, or energy bars that are relatively low in sugar—such as Clif Organic Fruit and Nut, Kind, Clif Kidz, Zing Bars or Envirokidz granola bars—make a good substitute for sugar-loaded classics. Darker, low-sugar organic peanut butter cups like Theo’s make a fine special reward as well.

For the child who just craves a cookie, seek the lowest-sugar brands like Andean Dream, GoGo Quinoa or Jovial. Shoot for less than 4 grams of sugar per cookie.

With choices like this, the hardest trick may be deciding the day’s picks. Involve kids in planning lunches.

Robyn Landis is a Tucson-based health coach, fitness trainer and “radical self-care instigator” who helps people choose a healthy, sustainable life with joy and ease. With two best-selling books and a third on the way, numerous national publications and 25 energetic years of walking her own talk, she has helped thousands of people happily fuel their bodies and lives. Connect at 520-314-0994 and See ad, page 31.

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