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With a little coaching, kids eat healthy foods

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    Skinny Elvis Sandwich.


Skinny Elvis Sandwich.


The ringing of that first bell. The nervousness mixed with excitement. What will I learn about this year? Will I make new friends?

That’s what going back to school means to kids. And what does it mean to adults?

Relief. Relaxation. No more hyperactive youngsters burning off endless reserves of energy or sullen teens moping around the house. No more complaints of having nothing to do. No more noise.

But part of the deal of being parents is making sure the little ones eat well when they are in school. The not so little ones too. It is all part of helping them to grow up smart, strong, and healthy.

Of course, many children have to be coached into eating well, if not coaxed. Some need to be tricked or cajoled. And if you can’t watch them at school, some children who eat well in front of you might head straight for the fattiest, unhealthiest foods.

What’s a poor parent to do?

Perhaps the best option is to send Junior and Junioretta off to school with healthy lunches so good they won’t want to eat anything else.

First of all, it is important to remember the basics. The U.S. Department of Agriculture -- in that plate thingy that recently replaced the pyramid thingy -- recommends that a little less than half the food we eat ought to be fruits and vegetables. Grains and proteins together, in equal amounts, should combine to make up a like amount, and dairy products should constitute the smallest amount, but still vital, of our daily intake.

It seems daunting, but children really will eat all of these things. Food blogger Sarah Matheny, who recently wrote her first cookbook Peas and Thank You, has a number of tips for getting children to eat, for instance, vegetables.

With the right, healthy sauce, such as a ranch, hummus, or peanut sauce, kids will go for vegetables without thinking twice, she says. A plastic bag with carrot sticks and a small container of hummus will be a big hit at the cafeteria table, and rare is the child (or adult) who can resist peanut butter with celery sticks or slices of apple.

Ms. Metheny also suggests letting the kids go grocery shopping with you and letting them pick out an item of fresh produce or other healthy food. They will be more interested in eating it if they were the ones to choose it. And if possible, have them help cook it e_SEmD “kids get excited about being involved in making their meals,” she wrote.

One of her most important tips is to eat right yourself, as a model for the children. “If you don’t eat your veggies, your kid doesn’t stand a chance,” she wrote.

While many children gladly will gobble up a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Ms. Metheny likes to make the same idea healthier with an inspiration from, of all people, Elvis Presley. Her “Skinny Elvis” sandwich begins with whole wheat or whole grain bread and uses almond butter instead of peanut butter, because almond butter has no saturated fat yet is rich in magnesium and potassium. While Elvis liked bananas on his favorite fried peanut-butter sandwiches, Ms. Metheny prefers sliced strawberries. She is a vegan, so she likes to grill hers in vegan margarine or cooking spray, but meat-eaters could substitute butter (being aware of its calories and fats) or just leave it out entirely.

Meijer grocery store dietician Christina Miller, who is the chain’s regional healthy living adviser for this region, agrees that getting children involved in making their own lunches is the best way to get them to eat well. If you make the lunches right after dinner, “you can use leftovers, and it gives you a few minutes in the kitchen with your child,” she said.

And making lunch the night before also has an important safety component: You can place the food -- and the lunch box -- in the refrigerator at night so it will be all chilled when the child goes to school. Don’t put the food inside the lunch box when you refrigerate it, she said, and insulated lunch boxes are best, especially the ones with aluminum linings. She added that one small ice pack inside the lunch box usually is not enough to keep food safe, but that two usually do the trick.

“Pick a fruit, pick a vegetable, and then let’s make something that has a good lean protein source and a starch for energy,” she said. “Kids need a good balance of foods to help keep those brains fueled throughout the afternoon.”

The Meijer stores’ recipe for a Crunchy Tuna Wrap is a good example of taking a nutritious meal and giving it enough appeal that children will want to eat it. The protein comes from the tuna and the starch from the tortilla, but the tortilla is made with spinach which gives it visual appeal and makes it slightly more healthy. Bits of red pepper enticingly contrast with the green tortilla, and the chopped celery gives the wrap a satisfying crunch.

For younger children, Disney FamilyFun Magazine suggests deconstructing a sandwich and then making it kid-friendly by putting it all on a skewer. Sandwich on a Stick alternates bite-sized pieces of meat, cheese, bread, and whatever your child happens to like e_SEmD grape tomatoes, pickles, olives, whatever. Rare is the child who doesn’t get a kick out of sliding food off a skewer.

Deborah Griggs of Hobart, Ind., submitted a recipe to FamilyFun for Pack Peanut Butter Protein Balls that might not be quite as healthy as advertised, but are certain to be a popular treat for kids of all ages. And they are all-natural too, which is a plus.

