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Quick, Easy and Creative Recipes for Healthy School Lunches

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The Best in Family Health by Karen Ranzi - Fruit-Powered Magazine

Much research in the past decade has reported the immense benefits of eating mainly fresh plant foods or eating them exclusively. Raw fruits, vegetables, sprouts, nuts and seeds are vitamin- and mineral-packed. Nutrients can be severely depleted by means of the cooking process. Organic living foods provide “life force energy,” so encouraging children to create healthy and tasty snacks, smoothies, salads, main dishes and party food with living foods can enhance their abilities in all areas.

Raw Vegan Diet Benefits Karen Ranzi Has Observed

After increasing fresh plant food intake, here are some improvements in health and wellbeing I have noted in my 20-plus years of family health coaching:

■   Reduction or absence of eye, ear, nose and throat infections
■   Increased energy
■   Longer attention spans
■   Enhanced ability to process information
■   Less hyperactivity
■   Strengthened immune systems
■   Ideal weight
■   Enhanced athletic performance
■   Increased brainpower

Powerful and Proven Strategies for Parents to Improve Their Children’s Diet

How can parents begin to feed their children more fruits and vegetables, given today’s plethora of toxic choices? Children are constantly programmed to think that fast processed foods are appropriate for the busy, stressful lives many people today lead. Most school cafeteria food is high-fat overly processed anti-nutrient food. We want foods that we and our children eat to be nourishing, but processed foods lack nutrients. Packaged, processed and refined foods are depleted of Vitamin C, folic acid and Vitamin B1, which cannot be absorbed from the added synthetic vitamins in so-called “enriched” foods. The famous 1960s nutritionist Adele Davis wrote that “when foods are enriched, a hundred dollars is stolen and twenty-five cents is given back.” 

Green Smoothies Can Help Boost Children’s Fruit and Leafy Greens Intake

Green smoothies are a great way for kids to start eating mineral-dense leafy green vegetables. Kids often love fruit, and adding fruit and greens together into a delicious green smoothie packs a lot of nutrition into a single food. At raw vegan events, I demonstrate with the following green smoothie at schools, colleges and universities, and the students always love its taste. I recommend starting with 60 percent fruit and 40 percent leafy green vegetables. This should be made at home in the morning. It takes only about five minutes to prepare and can be eaten either for breakfast or children can eat it later as part of their school lunch:

Piña Colada Smoothie: Ingredients

■   2 ripe bananas
■   1 big pineapple chunk
■   1 generous handfuls of baby spinach leaves
■   2 cups of filtered water

Piña Colada Smoothie: Directions and Tips

■   Blend until smooth.

Relish that your child will be getting abundant vitamins from the fruit and plentiful amounts of vitamins and minerals from the spinach, which is also 49 percent protein by calories. Pack it in a light stainless-steel thermos.

This smoothie can be filling and, for some children, it’s a meal. Adding more bananas will add more calories, as one Cavendish banana contains about 100 calories.

Watch Karen Ranzi Make a Piña Colada Smoothie, an Excellent Healthy School Lunch Recipe

Pack Healthy Food Attractively to Entice Children

I realized with my young children that packing food attractively can be as important as what they’re eating. Presentation is key. I found that, if my children were to enjoy eating their healthy fruits and vegetables outside the home, I needed to present them in beautiful ways.

I found fun and attractive containers, some made of stainless steel and others made of BPA-free plastic. Compartments in the containers were designed to separate the food. I would use one of these containers to pack fruit, alternating the contents each time. Sometimes, it would be sliced banana in one compartment and berries in the other. Other times, it would be sliced papaya in one compartment and sliced kiwi and nectarine in the other. Packing fruits of different color contrasts is very pleasing for children.

Healthy school lunches - father, son and daughter making fruit smoothie recipes - Fruit-Powered
A father, son and daughter prepare fruit smoothies. Children enjoy being part of the recipe-making process and can learn how to prepare healthy school lunches to fuel them during their days of learning.

I would also add in some sprouts for loads of extra nutrition. My kids learned to love sprouts because we grew them on our kitchen counter or in trays. This is a fun project for kids. Many children think sunflower greens are adorable after watching them grow and are happy to add them to their fruit or salads or eat them as snacks. 

Add Some Overtly Fatty Foods to Your Child’s Healthy School Lunches to Improve Satiation

When my children informed me one day that the fruit wasn’t satiating enough for their short lunch period at school, I would send a separate container of nuts or seeds to be eaten after the fruit to keep them full for longer time periods. Because my children were in a school environment for only a short period of their early elementary years, we can compare the amount of time they had for eating lunch. During the homeschooling years, they could eat when they were hungry so they would often decide when and what they would eat from all the healthy choices available to them.

I work outside home two days a week as a therapist at a school for children with autism. Therapists and teachers get only a half-hour for lunch. This is not enough time to eat the amount of fruit and green lettuce and celery that I eat at home, so I pack a stainless-steel container of green salad and sprouts with a small avocado or a separate container of a dressing using a small amount of fat from nuts or seeds to keep me satisfied for the afternoon.

When faced with a short lunch time, some of the following tips will be helpful. Below, I’m sharing some of my tried-and-true family-tested recipes from my book Raw Vegan Recipe Fun for Families: 115 Easy Recipes and Health Tips for Energetic Living.

