School is officially in session, which means that for the roughly nine months ahead, you’ll be facing an almost daily challenge of deciding with what lunch to send you child to school. This year, instead of finding kids’ half-eaten sandwiches and untouched celery sticks at the end of the day, guarantee a happier lunchtime — and, more importantly, full bellies — with these three easy strategies for building a better lunchbox. Check out Food Network’s suggestions, then start the conversation about your child’s favorite school lunches in the comments below.
1. Embrace Little Helpers
To improve the lunchbox-packing process, start at the beginning: the grocery shopping for lunch ingredients. Invite your kids to come to the supermarket with you and let them suggest what kinds of foods you buy. It may be as simple as asking them if they prefer apples or orange segments as the fruit of the day, deli turkey or ham on their sandwich, and carrots or cherry tomatoes as the veggie of choice, but the idea is to make kids feel included in the building of their lunches. Ultimately, if kids are invested in their food, they’re more likely to eat it. (This notion holds true come dinnertime, so if you struggle with picky eaters at supper, consider these grocery shopping trips as a means of getting kids excited about all of their meals.)
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If there’s one complaint I hear over and over from Foodlets readers, it’s about getting kids to eat more vegetables. And to that I have one piece of tried-and-true advice: Roast them. I’ve roasted carrots, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, asparagus and now broccoli. It’s so easy and so delicious; I can’t believe I haven’t tried it before. Here’s what you do: Slather a few cups of broccoli florets with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and roast in a hot oven (around 400 degrees F).
When the edges are crispy, but the centers still soft, you know it’s done. Encourage anyone who’s had a bad broccoli experience in the past to try just one bite. They may not immediately become a fan, but over time, this is the recipe that’ll win ‘em over.
Get the full recipe for Roasted Broccoli here.
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Fall is right around the corner and it’s perhaps my favorite season. As a child, I always loved how the air cooled just the tiniest bit when I would open the front door and head out to my first day of school, almost as if nature recognized the rhythms spelled out in my school district’s calendar. (Looking back, I wonder if it was simply chillier at 7am than at 10am?) I knew the tiniest wisp of cooler air meant the holiday season would soon follow, and I have always been someone who enjoys the anticipation of an event as much as the event itself. (I love sleep so much that I actually enjoy being tired, and I have been known to stay up an extra hour just to relish the thought of sleep to come.) I loved entering a new grade, finding out who my new teacher would be and scoping out the classroom on the first day for familiar faces. I welcomed routine and structure — beyond just goofing around with my sister at the local Woolworth’s, playing on the carts and enjoying free pong, much to the chagrin of Jan, the store manager in a mustard-colored smock.
My daughters started school this week: third grade, second grade and two girls in first grade. All four girls are at the same school now, which means we can ride our bikes together. School supplies and fresh fall outfits are bought and tucked away in their closets. I’ve stocked up on lunch-packing supplies (LunchBots for four girls can set you back a bit!). Back to School Night is in two days, and there will be signups, forms to fill out and probably a few more checks to write. But it’s all just part of the routine — the seasonal cycles of growing up.
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No matter how hearty the school lunches you may have packed for your children, chances are that by the time the last afternoon bell rings and they finally make it home after a long day, they’re ready for a snack. But while your kids may be hungry at 4pm and need something quick to fill their tummies, you don’t want this in-between meal to spoil their appetites for dinner, which is why it’s important to reach for snacks that are easy to prepare in the midst of supper prep and homework, and just filling enough to satiate them for a few hours. Check out Food Network’s top-five after-school snack solutions below for go-to picks from some of your favorite chefs.
5. Fruit Leather Roll-Ups — Just like the store-bought roll-ups in color and taste but made with far fewer ingredients, these easy-to-make bites boast a base of real fruit puree. You get to decide which fruits to use, so pick flavors you know your children enjoy, like grape, peach, apple or strawberry.
4. Galaxy Fruit Pops — Entice your little ones to eat fruit by using cookie cutters to shape watermelon and pineapple into their favorite shapes, like circles or stars. For older kids, follow Marcela’s lead and dust the juicy slices with chili powder for an unexpected hint of heat and taste.
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When it’s screaming hot outside, the last thing I want to do is slave over a stove. That’s why I set up the slow cooker and let that little miracle worker make dinner for me three times.
