By Kim Beavers

What has COVID-19 revealed about home nutrition? It taught me that my teenagers still don’t “get” what makes a healthy lunch (fair warning, some of this could be the result of rebellion). Here are just a few of the lunches I espied: Stacy’s pita chips, chocolate chips, 2 bananas, a bag of cherries or nothing at all. My parental involvement antennae went up from this observation. Whether homeschooling, distance-learning or packing a sack lunch for school, I believe ensuring lunch-time success hinges on some basic action items. 

Action 1: Build in some structure. Tell children what you expect them to eat in their lunches. A good rule of thumb is three to four of the five food groups (starches, fruits, vegetables, dairy, protein) + a little healthy fat. The basic structure comes from the USDA’s Myplate graphic which is a great teaching tool. Of course, treats are okay. Once the basic structure of three to four food groups is established there is room for a treat. After all, a treat is great, but students may need to be reminded that it does not qualify as a complete lunch! 

Action 2: Have healthy foods readily available. “Readily available” will depend on the ages of the children. Younger children may need some foods like cantaloupe to be cut and portioned as individual servings. Older children may just need it to be sectioned out in the refrigerator for them to cut. The same goes for veggies and other foods.

Action 3: A little planning and autonomy. Weekly, I ask the children what they want in their lunches so I can buy it at the grocery store. Do they want carrots, spinach, cucumbers, apples, strawberries? It is often a good idea to build in several choices within each food group. Then they can choose which combinations they would like for which days. 

At home or school, happy lunch-eating! 

Until next time,

~ Eat well, live well ~ Kim

Buffalo Chicken Pita Sandwiches
This is a healthy lunch for kids and parents. You can adjust the spicy level and serve with veggie strips or a side of fruit. 

• 1-pound boneless, skinless chicken breast 
• 3 tablespoons hot sauce, divided use
• 2 tablespoons yogurt-based ranch dressing
• ½ cucumber (seeded and chopped)
• 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 2 whole wheat Pita pockets
• Additional celery, cucumber, carrots or fruit slices for serving 

Trim any remaining fat off the chicken and place in the crock of a slow cooker that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Pour 1 tablespoon hot sauce over the chicken and turn the chicken to coat with sauce. Cook for 4 hours on high. 

Combine the cucumber and celery with 2 tablespoons ranch dressing.

Once the chicken is done, shred it, and return it to the slow cooker with the butter and remaining 2 tablespoons of hot sauce (if desired). Stir to combine. 

Place pita bread on a microwavable plate, cover with a moist paper towel, and microwave for 10 seconds. Cut each pita in half and stuff with chicken and cucumber mixture. Serve warm with a side of fresh veggies or fruit.

Yield: 4 servings (1/2 pita; ½ cup chicken mixture; ¼ cup cucumber salad)

Nutrition Breakdown: Calories 260, Fat 8g (2.5g saturated fat), Cholesterol 80mg, Sodium 680mg, Carbohydrate 21g, Fiber 3g, Protein 28g

Diabetes Plate Plan: 1 Starch, ½ Vegetable

Quick-Fix: Pull the chicken from a rotisserie chicken and shred. This should yield about 3-4 cups. Place the butter and hot sauce in a skillet over medium heat, add chicken and cook until it is heated throughout. Add more hot sauce if desired, but use sparingly (the sauce and the rotisserie chicken are both high in sodium). Build sandwiches as directed above.

Photo provided by Kim Beavers