Another summer has flown by and it’s time for kids to go back to school. It’s no secret that well-fed children perform their best in school, but what does that mean when it comes to school lunches? Different food groups provide important nutrients to fuel a child’s day of learning and playing.
- Grains. Eating whole grains provides children with essential B vitamins, minerals, and fiber that keep them feeling satiated longer, enabling them to stay focused and alert in school.
- Vegetables. Offering a range of vegetables can aid children in obtaining the essential nutrients and fiber necessary for optimal health.
- Fruits. Just like vegetables, fruits offer a variety of essential vitamins and minerals that are crucial for children’s growth and development. Opting for whole fruits instead of fruit snacks or juices is ideal since they contain fiber.
- Milk or milk alternative. It’s important for children and teenagers to consume milk as it contains vital nutrients like calcium, protein, and vitamin D that promote strong bones, teeth, and muscles.
- Protein. Foods like meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, peas, eggs, nuts, and seeds contain essential nutrients such as protein and iron that are necessary for the growth and development of a child’s body.
It’s crucial to incorporate at least three out of the five food groups in your child’s lunch, though including more is always better. When uncertain, pairing your child’s meal with a glass of milk and a serving of fruit is a great option.
Here are three school lunch ideas that cover all the necessary bases:
Start your child’s lunchbox makeover by introducing protein-packed and flavorful chicken meatballs. These bite-sized marvels are not only a great source of lean protein but they’re also versatile enough to pair with a range of grains and veggies. The meatballs make the meal perfect for any age group as the number of meatballs can be easily adjusted based the on child’s needs.
Complete the meal with a side of fresh fruit, like apple slices or berries.
Mini Black Bean Quesadillas
This Tex-Mex dish is packed with plant-based protein from black beans. The whole wheat tortillas add fiber, which is great for digestion and helps you feel full. To complete the meal, serve it with pico de gallo, shredded lettuce, and a dollop of Greek yogurt. It’s a delicious and nutritious option.
- 2 whole wheat tortillas
- 2 tsp. olive oil
- 1/3 cup black beans
- ½ tsp. onion powder
- ½ tsp. garlic powder
- 1 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
- 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese
- ¼ cup pico de gallo
- ½ cup shredded lettuce
- 2 Tbsp. Greek yogurt
- Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat and add olive oil. Once warm, place a tortilla in the skillet and sprinkle 2 tablespoons of cheese, followed by black beans and seasonings. Top with the remaining cheese and add the final tortilla on top. Allow to cook for a couple of minutes, until the bottom tortilla has lightly browned and the cheese has started to melt. Flip over to cook on the other side until the second tortilla is lightly browned and the cheese is fully melted.
- Move the quesadilla to a cutting board. Use a pizza slicer to cut into wedges. Serve with pico de gallo, shredded lettuce, and a spoonful of Greek yogurt.
Baked Salmon Rice Cups
Makes 12 rice cups
Salmon is abundant in omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for brain health. Transform this nutritional powerhouse into a delightful school lunch option by creating baked rice cups. Easy to put together, the salmon is quickly marinated then placed on a bed of rice and nori in muffin tins, then tossed in the oven for 10 minutes. Enjoy with a sliced cucumber salad and ginger vinaigrette. Don’t forget a side of fruit and a glass of milk to incorporate all food groups.
- 12 ounces salmon, cubed small
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 3 Tbsp. maple syrup
- Juice from 1 lime
- 1 Tbsp. grated ginger
- Spray oil
- 3 nori squares
- 2 cups rice, preferably brown rice
- 1 avocado, diced
- 2 stalks green onions, chopped
- 1 Tbsp. sesame seeds
- 2 Tbsp spicy mayo, optional
- In a bowl, whisk together garlic, soy sauce, maple syrup, lime juice and ginger. Add salmon, fold the mixture in with the salmon, and allow to marinate for 20 minutes. Set aside in the fridge.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
- Cut each nori square into 4 pieces. Spray a muffin tin with oil. Add a spoonful of rice, about 3 tablespoons, to the nori square and press into the muffin shapes. Add a scoop of salmon on top, about 3 tablespoons. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until salmon is cooked through.
- Top the rice cups with avocado, green onion, sesame seeds, and if desired, spicy mayo. Serve with cucumber slices and ginger vinaigrette.
Shanthi Appelö is a registered dietitian and health and wellness spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan based in Detroit. Passionate about the science of nutrition and behavior, Shanthi has experience working in clinical nutrition, public health and teaching in the university setting. In her free time, she enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, exploring the outdoors, working on art and spending time with family. For more recipes and health information, visit ahealthiermichigan.org.
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