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Healthy Bento

How to Pack the Best Lunches Ever
Top Ten Foods for Learning and Health
Junk Food Jealousy: from The Healthy Lunchbox

Here's a list of healthy lunch foods. Mix and match to see what combinations you can come up with. Share the list with your children and ask them to choose which foods they'd like to take to school. Reduce your work load by encouraging older children to pack their own lunches. Make sure you have plenty of choices on hand for them to choose from each day.

Quick-Reference Lunch Ideas


Spreads & Condiments


(Dried and Fresh)

bread sticks
English muffin
lavash bread
pita bread
pizza bread
rice cakes
sandwich bread
almond butter
apple butter
avocado (mashed)
banana (mashed)
brie cheese
cashew butter
cream cheese (lowfat)
goat cheese
jam (spreadable fruit)
peanut butter
pizza or tomato sauce
pumpkin butter
carrots (shredded)
cheese (lite/low-fat)
chicken salad
egg salad
hard boiled egg
nitrite-free hot dogs
shrimp salad
sliced avocado
sliced cucumber
smoked salmon
tuna salad
Asian pears
cranberries (dried)
orange sections




Other Grains

bell peppers
bok choy
Brussels sprouts
green beans
green salad
seaweed (nori, wakame, hijiki)
shelling peas
snap peas
soy beans (edamame)
sweet potatoes
apple crisp
baked chips with salsa
dried fruit
fruit bar
fruit leather
homemade cookies
notes from home
trail mix
vanilla yogurt with fruit
baked tofu
bean burrito
cottage cheese with fruit
garlic toast
polenta with pizza sauce and cheese

How To Pack the Best Lunch Ever
Excerpt from Vegan Lunch Box Around the World by Jennifer McCann

Each menu in Vegan Lunch Box Around the World has been designed to provide a complete, well-balanced vegan meal. A well-balanced lunch should include the following:

1. Vegetables (cooked or raw)
Nutrition super heroes, vegetables should be an essential part of the daily diet. Offer a rainbow of colors (orange, red, purple, and especially green) to supply your family with vitamins, minerals, and health-protecting phytochemicals.

2. Fruit
Fruit is second only to vegetables as an excellent source of vitamins, fiber, and phytochemicals. Again, offer a rainbow of colors.

3. Protein (beans, tempeh, tofu, meat analogues, etc.)
Protein is found in almost every food we eat, so it's not the big concern you might expect it to be on a vegan diet. Eat a wide variety of healthy whole foods and include a few of these protein-rich vegan options and your protein needs are sure to be met.

4. Carbohydrates (rice, pasta, bread, etc.)
Carbs give your body energy and also help fill you up so you stay satisfied from lunchtime to the end of the work or school day. Try to eat mostly complex carbohydrates like whole wheat and brown rice.

5. Healthy Fats (soy, oils, nuts and seeds, avocado, etc.)
I know fat has gotten a bad name, but including some fat in the diet is important for health, especially for young growing bodies. Nuts, seeds, and avocados are great whole food sources of healthy fats.

6. Calcium
Calcium-fortified nondairy beverage is an easy way to include some calcium with every lunch. Calcium-fortified orange juice is another good choice (and contains more bioavailable calcium than cow's milk!) Other vegan sources include greens like kale, collards, and okra, quinoa, blackstrap molasses, calcium-set tofu, and almonds.

7. Water
Pack plenty of water to drink instead of consuming the empty calories found in sweetened, carbonated beverages.

When you are packing the lunch, ask yourself:

  • Is the lunch nutritionally balanced?
  • Do the textures and tastes work well together?
  • Is the lunch colorful and attractive?

Use the guidelines above when switching out foods you know won't get eaten for ones that will. If all the foods in Vegan Lunch Box Around the World are new to you, perhaps you can take the time to make one new recipe at a time and fill in the rest of the lunch with old favorites, including fast fixes like cooked frozen vegetables, a sliced apple, or baby carrots with dip. Enlist your family's help in choosing and preparing what to pack.


  • Pack perishable foods cold and include an ice pack. Perishable foods (this includes soyfoods, beans, sprouts, rice, cooked vegetables, salad dressings, etc.) should be kept cold until lunchtime. In addition to an ice pack, freezing a container of nondairy yogurt, applesauce, juice, or water can help keep things cold.