Dinner #1: For this mouthwatering pork (pictured above), set a large pork loin (or two) into the slow cooker, slather with whole grain mustard, olive oil, salt, pepper and dried thyme. Cook for four hours, then let it fall apart, right onto your kids’ miniature plates. Save the rest.
Dinner #2: Using a mix of BBQ sauce and plain ketchup (even sweet BBQ sauce is usually “too spicy” for our small kids), heat up the remaining pork in a pan and serve on toasted buns.
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You’ve exhausted the peanut butter and jelly routine and have rolled your final turkey and cheese wrap. Now what? When it comes to packing your kids’ lunchboxes, variety is key; after all, no child — or adult — looks forward to eating the same lunch day after day, so it’s important to keep their midday meal both interesting and easy to eat. Check out Food Network’s top-five sandwich selections below, and switch up your usual school lunch rotation by introducing these fresh, flavor-packed recipes that are as simple to prepare as traditional favorites and every bit as kid-friendly.
5. Chicken Salad Sandwiches — Put the leftovers from last night’s chicken dinner to work in this quick-fix salad sandwich, laced with a creamy mayonnaise-mustard dressing.
4. Mediterranean Tuna Salad — All it takes is two slices of bread to turn this chickpea- and tomato-studded tuna salad into a ready-to-go salad sandwich.
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When I saw the heirloom tomatoes at the farmers market, I was in. And I wasn’t alone. That afternoon, my 4-year-old and I set out to make this Heirloom Tomato Pie. It took a long time, with many steps, but the results were delicious and best of all, both of us thought so.
The secret to this tart’s success was twofold: fresh, sweet tomatoes, plus the truest rule of getting kids to try new food — let them help cook. Because she had so much skin in the game, our preschooler was nothing but proud of the tart once it came out of the oven. Carefully delivering a teetering plate to each person at the dinner table, she only looked happier at one other moment of the meal: when she tasted the first bite herself.
You can’t win ‘em all, but boy, isn’t it nice to have a hit?
I took my girls shopping for boogie boards the other day. I walked into the store and discovered that summer was over. Too bad I wasn’t shopping for dorm supplies: twin bed sheets, color-coordinated towel sets and bright plastic baskets for lugging toiletries down the hall were everywhere. I was immediately taken back to my own freshman year of college. I remember exactly what I was wearing (a blue sweater and flowy skirt that projected confidence in my 17-year-old mind) when we pulled up to my assigned dorm, Hamilton Hall. Mom took pictures of me making up my bed with my new twin sheets (extra long), and I placed unused pens, pencils and erasers neatly along the top of my desk. I set up a gift from my mom: a manual typewriter (the kind where the “k” and “b” keys would get stuck and I’d have to pop them back into ready position), a few spare ink ribbons and a tiny box of white out sheets. (No, this wasn’t a vintage objet d’art; this was the actual typewriter I would use all freshman year. I am that old.)
What followed was four years of studying, but also friendships made, laughter shared, milestones achieved (and others, missed) and lots of cooking. I cooked from the minute I landed in Hamilton Hall and made my first stroganoff in a hotpot. Later, in my sorority house, I hung out in the kitchen with Linda, the cook, and even signed up for KP duty once a week, my first pro gig in the kitchen I suppose. When I lived in an apartment junior year, I cooked so much that my roommates and I couldn’t eat all the food, so I would deliver random care packages to friends all around campus.
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This time of year, nothing is easier to find (and afford) than zucchini. Finding ways to get the good stuff into your kids, however, can be more elusive. I’ve tried all sorts of things (some hits, many misses) and these are the most popular zucchini dishes according to our three kids:
- Stovetop Pork and Rice with Zucchini: If you can make rice, you can make this — and your kids will swoon. Just add mustard, cooked cubes of pork and chicken broth to plain brown rice. Throw the zucchini in for the last few minutes. Tada!
Getting kids to try new foods and flavors can be about as easy as putting them to bed early. Practically impossible. That’s why I do a few things with our brood:
- Keep It Sweet: When I make Asian noodles at home, I use a combination of honey, soy sauce and a very small amount of fresh ginger.
- Include Known Favorites: I like adding three veggies, including at least one that each child likes and, if possible, one new one for them to try (or try again). That way, everyone is already excited by what they see on the plate.
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