published Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Side Orders: Healthy fare for packed lunches

Baby boomers can well remember when school didn’t begin until the Monday after Labor Day. Now it’s hard to believe that summer is over for most local kids, and Hamilton County schools will be back in full swing on Thursday — just one week into August.

So there’s reading and writing and ’rithmetic to think about, but also food. It’s time to get the lunch boxes out of the pantry and begin thinking about what to put in them. But keep in mind that obesity is still a “huge problem in the Southeast,” says Amy Gruber, a registered dietitian for Parkridge Health System. So what’s the best way to satisfy your child’s hunger while keeping in line with health guidelines?

“Let them help pack the lunch, so they’ll know what he or she will be eating the next day,” Gruber advises. That way, she says, they can try new things at home, and you’ll know what your child does and doesn’t like.

Use an ice pack in the lunch box so you are not limited to standard lunch-box choices, she adds. And think outside the (lunch) box with more of Gruber’s tips:

• Make a fruit skewer stacked with chunks of pineapple, red and green grapes, kiwi slices and strawberries. The kids will have fun eating their recommended daily allowance of fruit.

• Meat and cheese skewers are another good idea, too; you can even use toothpicks and make several mini-skewers. And if your child likes tomatoes, add some cherry tomatoes for color and flavor. This is a good idea if you want to limit the amount of bread in your child’s diet.

• Again, to limit the amount of bread, make a whole wheat tortilla for a wrap using chicken, lean roast beef, lean ham or turkey. Go easy on the mayonnaise.

• You can also make a pizza wrap using turkey pepperoni, marinara and cheese. This is even good cold.

• Trail mix with nuts and dried fruit can be high in protein and fiber and is very filling. But remember, it’s also high in calories. Moderation is the key.

• Cheese sticks make good lunch box fillers, or even a cheese stick wrapped in a tortilla shell can be the main entree.

• Encourage your child to drink milk instead of juice. If he or she does not like white milk, even chocolate milk is better than juice because it has protein, calcium, vitamin D and potassium. Even 100 percent juice can have more sugar than a soda, so be careful and read the labels.

• Kids love to dip, so try packing hummus and carrots. “Kids are being introduced to this healthy bean dip. It’s high in protein and fiber,” Gruber says. “I’ve tried this with kids I work with and 90 percent of them love it.”

Hummus comes in a variety of flavors, from garlic to lightly flavored with lemon and olive oil. For even fresher taste, try making your own.

The Food Network’s Alton Brown has a very good one that you’ll find at foodnetwork.com, but it takes a lot of time to slow cook the dried chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans). I’ve tried the following recipe from inspiredtaste.net using canned chickpeas and it’s hard to tell the difference. But it only took minutes to make. It’s good with veggies as well as pita chips.

Fresh Hummus

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, about 1 large lemon

1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste)

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving

1/2 large garlic clove, minced

1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt, depending on taste

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

2 to 3 tablespoons water

Dash of ground paprika for serving

In the bowl of a food processor, combine tahini and lemon juice. Process for 1 minute. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl, then turn on again and process for 30 seconds. This extra time helps “whip” or “cream” the tahini, making smooth and creamy hummus possible.

Add the olive oil, minced garlic, salt and cumin to tahini mixture in food processor. Process for 30 seconds, scrape sides and bottom of bowl, then process another 30 seconds.

Open can of chickpeas, drain liquid, then rinse well with water. Add half the chickpeas to the food processor then process for 1 minute. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl, add remaining chickpeas and process for 1 to 2 minutes or until thick and quite smooth.

Most likely the hummus will be too thick or still have tiny bits of chickpea. To fix this, with the food processor turned on, slowly add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water until the consistency is perfect.

To serve, scrape the hummus into a bowl then drizzle about 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top and sprinkle with paprika. Store any leftover in an airtight container and refrigerate up to one week.


Chattanooga Market will reverberate with the sounds of chefs in the kitchen when the annual FiveStar Food Fight kicks off at noon on Sunday. This year’s chef lineup is a good one, so judging will be tough. They are:

• Charlie Loomis, Elemental

• Blacky Smith, Blacksmith’s

• Brad Grafton, Enzo’s Market

• Buck Oglesby, Back Inn Cafe

• Nate Flynt, Famous Nater’s

The chefs will each be given $35 to do their shopping at the market after learning the mystery meat that they will be cooking. Then they will be given one hour to complete their dishes. Cooking begins at 1:35 p.m. So come on down and meet the chefs. I’ll be there and would love to see you.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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