School lunches can be nutritious and local

NORFOLK—It’s time to pack school lunches again, and parents everywhere face the age-old question—"What can I send to school that is nutritious and won’t get thrown away?"

Fortunately, there are literally hundreds of websites with advice on packing tasty, nutritious lunches. And don’t forget to include local foods whenever possible, said Chef John Maxwell, director of food service management education at the Culinary Institute of Virginia.

"Nutritionists recommend we eat five to seven fresh fruits and vegetables a day, so the lunch box is a good place to put some of that. Whole fruits like apples and bananas are all good choices," Maxwell said.

With more than 190 farmers’ markets now operating in Virginia, and supermarkets featuring local foods as much as possible, there are plenty of opportunities for parents to pick up fresh and local ingredients for school lunches.

Don’t forget, Maxwell noted, "it’s not nutrition until it hits the belly. It’s not going to be a nutritious lunch unless they eat it."

Maxwell recommends building lunches that are easy to handle and sized for children’s appetites and schedules. "Kids don’t have a lot of time to eat" at school, "so you’ve got to be sure whatever it is is easy for them to handle. And they don’t eat a lot at one time."

Zucchini or cucumber sticks with a vinaigrette dressing are a great choice, he said. "I’m finding that fruit juice makes a good component for dips and dressings; kids tend to like things sweet."

Any juice included needs to be 100 percent fruit juice, not a juice drink, he said. "Real fruit has high sugar content anyway. There’s no need to add sugar or high fructose corn syrup. And any form of peanut butter is a good choice," he added.

Check out single-portioned items like tuna salad, various cheeses, yogurt and pre-packaged fruit, Maxwell suggested, along with fresh fall fruits like apples, plums and pears.

Other tips for adding nutrition to school lunches include using fresh spinach leaves in sandwiches, slicing up fresh peppers to serve with hummus, or making wraps with local vegetables diced up. Local honey can be used in a whole-wheat peanut butter wrap, and Virginia apples can be sliced at home or even purchased in ready-to-eat in bags.

Maxwell appears each month on "Down Home Virginia," Virginia Farm Bureau’s monthly television program.

Contact Maxwell at 804-908-3516.

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