  • Wash hands before handling or eating food. It's best to wash hands with warm soapy water, but if you or your children don't have access to a sink at lunchtime, consider doing as the Japanese do and pack an oshibori -- a small damp washcloth packed in a plastic carrying case. Baby-sized washcloths make excellent oshibori. Throw used oshibori in the laundry and wash and dry the plastic case along with your lunch box.

  • Throw away any leftovers. Any leftover foods that weren't eaten during the day should be discarded when you get home. An ice pack can't be relied upon to keep perishable foods fresh long past lunchtime.

  • Clean all lunch bags and containers after each use. Use hot soapy water and air dry overnight before repacking.
Vegan Lunchbox

Jennifer McCann has authored two books: Vegan Lunch Box and Vegan Lunch Box Around the World. She is also the creator of the award winning Vegan Lunch Box blog.

To learn more about Jennifer, visit her site at or check out her blog at .

Top Ten Foods for Learning and Health
By Jan Katzen-Luchenta

Want to provide your children with foods that can lead to optimal learning and health? It's clear that some foods are better for our bodies than others, but presented with so many options and so much information, it's hard to know where to start. If you're thinking about making changes this year, consider the following top ten ideas. Nutrition for Learning

1. Eat Fats in their proper balance.
Fats are required for learning. The brain is made up of 60% fat. Fat is not only needed for optimal cell structure and functioning, but to build the myelin which is the fatty sheath that surrounds each nerve fiber making each nerve transmission more efficient and rapid. Neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers such as acetycholine (connected to attention, learning, and memory), and serotonin and dopamine (nature's feel good chemical messengers), rely on fatty acid intake.

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid, found in seafood) - Fish and shellfish are nature's multi-vitamin/ mineral supplements that swim. Cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, trout, and cod contain omega-3 fatty acids (DHA in particular) that nutritional scientists call "the evolutionary staple of the human brain." The highly unsaturated fats in fish build healthy cell membranes making cells more fluid, structurally sound, and able to protect against brain disorders, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Highly unsaturated fatty acids are needed for flexibility and adaption of magnocells which are responsible for timing of visual events in reading. Deficiencies are associated with attention and dyslexic disorders.

LNA (alpha-linolenic acid) found in plant sources such as canola oil, walnut oil, chia seeds, hemp and flax oil) - Children require omega-3 fatty acids daily such as LNA for optimal brain development and function. Deficiencies are associated with aggression, depression, and suicidal behavior. Flaxseed oil is not recommended for women during pregnancy and lactation because it can affect estrogen levels and reproductive development of children. Maternal flaxseed consumption has been demonstrated to disrupt reproductive cycling in offspring in animal studies. Flaxseed contains traces of cadmium which has shown to increase the risk of mammary gland tumors in offspring of animals fed flaxseed.

Monounsaturated fatty acids (oleic acid/olive oil, avocados) - partners in fatty acid metabolism. The myelin sheath is made up of predominantly monounsaturated and saturated (cholesterol) fatty acids that cover nerve fibers. This sheath expedites the directive from one neuron to the next (like high speed internet).

Trans fatty acids (hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils) - Trans fatty acids (hydrogenated oils) and too many omega-6 fatty acids (soybean, safflower oil) cancel out the benefit of omega-3 fatty acids and put children at risk for mental and physical ill health. Malnourished or mothers-to-be eating "bad fats" can influence their fetuses adipose tissue development in-utero; programming the infant for obesity and subsequent diabetes.

Saturated fatty acids - A young or maturing child on a diet of restricted fat may suffer neurologically. Remember, mother's milk is high in cholesterol and contains over 50 percent of its calories as butterfat. Low fat diets have been linked to failure to thrive in children. Good saturated fat comes from natural fats from properly fed animals, poultry, and fish. These animal fats supply true Vitamins A and D, and cholesterol needed for brain and vision development. Butter contains lecithin which helps for better metabolism of cholesterol. Butter also contains a number of antioxidants (A and E) that protect against free radical damage.

2. Eat foods rich in B-vitamins. Increase protein intake from plant sources.
Add one serving a day of beans, peas, tofu (tempeh), asparagus, broccoli, or nuts with skin.

