Cooks Exchange

Mix up foods for interesting school lunches for young students

Getting the 4-1-1 on what my granddaughter had for lunch takes persistence.

Our daily routine: She gets in the car and tells me what she wants for an after-school snack. I know by the type of snack she requests whether she ate her school lunch. Wanting a kids’ meal from some fast-food establishment is a dead giveaway: She didn’t eat. Now a frozen drink and chips, she probably ate fruit and dessert.

“I really don’t want anything,” she said one day this past week. My immediate reaction: Why?

“We had lasagna today for lunch, and I tasted it,” she said. “It was kinda good. I ate it.”

I certainly was glad I was driving and had to watch out for other drivers or else I probably would have fainted.

Amazing what a noon meal will do for a 7-year-old!

When she is favoring dessert-and-fruit lunches, I try to encourage her to take her lunch. We even shop together, hoping she will select somewhat healthy foods.

She loves turkey and American cheese with crackers, but no bread or sandwich, please.

This year a student in her class has a peanut allergy, so the good ole PBJ is out. Of course, that is another favorite if the crusts are trimmed.

Longtime friend Esther Tidwell can fill a flour tortilla with almost any type of meat or cheese and her granddaughter will eat it. She says the tortillas even beat out a PBJ.

Good idea, but my granddaughter likes to eat the tortillas plain sans filling, just like she likes rice and pasta. A bowl of plain rice or plain pasta is fine with her.

If readers struggle with preschoolers or elementary children’s or grandchildren’s eating habits, I have a few suggestions.

In any lunch, I pack a protein, fruit or veggie, drink and maybe a treat. Pasta is a good accompaniment to turkey or chicken slices along with carrot sticks and ranch dressing. Sometimes she wants the pasta with just butter and maybe some cheese. My granddaughter likes cold pasta. She’s not big on hot foods.

Following the advice of America’s Test Kitchen, a rice bowl is another good lunch. Top the white rice with sliced chicken and Mandarin oranges. Broccoli with ranch dressing is a good side. A cookie or slice of cake can be added.

Tacos work well for Tidwell’s granddaughter. She adds cooked chicken, cheese and salsa to a flour tortilla. A banana or grapes round out the lunch.

Green Kids Crafts ( experts say kids are more likely to eat their school lunches if they get to help pack the lunches. They say parents want to do the nutritious and organic lunches but give up as the school year progresses.

These experts suggest having bins in the refrigerator with bins filled with dairy choices, fruit, veggies, protein, grains and treats. The kids can grab one of each bin for lunch, thus removing some chaos out of lunch-making.

For example, they suggest deli meat, hard-boiled eggs, pepperoni, various sandwiches and nuts. The sandwiches can be prepared the night before and tightly wrapped and placed in the bin.

Parents keep control of what goes into the lunches. Variety is the key to this lunch-making method.

Martha Stewart suggests mixing up some healthy ingredients to create lunches kids will eat. Loading up on fresh vegetables and fruits is the key. I like Stewart’s recipe for broccoli-ham calzones. A container of tomato sauce or pasta sauce is good for dipping. These take about 35 minutes from start to finish.

Instead of buying store-bought fruit rollups, Stewart has a recipe for homemade ones.

Let me know if you try any of these ideas and what works or didn’t work. Readers can help one another.


Olive oil for brushing

All-purpose flour, for work surface

I pound pizza dough, thawed if frozen

2 cups broccoli florets

1 cup cubed ham

6 ounces sliced Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Brush a rimmed baking sheet with oil. On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough into a 16-inch round. Spread broccoli on bottom half of dough, leaving a 1-inch border. Top broccoli with ham and Cheddar. Fold top half over and roll and pinch edges to seal. Brush off excess flour.

Carefully transfer calzone to baking sheet. Lightly brush with oil, season with salt and bake until golden brown. Bake 22 to 25 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

— From


4 cups berries or chopped stone fruit

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Puree berries or chopped stone fruit, sugar and lemon juice. Cook in saucepan over medium heat until thick, 30 to 35 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve onto a baking sheet lined with a nonstick baking mat; tilt to distribute. (Use a pan that isn’t warped to prevent pooling.) Bake at 170 degrees until dehydrated, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Let cool for 10 minutes. Cut into eight 4 1/2-by-5 1/2-inch rectangles. Roll in parchment. Store at room temperature for up to 1 month or 2 seconds, depending on your kids’ appetites.

— From

Andrea Yeager can be reached at and Cooks Exchange, 205 DeBuys Road, Gulfport, MS 39507.