Dips are a fabulous way for kids to eat their sliced vegetables and can be part of healthy school lunches. My kids loved a Creamy Cucumber Dill Dip they learned to prepare by themselves. They would eat an abundance of sliced veggies, such as celery, carrots, broccoli, zucchini, etc. with this nutritious dip.

Creamy Cucumber Dill Dip: Ingredients

■   1 cup of cucumbers, chopped
■   3 tablespoons of pine nuts, soaked
■   Juice of ½ lemon
■   2 dates, soaked
■   ¼ cup of fresh dill, chopped
■   1 to 2 celery stalks

Creamy Cucumber Dill Dip: Directions and Tips

■   Blend all ingredients until smooth and creamy.

Add more dill if desired. Dips can be packed in tight containers and used with a variety of sliced vegetables at lunch.

You may ask, “What about something more filling to satisfy my child’s appetite?” Because children love wraps and eating burrito-style, let’s invent a yummy and healthy Walnut Taco Filling, which can be used inside a nutritious wrap such as a soft cabbage leaf or romaine lettuce leaf used as the wrap and packed in a separate container to avoid spoilage.

Walnut Taco Filling: Ingredients

■   1 cup of walnuts, soaked for eight to 12 hours
■   ½ cup of lemon juice
■   ¼ cup of organic salt-free sun-dried tomatoes, soaked for 15 minutes and chopped
■   2 tablespoons of red onion or green onion, chopped (optional)
■   3 tablespoons of fresh cilantro, chopped
■   1 teaspoon each of cumin and paprika. (This can be modified as children often prefer less spice than adults.)

Walnut Taco Filling: Directions and Tips

■   Put the walnuts into a food processor with an S-blade.
■   Process alone until almost smooth.
■   Add the remaining ingredients with a little water, if needed, until the consistency of a traditional bean dip is reached.
■   Place in a lettuce or cabbage leaf wrap.
■   Top with freshly made salsa.

For lunch, the leaves should be packed separately as the lettuce or cabbage leaf will get messy and soft from the taco filling.

Watch Karen Ranzi Talk About the Health Benefits of Walnut Taco Filling and Piña Colada Smoothie

For Fussy Eaters, Add Raw Foods to Cooked Foods Slowly As Part of a Transition to Living Foods

If you think the aforementioned lunch options will be thrown into the garbage and replaced by fast foods, there are solutions for this. Parents frequently ask me what to do with their child who refuses to make nutritional changes toward eating whole, living plant foods. I suggest starting somewhere. Which may mean integrating raw foods into the foods that they already easily accept.

There are wonderful ways of incorporating fresh, nutrient-dense plant foods with whole cooked foods. For example, some children love tabouleh, which is a Middle Eastern combination of bulghur (steamed cracked wheat), parsley, diced tomatoes, lemon, olive oil and scallions. You can substitute fresh cauliflower, ground in a food processor for the bulghur wheat, and many children will still love the taste. If switching from bulghur to cauliflower should prove too much of a jump, then focus on adding more raw foods such as a diced cucumber and celery so the tabouleh is rich with fresh plant nourishment. You can transition toward raw by gradually increasing the amount of cauliflower and diminishing the amount of bulghur each time you make tabouleh. I’m able to omit the oil by replacing it with avocado. I would pack this in a stainless steel container, and it made for a filling lunch when my kids were eating outside the home.

Salad Sandwiches Can Be Ideal As Healthy School Lunches for Children Wanting to Hold Their Food

If your children insist on eating sandwiches, make salad sandwiches consisting of lettuce, tomatoes and a tablespoon of raw hummus (a spread made of sprouted garbanzo beans or a no-bean hummus made with zucchini and soaked sesame seeds) on sprouted gluten-free, whole-grain bread with strips of carrots, celery and red pepper on the sides. This kind of dip can be used for sliced veggies as a dressing for a green salad (packed separately) or as a satisfying side dish to tabouleh. 

Karen’s No Bean Hummus: Ingredients

■   2 cups of zucchini, chopped
■   ½ cup of hulled sesame seeds
■   Juice of one lemon
■   1 teaspoon of paprika
■   1 clove of garlic (optional)

Karen’s No Bean Hummus: Directions

■   Blend all ingredients until smooth.

Enjoying Salads Before Other Fare Can Help Children Embrace Raw Foods

Even children who are unwilling to give up processed foods can make nutritional improvements simply by eating salads before unhealthy dishes. One mother who attended my raw food program was concerned about her children eating processed food and animal products at parties. Following our brainstorming where to begin, she decided to bring her children a beautiful big bowl of salad when they were attending a pizza party, and all the children at the party joined in eating salad before having the pizza.

Parents Must Fulfill Their Responsibility to Provide Their Children With Healthy School Lunches and Other Meals Plus Lessons About Whole Plant Foods

It is our responsibility as parents to pack healthy school lunches for our children when they’re away from home and to teach them about the superiority of whole plant foods. Uncooked greens, fruits, vegetables, soaked and sprouted nuts and seeds are called “live” (rhymes with “thrive”) foods because their nutrients are intact. Living foods are free from the harmful chemicals that high cooking temperatures create, and their vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber remain whole. Complete nutrition, undamaged by fire, helps prevent disease and obesity as well as increases strength and energy.

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