Good sources of Vitamin B1 (thiamine): Germ and bran of wheat, brewer's yeast, husk of rice, whole grains, peas, lentils, beans, sunflower and sesame seeds, nuts with the skin, peanut butter, liver, kidney, pork, ham, eggs, poultry, seafood.

Good sources of Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): Organ meats, beef, lamb, dark meat of poultry, yogurt, milk, eggs, butter, cheese, whole grains, peas, beans, green vegetables, dark leafy vegetables, brewer's yeast, wheat germ.

Good sources of Vitamin B3 (nicotinamide): Brewer's yeast, whole grains, wheat germ, organ meats, green vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, seeds, nuts, peanuts, potatoes.

Good sources of Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine): Brewer's yeast, wheat germ, whole grains, molasses, peanuts, organ meats, meats, fish, poultry, spinach, sweet and white potatoes, bananas, prunes, watermelon.

Good sources of Vitamin B9 (folate): Liver, dark green leafy vegetables, asparagus, spinach, broccoli, sprouts, legumes, lentils, whole grains, wheat germ, brewer's yeast, nuts, poultry, eggs, milk.

Good sources of Vitamin B12 (cobalamin): Meats, liver, kidney, poultry, seafood, salmon, scallops, shrimp, halibut, eggs, milk, cheese, low-fat yogurt.

3. Eat steel cut or whole grain (germ and bran intact) oats daily (plus two more servings of whole grains).
Whole grains - nutrients: B vitamins, vitamin E, and trace minerals. Inositol which is found in oats helps build the fatty acid membrane and facilitates cell communication. Food producers are milling grains, packaging them and synthetically adding the once organic nutrients back in as fortificants

4. Eat wheat germ daily.
Wheat germ is abundant in inositol and contains 20 times the vitamin E present in flour.

5. Eat one tablespoon of raw, hulled pumpkin seeds a day.
A cup of pumpkin seeds provides nearly 50% of the daily value for magnesium, 30% of the DV for iron, 50% of the DV for manganese, 20% of the DV for protein, and20% of the DV for zinc. They have the perfect fatty acid ratio; low in saturated - high in polyunsaturated. Built-in trace minerals to prevent peroxidation of fats.

6. Eat 1/8 cup sunflower seeds daily.
Sunflower seeds contain vitamin E - an antioxidant that protects omega-3 fatty acids + phytosterols that lower cholesterol and boost the immune system.

7. Eat low glycemic foods.
The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly a carbohydrate is digested, enters the bloodstream, and raises the blood sugar level. The more processed something is, the more quickly it will raise blood sugar, which in turn can cause you to secrete more insulin. Foods that are refined or processed such as boxed cereal, crackers, white rice, white bread, white pasta, or sugary foods like cake, muffins, candy, etc. enter the blood stream quickly, creating an insulin surge which can interfere with a child's ability to pay attention, mood, behavior, and aptitude. Minimally processed foods with a low glycemic index enter the bloodstream slowly, contributing to a steadier insulin response and blood sugar level.

Common foods with a low glycemic index:

  • all berries, cherries
  • apples, oranges
  • peaches, pears, apricots
  • plums, grapefruit,
  • fresh vegetable juice
  • tomato juice
  • artichokes
  • asparagus
  • black-eyed peas
  • split peas, lentils
  • bulgur wheat
  • black beans
  • garbanzo beans
  • celery
  • all lettuces
  • navy beans
  • peppers
  • almonds, walnuts, peanuts
  • flaxseeds
  • pumpkin and sunflower seeds
  • all bran cereals
  • oatmeal/oat bran
  • whole grain pastas
  • barley
  • organic milk
  • organic plain yogurt
  • low-fat cottage cheese
  • stevia and agave syrup

8. Eat foods high in antioxidants.
Antioxidants; Vitamins C, E, and Beta-carotene (converts to Vitamin A), Selenium - Decreases lipid (fat) peroxidation.

Good sources of Vitamin C: Citrus fruits, strawberries, cantaloupe, watermelon, kiwi, sweet potatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, snow peas, Brussels sprouts, sweet red and green peppers, pimento, parsley.

Good sources of Vitamin E: Poultry, seafood, green leafy vegetables, avocado, wheat germ, whole grains, seeds (sunflower), nuts, butter, unrefined oils (cold pressed), liver, milk, egg yolk.

