There have been a plethora of articles floating around the internet lately regarding going green when planning for back to school. I’ve seen everything from the clothing to the pencils, the binders and even the lunch boxes themselves. But, there seems to be very little about the actual food itself going in the lunch box. And, since I’m a die-hard green foodie and think this to be one of the very most exciting parts of back to school planning and prep, I couldn’t resist sharing some of what I’ve learned over the years when it comes to making those back-to-school lunch foods greener than you have before.
First Things First
I think we’re all aware of the very basics when it comes to green food (school lunches or not) but for a brief overview, green food looks a lot like this: 1) as local as you can get it; 2) as seasonal as you can get it; 3) as natural (least processed) as you can find it and 4) as least packaged as it comes. Some easy ways to make this more affordable/doable in your own life: 1) buy in bulk when you can; 2) grow as many of your own fruits and veggies as possible; 3) make your own staples like bread, pitas and whole grain tortillas and 4) consider creating a lunch “pool” with one or two other moms that cuts your commitment to every other day or bi-weekly. You’ll be able to buy and make more in bulk this way, making it a greener process for all mom’s involved.
Top Green Foods Kids Love
Now, before you start planning out lunches, I highly recommend you compile a list of the green foods that your children actually like and will eat. Because, let’s face it: if you pack them the “greenest” lunch on the planet but they refuse it and it goes to waste, it suddenly just became the least green lunch. Not sure where to start? Here are some of the top staples that you should always keep on hand (almost always kid-approved), and the greenest ways to go about finding them.
- Fruit – find it organic and locally grown when you can (best: picked from your yard!). Kids love sugar, so give it to them in a way that’s good for them too and comes with some filling fiber. Make sure, though, that you buy and offer seasonal fruit. If it’s out of season, meaning it’s probably been shipped from some far off country, it’s lost all green value very rapidly. This means bananas in September are probably not the best option.
- Bread – whether their preference is smothered in peanut butter and jelly or dripping in melted cheese, most every kid loves a piece of bread. The greenest way to offer bread is with bread you’ve made yourself. If you have time, I highly recommend buying wheat berries in bulk and grinding your own wheat for flour too. If that requires more time than you’ve got, look for places to buy it locally, made with bakers who use local products including eggs, milk and wheat.
- Cheese – very few kids don’t like cheese, especially when melted. It’s also high in protein and calcium and extremely versatile, so you can make many “questionables” suddenly “acceptables” in the minds of your children with a bit of cheese. The greenest cheeses come from cows that were raised without chemicals and without undue harm to the earth. A little research into some cheese brands, and you should be able to find multiple brands and flavors your family likes. And of course, if locally made, all the better.
- Yogurt – I cannot rave enough about yogurt. I’ve had particular success with kids and Brown Cow yogurt. Again, you’re offering calcium, protein and enough sweetness to curb their sugar cravings without them going scouting for a candy bar.
Top Green Foods to “Work On” with Your Kids
When it comes to green foods, unfortunately some of the best take a little time for children to grow to love (but it IS possible!). Here are a few foods I recommend gradually working into your childrens’ diets and some easy ways to start them off.
- Hummus – hummus is filled with nutrients and fiber and even a touch of healthy fat. Once your kids have fallen for this, it will make eating veggies all the easier! My favorite snack of all time is carrots dipped in hummus. It’s also great with green/red peppers and celery. Start your children off with a very mild, basic hummus, probably plain, but maybe even one like parmesan flavor. Skip anything with onion, garlic or other strong flavors that will likely be offensive to their sensitive palettes.
- Beans – beans are one of the greenest foods available to us. They actually enrich the earth for the crop to follow it by taking nitrogen from the air and releasing it back into the ground for a process of aerating the soil. They also require less water and fertilizer than most grain crops, including corn. And, as far as health goes, they’re power foods! They’re jam packed with protein and fiber to keep your kids going all day long. Try warm beans mashed (refried bean style). Nachos with baked corn chips are an excellent way to start. A dash of cheese, a sprinkling of tomatoes and a spoonful of vegan sour cream and voila!
- Quinoa – while bread is a great staple, quinoa is a grain that you should really attempt to work into your childrens’ diet. It holds up well, meaning you can throw together a great dish that’s veggies and carbs and protein all in one and it will still be delicious at lunch time. For starters, serve it warm and with a touch of butter or served warm with cooked vegetables and cheese, mixed together and melted casserole style.
- Avocados – avocados provide your children with the fats that their brains desperately need for optimum functioning in a safe, healthy way. It can be spread on toast, offered as a dip, spread on a tortilla with turkey and cheese, etc. Got somebody with a serious sweet tooth? Blend up 1 fully ripe avocado, some milk, a heaping ½ cup of vanilla yogurt, honey to taste and ice. If you freeze this and place a small container of it in the lunch box, it will be a perfect, smoothie consistency by lunch time.
Freelancer Jocelyn loves to write about green food more than anything else. And when she’s not writing something foodie, you’ll find her writing about saving energy with eco-friendly fireplace heaters to stay cozy with this upcoming winter.