Blog | Rachel Begun, MS, RD | Page 2

Back-to-School Lunch Ideas That Will Please Everyone

Mother on porch waves to child heading off to school

If you are a parent, you have many things on your mind right now.  What to put in your kids lunch box is one of them. Taste and fun are top of mind for your kids, while good nutrition is on your priority list.  So, how do you please everyone?

Here is a list of nutrients most likely to be missing from childrens’ diets and fun lunch ideas for each.  You’ll have piece of mind knowing you’re giving them good nutrition, and they’ll come home with an empty lunch box and two thumbs up!

Potassium and Fiber
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans identified four nutrients of concern for Americans, meaning these are the four nutrients Americans are most likely to be deficient in, children included.  Potassium and fiber are two of the four (the other two are mentioned below).  I mention them together, because they are both found in high amounts in fruits and vegetables.

It’s probably not a secret to you that children aren’t getting enough fruits and vegetables.  In fact, according to the Produce for Better Health Foundation, just 2% of children meet the minimum requirement for daily produce intake. This is not a judgement. I know how difficult it is to get kids to eat their fruits and veggies, so here are some ideas to keep in mind when packing their lunches:

  • If whole fruit and cut veggies go untouched, find ways to incorporate them into the foods you know they like. Mix blueberries and granola into yogurt.  Veggies just might go down easier when they are in the the sandwich rather than next to it. Think lettuce, tomatoes avocado and grilled peppers (from last night’s dinner) for turkey, chicken and tuna sandwiches.  Sliced bananas go well with a nut or seed butter sandwich.
  • Take advantage of leftovers! Veggie stir-fry, lasagna or a frittata from last night’s dinner make for a tasty lunch and require no preparation.
  • For stand-alone fruit, kids like options they can eat with their fingers.  That’s one of the reasons I love Naturipe Washed and Ready-to-Eat Fresh Blueberries.  They’re a sweet finger-food loaded with nutrients, including potassium, fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants. They come in three connecting snack packs.  So, you can pack one or all three in your kids’ lunch box. They’re sealed for freshness so one or two of the packs can last for an afternoon snack.

Trio Blueberries

In June, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a joint statement recommending that pregnant women, breastfeeding women and young children eat more fish low in mercury in order to get the nutrients important for brain health and development.  Omega-3′s are one of the nutrients being referred to.

The statement said “Choices lower in mercury include some of the most commonly eaten fish, such as shrimp, pollock, salmon, canned light tuna, tilapia, catfish and cod.”

Well, canned light tuna is a tried and true option for the lunch box or brown bag.  If your kids aren’t digging the tuna fish sandwich, try tuna-stuffed cherry tomatoes.  They’re a cinch to make and your kids will love to pop them in their mouth. Cut off the top of the tomato, scoop out the seeds with a small spoon, and fill the hole with your favorite tuna salad.  Canned salmon works, too!  It’s fun finger food and they’ll get an extra serving of produce from the tomatoes.

For variety, avocados and peppers are great stuffing vessels as well!

Tomatoes stuffed with tuna

Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium and vitamin D are the other two nutrients of concern.  And, their benefits go well beyond bone health.  Calcium is important for cardiovascular and muscle function.  Vitamin D is also essential for muscle function and we are learning plays a critical role in immunity.  The important thing to know is that they go together.  The body needs vitamin D in order to absorb calcium (they don’t have to be eaten together).

Most know that milk products are rich in calcium and fortified with vitamin D, but that’s just the beginning.

Calcium is found in many non-dairy foods, which is important for kids who don’t tolerate milk or young adults who may choose not to drink/eat it. Think leafy greens for a lettuce wrap, figs as a side finger food, almonds as part of trail mix, black bean dip as a sandwich spread or dip for 100% corn tortilla chips, edamame as a finger food (buy them frozen and they usually defrost by lunchtime), and fortified alternative “milks” as the base for a smoothie

Vitamin D, unfortunately, is found naturally in very few foods.  Salmon is one, so the canned salmon ideas mentioned above are a double nutrition whammy.  Eggs are another.  It’s easy to find recipes online for an egg, cheese and veggie baked frittata.  The eggs contain vitamin D, the cheese is loaded with calcium, and the veggies provide potassium and fiber.  For a fun lunch idea, pour the frittata batter into muffin cups.  One is a perfect serving size for younger children.  As they get older, they may need two or three.  This is a great idea if you have kids of varying ages.  You won’t have to make a completely separate lunch for each kid!

 Mini Frittata Finger Food

(Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.  I received complimentary samples of the Naturipe Washed and Ready-to-Eat Fresh Blueberries and was paid by Naturipe to write this post.  The opinions, lunch ideas and nutrition knowledge shared in this post are my own.)

FDA Gluten-Free Labeling Rule Goes Into Effect August 5, 2014


The FDA has finalized a standard definition for gluten-free labeling and it goes into effect on August 5, 2014.  This means that manufacturers using the “gluten-free” claim on their products will now be held to an industry-wide national standard.

Prior to FDA’s labeling ruling, the term “gluten-free” on food packages was an arbitrary term. What it meant from one food product to another was vastly different, leaving people who have to eat gluten-free confused and concerned about the safety of packaged foods. As a result, gluten-free consumers were left to fend for themselves, spending hours in the supermarket and on the phone with manufacturers to determine if a product was truly safe for them or their loved ones.

Understanding the technicalities of the ruling is important so you know what you are getting when you see the term “gluten-free” and similar wording on food packages.

Here are several resources I have participated in to educate the public about the gluten-free labeling ruling.  From them, you should get a good understanding of the ruling.

A Grain of Salt Podcast: FDA Gluten-Free Labeling Standard: What’s It All About?
In this podcast, my co-host, Melissa, interviews me about the particulars of the ruling so that consumers know what and what not to expect when purchasing gluten-free products.  We discuss the following: the standardized definition and criteria for making a gluten-free claim, which marketing terms are covered under the ruling, which food and beverage products the ruling does and does not apply to, and other technicalities of the labeling consumers should know about to make safe gluten-free food choices.

Delicious Living Magazine Articles
The editor-in-chief of Delicious Living magazine did a two-part series on the topic.  The first article was a summary of a talk about the ruling given by Cynthia Kupper, executive director of the Gluten Intolerance Group, at Natural Products Expo West 2014.  The second article is an interview with me that further talks about the technicalities of the ruling.

Doctor Radio Interview on SiriusXM
Yesterday, I joined Dr. Ira Breite on his weekly radio show to talk specifically about the FDA gluten-free labeling rule.  You can listen to reruns of the broadcast this Saturday, August 2nd from 5:00am – 5:30am ET (complete show runs from 4 – 6am ET) or Sunday, August 3rd from 7:00pm – 7:30pm ET (complete show runs from 6:00 – 8:00pm).  Tune into SiriusXM Channel 81.

Last, but not least, another great resource is the webinar hosted by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, titled “Understanding the FDA’s Gluten-Free Labeling Rule Part 1.” Click here for NFCA’s archived webinars and scroll down to the webinar of this title.  You can watch the webinar, as well as download the slides and a handout.

If you have any questions about the ruling, please ask in the comment box below.  I’m happy to address particulars of the ruling in upcoming blog posts.  Don’t be shy.  If you have a question, you can be sure others do, too.

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