Good sources of Vitamin A: Milk, butter, eggs, cheese, dark green, orange, and yellow vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes, deep yellow or orange fruits, sweet red peppers, organ meats, liver, fish liver oil.

Good sources of Selenium: Poultry, seafood, meat from animals fed luxuriant selenium, egg yolks, grains grown in high selenium soil, whole grain breads and cereals, barley, mushrooms, Brazil nuts, onions, garlic.

9. Eat condiments high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

o molasses, maple syrup, *brewer's yeast, *wheat germ, *wheat bran, *sesame seeds, pimento, parsley, garlic, onions, kelp, cloves, ginger, cinnamon.

Good sources of manganese: Whole grains, wheat germ, seeds, leafy vegetables, brewer's yeast, egg, liver, onions, green beans, parsley, strawberries, bananas, apples, pineapple, cherries, walnuts, peanuts, pecans, chestnuts, cloves, ginger.

Zinc and Folate - Anti-oxidant qualities that counteract ROS (reactive oxygen species).

Good sources of zinc: Red meats, liver, shellfish, yogurt, nuts and nut butters, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, legumes, oatmeal, whole grains and corn, all fruit and vegetables, crimini mushrooms, spinach, asparagus, brewer's yeast, wheat germ, maple syrup.

10. Eat the freshest, best food you can afford.
Go organic-For optimal nutritional safety and potency buy organically grown fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Go free range and wild- Many animals are artificially fed - fattening them up to obtain the highest market price, impacting all animal products such as eggs, milk, cheese, etc.

Wild fish contain approximately 6 percent body fat. Farm-fed fish can inflate to an unhealthy 23 percent body fat ratio. This is good for the market, but bad for our arteries and brains. (Sadly, the rich omega-3 fatty acid content gets washed out to sea.)

Copyright © Jan Katzen-Luchenta (602) 957-2602 Nutritional therapist (602) 370-4036 In-home nutritional therapy for children.

Jan Katzen-LuchetaAs a nutritional researcher, author, and scientific writer, Jan has conducted extensive investigation into the unique and collaborative roles of nutrients as they impact human development through conception, infancy, and childhood. She has studied nutrition and health under the guidance of renowned professor Michael Crawford, director of the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at the London Metropolitan University. She interned with Nim Barnes, founder of Foresight Pre-conceptual Care (Bognor Regis, England) and is the only Foresight practitioner and branch secretary located in the U.S. In collaboration with Foresight, Jan uses hair mineral analysis to help couples preparing for pregnancy address nutrient deficiencies and environmental influences that compromise fertility. In addition to working with individual families, Jan works as a nutritional interventionist, Montessori educator, and consultant for schools. She has published numerous articles and books on nutrition with a focus on pre-conceptional health, child development, and foods that support attention and learning.

Jan serves on the advisory committee of the Mother and Child Foundation, whose goal is to promote the physical and mental health of future generations. She is also dedicated to charities that support the nutritional status of mothers and children in impoverished areas struggling with HIV/AIDS, and she provides nutritional education to government and non-government organizations involved in world health.

The Healthy Lunchbox:
How to Plan, Prepare & Pack Stress-Free Meals Kids Will Love
by Marie McClendon and Christy Shauck

Excerpts from their chapter on "Junk Food Jealousy"

The Healthy Lunchbox is loaded with flavorful recipes, menus and tips to help you give your children healthy lunch-on-the-go alternatives. This upbeat guide is full of healthy alternatives to junk food-laden lunches. It is a resource designed to rescue you from the mundane and stressful task of figuring out how to pack a healthy lunch that your kids will actually eat.

Marie McClendon has an M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education and 12 years of experience teaching in public and private schools. She is the mother of four and has packed thousands of lunches and seen thousands of children's lunchroom antics.

Cristy Shauck is a journalist for the Denver Metro publication "Kids' Pages," a long-time freelance writer/editor focused on nutrition and education.

The Healthy Lunchbox


Remember wanting a classmate's Hershey chocolate bar and having to catch the drool on the way down? Guess what? Things haven't changed. Junk food jealousy may be the biggest obstacle to healthy lunches, especially if eating healthy is a new lunchtime trend. Staring across the table at another kid's Snickers, chips, and soda may instigate some of these silent, and not so silent, thoughts from your kids:

  • "She gets more desserts than I do."
  • "When did my parents decide they won't go within 10 feet of a Twinkie?"
  • "Boy; that snack looks cool."
  • "I feel left out."
  • "Wonder if she'd notice if I took a little bite out of that."