And from the Food Network come two recipes that are a bit more exotic and take more work, and are perfect to give to kids who insist they don’t want to be treated like kids anymore.

Veggie Stack Pita Pockets are a meal in a mini-pita, great for vegetarians and schoolchildren who have developed an adult palate. They provide vegetables, protein, fruit, grains, and even a little bit of dairy in the form of cheese. But don’t tell them it’s good for them; just tell them it’s delicious.

Along similar lines, Ina Garten’s recipe for Homemade Granola Bars represents the ultimate parental goal. It gets kids to eat something that is good for them, while tricking them into thinking they’re eating something naughty.

Contact Daniel Neman at or 419-724-6155.


Skinny Elvis Sandwiches

8 slices whole wheat bread

½ cup almond butter (creamy or crunchy)

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 pint fresh strawberries, cleaned and sliced

1 tablespoon melted butter or margarine OR cooking spray

Place a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. If not using butter or margarine, spray pan with cooking spray.

Slather four slices of bread with 2 tablespoons of almond butter each and sprinkle with several dashes of ground cinnamon. Layer strawberries on top of almond butter and top sandwich with an additional slice of bread.

If using butter or margarine, lightly brush both sides of the sandwich with the melted butter or margarine using a pastry brush and then place sandwich in the heated skillet.

Grill for several minutes on each side, until bread is golden brown and almond butter is melted.

Yield: 4 sandwiches

Source: Adapted from Peas and Thank You, by Sara Matheny

Crunchy Tuna Wrap

2 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise

2¼ teaspoons mustard

1 pouch (7.06 ounces) light chunk tuna in water, flaked

¼ cup chopped green onions

¼ cup finely chopped celery

3 tablespoons chopped sweet red pepper

2 spinach tortillas (8-inch)

1 cup shredded lettuce

In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise and mustard. Stir in the tuna, onions, celery, and red pepper. Spread over tortillas; top with lettuce. Roll up tightly.

Yield: 2 servings

Source: Adapted from by Meijer

Sandwich on a Stick



Lunch meat

Grape tomatoes


Pickles (optional)

Olives (optional)

Mayonnaise or mustard

Cut up cubes of bread, cheese, and lunch meat. Slide the cubes onto a skewer with other foods your child likes, such as a grape tomato, a piece of lettuce, a pickle, or an olive.

Set out a side of mayonnaise or mustard for dipping.

Source: Disney FamilyFun Magazine

Pack Peanut Butter Protein Balls

1 cup peanut butter (creamy or crunchy)

½ cup nonfat dry milk powder

½ cup raisins

¼ cup honey

Graham cracker crumbs

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients except the graham cracker crumbs. Shape the mixture into 1-inch balls. Roll in the crumbs and refrigerate.

Yield: 24 balls.

Source: Deborah Griggs, in Disney FamilyFun Magazine

Veggie Stack Pita Pockets

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas or white beans, rinsed and drained

1 to 2 tablespoons water

¼ cup grated manchego or pecorino romano cheese

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning

Pinch red pepper flakes

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

½ ripe Hass avocado, pitted and sliced

1 small cucumber, sliced OR ½ bell pepper, seeded and sliced

10 to 12 whole-wheat pita minis (3 inches), lightly toasted

Combine the chickpeas, water, cheese, lemon juice, salt, and red pepper flakes in a food processor and puree until completely smooth, about 5 minutes. While the motor is running, pour in the olive oil and process until fully incorporated and velvety. Season with pepper, to taste.

Spoon a scant tablespoon bean spread into toasted pitas. (Put remaining bean spread in an air-tight container.) Add avocado and cucumber slices, or other vegetables of choice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Wrap in parchment or butcher paper, and pack in a plastic container to keep from getting squished. Pack in a lunch box and send to school.

Yield: 10-12 mini pitas

Source: The Food Network

Homemade Granola Bars

2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal

1 cup sliced almonds

1 cup shredded coconut, loosely packed

½ cup toasted wheat germ

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

? cup honey

¼ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup chopped pitted dates

½ cup chopped dried apricots

½ cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8 by 12-inch baking dish and line it with parchment paper.

Toss the oatmeal, almonds, and coconut together on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the wheat germ.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Place the butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook and stir for a minute, then pour over the toasted oatmeal mixture. Add the dates, apricots, and cranberries and stir well.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Wet your fingers and lightly press the mixture evenly into the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool for at least 2 to 3 hours before cutting into squares. Serve at room temperature.

Yield: 12 servings

Source: Ina Garten, Food Network

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