Mix 'n' match meals: Finger foods that work together for kid-approved school lunches

Mix 'n' match meals: Finger foods that work together for kid-approved school lunches

August 13th, 2014 by Susan Pierce in Life Entertainment

Misty Mullins helps her 12-year-old son Tyler and 7-year-old daughter Olivia make a tomato and turkey sandwich at her mother-in-law's Ooltewah home.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.


Need some ideas to start the school year? Parents.com suggests the following finger food menus for a lunch that won't be traded off in the cafeteria:

• Menu 1: String cheese, a handful of whole wheat crackers, 1 cup raw broccoli florets, 2 tablespoons light dressing for dipping, 1/2 cup blueberries.

• Menu 2: Whole grain tortilla chips, 8 cubes reduced-fat cheddar cheese, 2 tablespoons salsa, melon wedges.

• Menu 3: Peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat mini bagel, 1/2 cup pineapple chunks, 3/4 cup halved cherry tomatoes, 2 tablespoons low-fat dressing.


• Follow the 80-20 rule: 80 percent healthy foods, 20 percent less healthy.

• Always pack a juice or small bottled water. If choosing juice, make sure it is 100 percent juice.

• Include one fruit; good choices are an applesauce cup, sliced strawberries or melons

• Choose skim or 1 percent milk

• Choose whole wheat bread for sandwiches for higher amounts of vitamins and minerals

• Make carrot or celery sticks more appealing by including a cup of light dressing as a dip

• Read the labels on cookie snack packs. Most prepackaged cookies are based on adult dietary needs, not children's; one or two cookies is sufficient for a child.

Source: Misty Mullins, T.C. Thompson pediatric dietitian

Swap the traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich for PB&J Sushi Roll - one flattened slice of bread spread with PB&J then rolled into a spiral. Mixing and matching a variety of finger foods - melon balls, veggie sticks, Ants on a Log (raisins, peanut butter and celery), low-fat cheese cut into bite-size cubes - makes lunch more interesting to kids.

Swap the traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich...

Photo by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.

Misty Mullins packs school lunches for two children with divergent tastes: a daughter who likes hummus wraps and a son who'd eat Ants on a Log every day if she'd pack him the peanut-butter-and-raisin-filled celery sticks.

Ooltewah mom Jennifer Chaffin faces a different lunch-box challenge.

"We have been limited to no peanut butter due to peanut allergies in my second-grader's class," says the mom of two. Wraps have become her go-to food.

"My kids love wraps with turkey and Havarti cheese -- their food tastes are a bit high-maintenance, much like their momma," Chaffin laughs.

The beauty of wraps, say both mothers, is their diversity and how easy they are for kids to handle. It's simple to change their flavor just by swapping out various ingredients inside the soft tortillas.

Mix-and-match lunch components using a variety of finger foods is a growing trend. It's reflected in the growing number of companies marketing single-serve food products, and in the variety of small, lidded containers on the market that make it easy to pack foods that previously would have caused leaky lunch bags. Any mom who has ever heard "Ew! I don't want my foods to touch!" can appreciate that.

One of the biggest trends in school lunches is the use of bento box systems, according to savingsangle.com, a website devoted to helping families cut costs by sharing news on coupons, retail deals and discounts. Bento boxes come in a variety of sizes and prices, but the common denominator is their multiple, small containers that can be used to pack a variety of foods.

Tote a taco bar to school in one of these divided boxes. Include a soft tortilla, a slice of roast beef and pack sides of shredded cheese, chopped tomatoes, salsa, shredded lettuce or other favorite toppings. Each food remains separate in its compartment until your child combines them at lunch.

"My daughter likes for me to put food in cute little containers," says Mullins, a pediatric dietitian at T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital at Erlanger. "It makes it fun -- a little cooler -- to eat the food. That's her style; she's a little fashionista."

Mullins says she always lets her son and daughter shop with her because they "tend to eat things they've help pick out."

She follows the "80-20 Rule" when packing lunches: 80 percent healthy foods, 20 percent less healthy, such as a single-serve pack of Gummies or a fruit roll-up for dessert.

"I try to put more whole grains, fruits and veggies in their lunches. We cut the veggies, fruits and sandwiches into shapes with cookie cutters," says Mullins. "My daughter likes carrot and celery sticks so she can pick a salad dressing pack. That's the way I get her to eat more veggies, if she can dip them in dressing."

Chaffin caters to her son's love of veggie wraps.

"I use bell peppers, spinach, tomato, olives, pickles and whatever else 'colored' I can throw on them. We don't do chips, but some sort of cracker like Cheez-Its, Goldfish or pretzels. I send fresh fruit, whatever is in season, and I also send a frozen Greek yogurt tube. The yogurt serves two purposes: It keeps the lunch cold and it is high in protein."

Still, she's not opposed to occasionally adding a treat such as a small candy bar or cookie.

"My kids are so trained that this is last, that oftentimes the treat comes home because they ran out of time," says Chaffin.

Chicken Salad Rolls

1 cup shredded, cooked chicken

1/3 cup "something crunchy," (celery, apple, radish, chopped sweet-pickle slices or a combo)

1/4 small red onion, chopped

1/4 cup mayonnaise or plain yogurt

Salt, pepper to taste

2 whole wheat hot dog buns

Stir chicken, "something crunchy" choice, onion and mayonnaise together until evenly coated. Salt and pepper to taste.

Evenly fill hot dog buns with salad mix. Wrap in parchment or butcher paper. Pack in lunch sack with an ice pack.

Make this chicken salad the night before and refrigerate. Let the kids choose their "something crunchy" and they will be much more likely to eat it.

Note: Roasted turkey works well in this recipe. For adventurous eaters, make it curried. Stir 2 teaspoons curry powder, 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro and 1/4 cup golden raisins into the mix.

-- Food Network

Rainbows & Butterflies Pasta Salad

8 ounces whole-grain bow tie pasta

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1 cup corn kernels, thawed if using frozen

1 cup shelled edamame, thawed if frozen

1 medium red bell pepper

2 medium carrots, shredded (about 1/2 cup)

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta as the label directs. Drain and toss with 1 teaspoon olive oil to prevent sticking; let cool.

In large bowl, toss the cooled pasta with the corn, edamame, bell pepper and carrots. Drizzle with the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and toss to coat.

Add the Parmesan and 1/4 teaspoon salt; toss again and season to taste.

-- Food Network

Pb&J Sushi Roll

1 slice whole wheat bread

1 tablespoon peanut butter

1 tablespoon jelly

Flatten bread slice with rolling pin or large glass. Remove crust if desired. Spread bread with peanut butter, then jelly. Roll up into tight spiral, then cut spiral into four 1-inch pieces.

-- Sproutonline.com

Ants on a Log

Celery stalks, washed

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/4 cup raisins

Cut celery stalks into thirds, spread cavity with peanut butter. Place 4-5 raisins on top of peanut butter.

-- Sproutonline.com

Contact staff writer Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284.