We’re just a few weeks into the school year and you may already be running out of creative ideas for lunch box snacks and sides, or perhaps you’re wondering what changes have taken place in your child’s school lunch cafeteria this fall. Read on for five of my fresh snack and side dish ideas and for highlights from the Healthy Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010.
Thirty two million U.S. kids eat school lunch, and this year, new USDA food and nutrition guidelines went into effect. Here are some of the changes taking place in cafeterias across the country.
> More Colorful Fruits and Vegetables Served: In the past, schools were only required to serve a fruit or a vegetable with the meal. Now, both fruits and veggies must be served, and there is a weekly requirement for specific colors.
> More Whole Grains Required: In the past, whole grain foods were encouraged. Now, you’ll see an increase in whole grain offerings. Look out for whole grain pizza crust, breads, and soft pretzels.
> A Switch to Lowfat and Fat-Free Milk: Schools will now only offer lowfat and fat-free white milk, and all flavored milks will be fat free. All milk — white or flavored — is an important component of the school meal. It provides nine essential nutrients kids need including “nutrients of concern,” calcium, potassium, and vitamin D. I’ve worked on some educational projects with milk processors, and I’m happy to see all the work that’s gone into lowering calories and sugar in school flavored milk. On average, it now has 132 calories per serving, and sugars have been cut by 40% over the past five years.
> Portion Size Savvy: Depending on the age of the child, portion sizes will be adjusted to meet their caloric needs. In addition, efforts will be made to lower the amount of saturated fat and sodium in the foods offered.
For even more information on the changes, check out the USDA’s website, The School Day Just Got Healthier.
Nutrient-rich snacks and sides can help to boost the nutritional GPA of any child’s lunch. Here are five of my go-to ‘sack stuffers.’
> Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins — Whether you make a batch of 12 regular-size muffins or two dozen mini muffins, this recipe (which first appeared in The Moms’ Guide to Meal Makeovers), will sustain your kids until the lunch bell rings.
> Hummus with whole grain pretzels for dipping — Pack your own or look for Sabra’s grab-and-go Classic Hummus with Pretzels.
> Mini grapefruit cups — I was recently at Costco and found fruit cups made with grapefruit sections and 100% fruit juice. My boys love ‘em.
> Medium, pitted black olives — Buy a can of olives, drain and rinse, and then pack a portion’s worth in small plastic containers. Store leftovers in the fridge.
> Mini packets of homemade trail mix — This summer, I created a recipe for trail mix made with shredded oat cereal, mini pretzels, toasted nuts, dried fruit, and dark chocolate chips. I used dried banana chips and dried papaya, which was a huge hit with the whole family.
Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
Makes 12 Muffins (or 24 Mini Muffins)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/4 cup wheat germ or ground flaxseed
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 cup)
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/3 cup canola oil
- 1/3 cup 1% lowfat milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly oil or coat 12 muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
2. Whisk together the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, wheat germ, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
3. Combine the bananas, eggs, sugar, oil, milk, and vanilla in a medium bowl and stir until well blended. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir until just moistened. Stir in the chocolate chips.
4. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups. Bake about 20 minutes, or until the muffins are light golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
5. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Remove the muffins and cool an additional 5 minutes before serving. To make 24 mini muffins, bake about 14 minutes.
Nutritional Information per Serving (1 muffin): 220 calories, 10g fat (2g saturated, 1.0g omega-3), 140mg sodium, 31g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 4g protein
What are some of your kids’ favorite snacks and sides?
Disclosure: I’ve been doing some consulting work with the National Milk Mustache “got milk?” Campaign this fall, and this post is part of some of the work I’ve done for them. For more info on school lunch changes, you can also check out MilkatSchools.com.