Before listing numerous ways to make food more appealing, we want to say that usually what the child misses is the social experience of eating what peers are eating rather than the actual taste experience. Kids don't like to be left out of the experiences of their peers (see the bazillion two-month fads you've probably already gone through). On the flip side, kids love to be trendsetters. If you can whip up meals that other kids drool over, just try and stop your kids from eating them. It's your job, and it's a doozie, to help your kids first understand that eating healthier is here to stay (think seatbelts), and second, help bridge the gap so the jealousy bug doesn't bite quite as often.


1. Get your child involved in the lunch-making process.
Kids are way more likely to eat food that they've prepared themselves. If they feel a sense of ownership, they have a tangible attachment to the healthier option.

2. Offer healthier substitutions that maintain the spirit of the original.

3. Find acceptable ways to trade.
Kids trade lunches just to trade. It's fun. It's a friendship thing. It's getting away from eating the same ol' things. Marie's daughter trades jerky for Jell-O, Must be a "J" thing! Ask your child what they like to trade and then you'll know what to pack for a high-quality food transaction. The thing to stress is "healthy food for healthy food." Let your kids know that if that homemade fruit leather is going for a candy bar, they got a bum deal. Nobody likes to he on the wrong end of a trade, or, shall we say; no body likes to be on the wrong end of a trade.

Kids who have special dietary concerns, like kids with diabetes or celiac disease, can trade, too. You just need to make sure the trades fit in nicely with their meal plans.

4. You can catch more kids with flavor than with fiber.
If you only buy whole grain macaroni and nobody eats it, you've won the battle and lost the war. Instead, buy what they want and sprinkle in fiber, such as oat bran, rice bran, or wheat germ.

  • Ask them to smell jars of spices and herbs then pick their favorites.
  • Go back and look at your interview sheets for favorite flavors or offer a taste test for sauces and dips like salsa, hummus, or yogurt.

5. Cool looks--it's a fun thing.
You can get a lot of mileage out of this tip. Kids respond to visual cues from their food. A cucumber can sit on a plate forever, but a cucumber-radish-asparagus man gets gobbled up in seconds. Ways to spiff it up:

  • Dip fruit in orange, lemon, or pineapple juice. This keeps them looking fresh and tasty all day long.
  • For young children, cut food in bite-size pieces. Julienne style is a fancy term for very thinly sliced veggies like carrots.
  • Offer nori or California rolls to introduce kids to the Japanese art of food presentation.
  • Send lunch wrapped like a present, with card and a fun note in tow.
  • Use snazzy paper muffin cups.
  • Employ some lunchbox feng shui. Make the vegetable or fruit the centerpiece, using plenty of eye-appealing arrangement and flavor.
  • Add a dash of sprinkles to a treat. Those little guys are kid magnets.
  • Use a large glass or cookie cutters to cut out circles or make age appropriate appealing shapes for sandwiches.
  • There are all kinds of shapes for pasta, and the sillier the better. Keep an eye out for something a little more interesting than elbow macaroni.
  • Pack straws, the sillier the better.
  • Arrange fruit or vegetables in rainbow order on nonfat cream cheese or hummus in a container: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple.
  • Dazzle them with a flash of color by snazzing up bags and containers with stickers or magic marker art (tricks of the advertising trade).

6. Educate to motivate.
Knowledge is a powerful tool. We underestimate our kids sometimes and forget that they operate on reason just like adults (sometimes, much more often than adults). Kids need to understand that eating healthy is not just some arbitrary decision designed to punish. Plus, you can use experience to get your point across. Even very young children can connect the outcome of'overeating junk food versus good food-good feeling. Ask your child to notice how they feel after eating certain foods from each side. They may not even notice this until you point it out. This puts more responsibility on them and helps take the nagging out of the picture.

Ask your librarian for children's books on healthy eating. There are tons of interesting stories that stress the importance of a healthy diet. We've also listed some kid-friendly books and educational websites in the resources section in the back of the book.