Lunch is an essential meal, but one I find hard to keep interesting. The classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich, apple slices, and water sounds delicious, right? Unless it’s on the menu five days a week. That’s when my kids begin to moan. Why? Because no gazes light up around them at the lunch table as they open their bags. No one peeks over their shoulder asking what they brought today. They already know. It’s the same PB & J and apple they bring every day. Boring. Absolutely boring. Worst of all? No one wants to trade with them.
Granted, I don’t approve of food trading at lunchtime, but invariably I find children like to swap snacks. Seems they’re uninterested in their lunch totes, too. This is a tough pickle for any “cool” parent to swallow. “Me? No fun? No way!”
Garden Harvest for Lunch
If want to create the “wow” factor for your kids at lunch time, try packing a freshly-harvested carrot from the garden, including the greens. If your kiddos are fussy like mine, you’ll shave the tough outer skin off before you slip it into their bag. Once at school, surrounded by their classmates, your child will pull out their prize amid shrieks of delight.
“Where did it come from?”
“How did you get it?”
Unless they grow carrots themselves, most children don’t realize what they look like in their natural state. Makes sense. They only know the manicured versions they see on the market shelves. But they love the way home-harvested carrots look, marveling at the long, tapered bodies, the feathery green leaves, beholding the treasures as if a miracle had been performed.
The first day my kids came home from school after revealing a whole carrot for lunch, they were proud as peacocks. “Everyone thought my lunch was great!”
My favorite part? It tasted great, and carrots are nutritional rock stars. Win-win!
Healthy Dips for Snacks
As an accompaniment for those carrots, try engaging your child in the process of making homemade peanut butter or humus. They’re super as dipping sauces for carrots and celery adding even more nutritional value to the meal. Without preservatives. And peanuts are easy to grow. Does it get any better?
To make peanut butter, place 2 cups of peanuts in a high-speed blender or food processor, add a 3 teaspoons of vegetable oil to the mix and grind at the highest setting. Process until smooth, scraping down the sides of the blender as needed. The process should only take about two minutes. You can store your peanut butter in an airtight container in the refrigerator and it will keep for several months. Flavorings like salt and honey are optional, but delicious!
Hummus is just as easy to prepare by nearly the same process. Combine 2 cups of fresh chickpeas (cooked), or 1 – 15 oz. can chickpeas, 1/4 cup tahini, the juice from 1 lemon and 2 tablespoons of olive oil, blending until smooth, about 30 seconds, scraping the sides as necessary. You can use the entire lemon, peel and all (without seeds), though the result will be a strong lemony flavor. Your choice.
Other great flavors to add to the mix are roasted peppers, garlic, hot pepper, cumin and salt. My kids love the roasted pepper version, but hummus lends itself well to just about any flavoring. It also stores well in an air tight container in your refrigerator. Best of all, your child can claim ownership at the lunch table. “I made this!”
On most plates, herbs like parsley, basil, and rosemary take center stage. However, your child will thrill in the thought of eating stevia, or what I refer to as the “sugar” herb. Stevia is commonly found in commercial sweeteners labeled as “all natural,” but what’s more natural than eating the leaves plucked right from the plant?
Not a thing. The kids and I add garden stevia to soups and beverages for a delicate sweetening, but eating the greens is way more fun. Especially when they munch them for lunch in front of their friends.
“You’re eating leaves?
“Like a caterpillar!"
“Do they taste good?”
Fellow students will want to steal a taste, but no need. Stevia is super easy to grow, and will inspire a new wave of young gardeners—perhaps even a school garden. And why not? A “green” wave has hit the country with gardens sprouting up across the landscapes of our schools. In fact, kids in Alachua County, Florida, are growing greens for their school lunches just outside the cafeteria doors. Why not in your neighborhood?
Award-winning author and blogger D.S. Venetta lives in Central Florida with her husband and two children. It was volunteering in her children’s Montessori school garden that gave rise to her new series Wild Tales & Garden Thrills, fictional stories bursting with the real-life adventures of young gardeners. Children see the world from a totally different perspective than adults and Venetta knows their adventures will surely inspire a new generation to get outside and get digging.