Immune-Boosting Coronavirus Comfort Lunches
Lunchtime will look different for many kids as they head back to school this year.
For some, assigned seating in the cafeteria will become the norm. Many other kids will be eating lunch at their desks in their classrooms. At some daycare centers, kids accustomed to eating elbow to elbow will be spaced apart. Homeschooled kids also appreciate the rhythm and balance to the day that lunch provides.
For children, lunchtime is an important break in the day, providing nutrition and an energy boost for learning. For parents who will be packing lunches this year, there’s motivation to make sure the food is healthy and balanced. But a lunchbox full of uneaten quinoa and celery sticks isn’t going to do anyone any good.
Coming up with healthy, power-packed foods that kids will love is a challenge we’re ready to take on. Here are some ideas for comfort lunches to start the school year strong.
Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries are all high in vitamin C and flavonoids. They’re also all on most kids’ approved list. For a bento box, put berries in one compartment and yogurt in another, plus granola or crushed graham crackers, so kids can make their own yogurt parfaits.
Another easy and delicious way to use berries is in smoothies.
This smoothie will become more liquid as it sits in the thermos, so make a pretty thick smoothie to start. One way to add thickness is to slice and freeze your banana the night before. Frozen fruits help to make a thicker smoothie.
Lunchbox Berry Smoothie
- 1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
- 2 cups mixed berries frozen
- 1 sliced banana
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
- 1 cup milk
- Add yogurt, berries, banana, chia seeds and milk to blender. Blend until smooth.
- Pour into a thermos to keep cold.
Eggs don’t just have to be for breakfast. If you’re looking for a substitute for turkey and ham sandwiches, eggs are a great source of protein.
But no one wants cold scrambled eggs for lunch. Think of ways to make baked egg dishes that can stay warm in a thermos. One of our favorites is a mini egg muffin, similar to a mini quiche.
These are great for packing for lunch for young children with smaller appetites. Add more vegetables if you like – broccoli is especially good here. And you can eliminate the sausage, replacing it with sautéed or roasted vegetables or a little extra cheese.
Mini Egg Muffins
- 1 pound ground turkey sausage
- 12 large eggs
- 1/2 red pepper, diced
- 1 cup cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brown turkey sausage over medium high until fully cooked.
- Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray. Divide the red pepper, cooked sausage and cheeses over each muffin well.
- In a large bowl combine eggs, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour egg mixture over the sausage in each well.
- Bake 10-15 minutes for mini muffins and 20-25 minutes for standard muffins.
Note: You can make these muffins ahead, refrigerate or freeze until ready to warm up for the lunchbox. To serve, defrost or warm until hot, then wrap each in aluminum foil and place in a thermos to keep warm.
For children, zinc is important for growth. You’ll find it in fortified breakfast cereals and milk. But for lunchtime, how about getting your zinc in the form of the ultimate comfort food – chicken noodle soup. Poultry is a good source of zinc.
Soup is great for packing in a thermos for lunch. Include whole-grain bread and crackers, plus an orange or sliced apples, and you have a perfect immunity-boosting lunch.
Easy Chicken Noodle Soup
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 1 cup sliced carrots
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 (14.5 ounce) cans low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can low-sodium vegetable broth
- 1/2 pound chopped cooked chicken breast
- 1 1/2 cups dried egg noodles
- 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a large pot over medium heat, melt butter. Cook onion, celery and carrots in butter until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, stirring until aromatic and golden, about 1 minute.
- Pour in chicken and vegetable broths, then stir in chicken, noodles, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes before serving.
Orange-colored fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamin A. Eating them raw is super, but if your kids aren’t fans of raw baby carrots or sliced cantaloupe, try another route.
Roasting carrots creates a sweet, tender vegetable that some kids love. Or, sneak them into foods you know they love, like macaroni and cheese.
We like this simple pasta with peas and carrots. It’s good warm but also great at room temperature, so you don’t have to worry too much about keeping it piping hot for lunchtime. This is one that everyone from teenagers to toddlers will be happy to find in their lunch bags.
Pasta with Peas and Carrots
- 1/2 pound (8 ounces) pastina or acini de pepe (very small shaped pasta)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
- 1 cup frozen petite peas, thawed
- 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature (use more for creamier pasta)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
- Boil pasta in a large pot of boiling water. Stir occasionally, cooking 8 to 10 minutes. Drain, but reserve 1 cup pasta water.
- In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft, about 7 minutes. Add the carrots and reserved stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook 5 minutes. Add peas and cook 2 minutes or until the peas are warmed through and carrots are tender. Stir in the cooked pasta.
- Cut cream cheese into cubes, and add to pasta, stirring until mixture forms a sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with chopped basil.