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I (heart) My Lunchbox

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(Family Features) - Whether it's tucked in the latest trendy tote or a humble brown bag, lunch is often a high point in a child's day. Although today there are more choices than ever for fun foods to pop into that lunch sack, the time-honored favorite is still the all-American sandwich.

That sandwich represents a challenging balancing act for parents packing lunch: kids have to love it and it should also deliver good nutrition. To be a classroom champion, kids need to power up with nutrient-rich foods.

"Great taste is the key to getting kids to make more nutritious choices at lunchtime," said Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition for Washington University in St. Louis. "Making a nutritious sandwich the kids will enjoy starts with choosing the right bread." Diekman recommends looking for 100 percent whole grain bread that delivers the nutrition kids need, but with a soft texture and smooth taste that kids really like.

It pays to read labels carefully. Many wheat breads on the market are not made with whole wheat, but with enriched wheat flour with a nutritional profile similar to white bread. "Sara Lee Soft & Smooth 100% Honey Wheat Bread is an excellent source of whole grain, and offers a spectrum of choices. Even picky eaters can have the mild taste and soft, smooth texture they prefer, without sacrificing nutrition," Diekman said. A two-slice sandwich with Soft & Smooth 100% Honey Wheat Bread provides 28 grams of whole grain - more than half of the recommended 48 grams of whole grain per day.

Kids - and adults - do not, however, live by bread alone. When it comes to fruit and vegetables - more matters. Nutrition experts like Diekman encourage everyone to eat more fresh produce. Research studies reveal better attention span and discipline in the classroom among kids who eat more fruits and vegetables.

"A simple way for kids - and adults - to eat a healthy diet is to have a rainbow of color on your plate everyday," Diekman said. When packing lunch for kids, provide them with healthy choices they already love, like strawberries. A kid-favorite fruit, strawberries provide sustained energy levels, are naturally sweet and have very few calories.

"Strawberries are a great way to 'eat your red.' Plus, a daily serving of 8 medium strawberries provides 160 percent of your day's supply of vitamin C - more than an orange," Diekman said. "It's an easy and tasty way to help ward off colds, the flu and help keep your child's immune system strong."

Put a smile in every lunchbox this school year with a yummy, nutritious sandwich that kids will love and one you'll feel great fixing for them. Add a fun side dish and don't forget to drop in a quick note, joke, quote or other surprise that kids can look forward to everyday.

Spending 20 years in a creative classroom with kids has given Kit Bennett, founder of AmazingMoms.com, a rich perspective on what engages kids - even at lunch time. "Add a bit of joy to their lunchboxes, and get the kids involved," Bennett said. "Whether it's assembling the lunch or decorating a brown bag - it's a great way to bring a busy family together."

"Try to make lunch fun," Diekman agrees. "Even high school students would like to see something more interesting than two pieces of bread with something in the middle tossed in a brown paper bag. It's important to offer variety and remember that every kid's taste is different."

Make kids' lunches "trade proof" with fun ideas found at www.thejoyofeating.com and www.calstrawberry.com.

Today's Twist on Classic PB and J

Peanut Butter and Strawberry Sandwich With Honey

Spread peanut butter on one slice Sara Lee Soft & Smooth 100% Honey Wheat Bread. Arrange a layer of stemmed, sliced California strawberries on top of peanut butter. Spread second slice of bread with honey. Place on top of strawberries, honey side down.

The foundation of this nutritious sandwich is whole grain bread with soft texture and smooth taste.

Strawberries and 100 percent whole grain bread combine two of America's favorites into one nutritious lunch option. Rich in antioxidants, both strawberries and 100 percent whole grain bread help keep the brain and heart healthy and may reduce the risk of some diseases.

Miss the jelly? Strawberries are more nutritious, have more texture and are therefore more satisfying. As an added bonus, the berries stick to peanut butter better than the messier jelly option.

A honey wheat bread will complement the light spread of honey applied to strawberries.

Create a Critter-Themed Lunch Box

Mix a lot of nutrition with a pinch of creativity for an energy-packed lunch that's fun to eat. Create these fun foods to delight kids at lunchtime or enlist their help. Little hands will have fun making any of these.

Critter Cookie-Cutter Sandwiches

  • Use your animal-shaped cookie cutters to turn a sandwich into your child's favorite critter.
  • Use a soft, fluffy white bread for less hassle sliding your cookie cutter through, like Sara Lee Soft & Smooth Made with Whole Grain White Bread.

Strawberry and Chocolate Ladybugs

  • Gather whole strawberries, grapes, mini chocolate chips and frilled toothpicks to create this fun, nutritious snack.
  • Cut a small slice from the bottom of a large, stemmed California strawberry so that it won't roll. With frilled toothpick, attach a grape to the stem end of the strawberry to make the ladybug's head. Lightly press mini chocolate chips on one side of strawberry.
  • This snack delivers the favorite flavor combo of strawberry and chocolate, with much less chocolate than other treats.

Fire Ants on a Log

  • Chop strawberries into 8 or 9 pieces.
  • Cut one 7- to 8-inch long piece of celery in thirds and fill each with 1 tablespoon low-fat cream cheese. Top each third with pieces of chopped strawberry to resemble ants in a line.

Top 5 Ideas to Pack Joy Into Lunchboxes

Kit Bennett, founder of AmazingMoms.com, shares these favorite creative tips. Find more great ideas for family fun at www.amazingmoms.com.

  1. Unleash the inner artist: Use colored markers to decorate that boring brown bag before packing the lunch.

  2. Doggone it: For the puppy-loving child, cut the sandwich or cheese slices with a dog bone-shaped cookie cutter. Add some "people puppy chow" treats (dry cereal). Complete the theme with a puppy sticker on the napkin and a dog paw print using a pen or rubber stamp on the lunch bag.

  3. Brain food: Cut a word scramble or puzzle from the newspaper kids' section. Roll it around a pencil and include it in the lunch bag for a fun lunchtime activity.

  4. Get a clue: During the week leave clues in your child's lunch that lead to a Friday afternoon or evening surprise. The surprise can be something big, like a weekend adventure; or small, such as a small toy or an ice cream date. If your child is not yet reading, use pictures or stickers of the clues.

  5. Message in a bag: Add a message bubble to a photo of your family pet that reads something like "I can't wait to play with you when you get home!"and place it in the lunch bag. You'll find message bubble stickers in the scrapbook department of your craft store.
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SOURCE: California Strawberry Commission
Sara Lee Soft & Smooth Bread

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