The brown bag blues

In case you've missed all of the obnoxious ads on TV and the aisles laden with school supplies at the big box department stores, it's "Back to School" season again. Whistler kids seem to be scrambling around town with more furor then ever, getting in as much biking, hiking, swimming and playing as they possibly can, trying desperately to savour their last few days of summer vacation before heading back to the classroom for another 10 months.

While the vast majority of parents are breathing a deep sigh of relief and readying to get back into their regular routines, some are dreading the impending school year almost as much as the kids, silently fretting over having to pack lunches. I know this because my dear mom was one of these parents. Not much of a hearty eater (she would much prefer a lunchtime croissant and mocha over a sandwich and soup), packing healthy lunches was a terrible chore. Such a terrible chore that she decided to offer me a pretty penny to take over the task. (Seriously, I was paid $20 per week to pack lunches for my brother and I; it was amazing.)

So while I'm not a parent, I know all too well how challenging it can be to come up with creative brown bag lunches: tuna sandwiches and carrot sticks get tired pretty quickly. And I can only imagine that in today's world of allergies and the nut bans that come along with them, the task hasn't gotten any easier.

So, I've done a bit of research and dug up some creative and fairly nutritious lunch ideas to make the transition back to school a bit less stressful for parents everywhere:

1) Serve dinner for lunch. Lose "leftovers" from your vocabulary; it just seems so negative. Instead, make a bit extra of the dinner that you know your little one loves and pack it up so they can dig in the next day, too!

2) Invest in a handy dandy little container that keeps those leftovers and soups hot and salads cool. (Thermos is just one of many companies that make small vacuum insulated food jars that are perfect for kids. The Thermos one comes in pink and blue, as well.)

3) While you're at it, you may want to pick up a lunch kit, rather than using the traditional brown paper bag - hey, let's be environmentally friendly, folks! Good Housekeeping recently tested 26 lunch boxes and found six that kept food at the proper temperature (check out their findings at www.goodhousekeeping.com/product-testing/reviews-tests/childrens-toys/best-kids-lunch-box.)

4) Don't abandon the sandwich altogether, it's a staple of a solid lunch! You can cram just about every food group in there: grains (bread), dairy (cheese), meat and fruits and veggies, and there's something to be said for that. Instead, simply reinvent the sandwich, alternating between mini pitas, tortillas and bagels instead of the old school Wonder Bread with the crusts cut off.

5) Fruit: it's Mother Nature's candy. Seriously, most kids love fruit, but they don't have the patience to peel or cut up stuff - they'd much rather get out on the playground. So, try packing grapes, chunks of pineapple, strawberries, cherries and pieces of precut melon.

6) Find a few prepackaged goodies that are nut-free. Check out www.peanutfreeplanet.com for a list of safe-for-school snacks.

7) Ditch the Lunchables and the like. This is faux-food at its finest, with meal combos like Bologna & American Cracker Stackers. This year, it looks like they've attempted to get a bit healthier, launching a Turkey and Cheddar Sub combo that includes 100 per cent turkey breast, Kraft two per cent cheddar and bread made with whole grains, applesauce, mini Nilla Wafers, spring water and Tropical Punch Kool-Aid Singles. Still, this is a lazy man's lunch at a premium price.

8) Whip up some pita pizzas with the help of the kids. This way, they can have some say - do they want Hawaiian, Greek or veggie? Bake them in the oven with some cheddar, then let cool and cut into four wedges.

9) Whistler kids love sushi and it's not that hard to make simple rolls at home. The most time consuming part of making rolls is probably getting the rice just right, so I make mine ahead of time and cool it in a covered casserole pan, prep my veggies and then roll away. You might want to skip the raw fish and stick with the simpler, less-scary rolls like California rolls, or one with cream cheese, spinach and sundried tomato.

10) Last but not least, listen to the kids, and find out what items they're eyeing in their friends' lunches.



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