Seasonal cooking with Dan Wagner

Dan Wagner shares some back to school lunch tips.

Jack, Amy and James Shaffer from Jefferson, prepping healthy foods. Photo:Courtesy Dan Wagner
Jack, Amy and James Shaffer from Jefferson, prepping healthy foods. Photo:Courtesy Dan Wagner

For most parents, an average school day starts at 6 a.m., making breakfast, packing lunches and sending the kids off. The most challenging part of the morning routine may be packing lunch. You might be pressed for time, have a picky eater or realize you are out of bread …or a combination of all three. But, with a little planning, you can create nutritious lunches that your child will actually eat!

The first step for creating a lunch your child will eat is letting them be part of the preparation. Look at the big picture and don’t focus on individual items. Look for nutritious foods that have less added sugar, saturated fats and sodium, and select items from the five food groups.

When I was in school, I ate 90 percent of my lunches in the school cafeteria. But, 10 percent of the time, my lunch was packed in my cool tin “Happy Days“ Fonz lunch box. Of course, the lunch box has changed in many ways. I recently noticed a trend towards the Bento Box, which was created in Japan for takeout lunches. The boxes have sections for healthy portions that also assist in keeping food fresh within its leak proof compartments. The Bento boxes also are microwavable and have an area for an ice pack so food can be properly chilled for safety. The main idea is to make it as appealing to the eye as it is to the taste buds.

For main course ideas, start with a half turkey wrap, corn dog muffin or a bean dip with crackers. A cold pasta blended with vegetables and cheese can add to a tasteful lunch. During the colder weather, an 8-ounce portion of hot soup is a nice way to change things up a bit. Fresh fruit, with a yogurt dip is an excellent side. To make vegetables more appealing, try lightly marinating or carving your them into a creative animal. Nothing is more enjoyable than biting the head off of a cucumber shark at lunch.

A bento box is a fun and convenient way to pack a lunch. 
Courtesy Dan Wagner

Last but not least, take the time to have your students to dine in the school cafeteria ­– it has a balanced, tasty menu at a reasonable price.

When you pack your child’s lunch, you are sending them off for the day with not only a nutritious meal, but with a little bit of love. They are never too old for that!

Dan Wagner of Rices Landing has been director of culinary arts at the Greene County Career and Technology Center for more than 25 years. He is a graduate of Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I.