Jazz up your child’s lunch by thinking outside of the lunch box staples and choosing foods from different parts of the world instead. The building blocks of these dishes — rice, beans, noodles, and chicken — can be prepared ahead (and served for dinner the night before) then transformed into wraps, rolls, flatbreads, soups, or salads for lunch.
In the guide, Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools, veteran chef and cookbook author Georgeanne Brennan teamed up with Ann M. Evans to create recipes based on six popular dishes (soup, salad, pasta, rice bowls, wraps, and pizza), combined with flavors from six world regions (Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and India). The downloadable guide, says Brennan, “offers ideas for adding fresh, local, healthy foods with a global focus to school lunch.” Here’s a sampling from the six regions.
Flavorful Mediterranean favorites
Ingredients for the healthy cuisine associated with countries in this region, such as Italy, Greece, and Spain, include olives, olive oil, garlic, basil, tomatoes, cheeses (mozzarella, parmesan, and feta), and pasta.
7 tasty lunch ideas using Mediterranean staples:
- Caprese salad, an Italian classic with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil.
- Panzanella, aka “Italian Bread Salad,” which is a great way to use up day-old bread.
- Bite-sized Greek salad.
- Pesto pasta, spaghetti carbonara or fettuccine Alfredo kept warm in a thermos.
- Flatbread, your child can add his favorite toppings — pesto, cheese, and vegetables — to this fluffy grilled bread.
A taste of Asia
Asia is about as culturally and culinarily diverse as it gets, but there are common ingredients found in many Asian cuisines, including: tofu, ginger (fresh or pickled), rice, soy sauce, tamari sauce, seaweed (nori), and rice paper wrappers.
4 Asian-inspired lunch ideas:
- Veggie sushi rolls — Make it with brown rice and add strips of tofu for nutritional oomph.
- Tofu spring rolls — A fun way to eat vegetables — and fruit. Try this variation with mango and beets or this one with apples and orange juice. Don’t skip the dipping sauce. It’s a favorite. Also, watch for chili sauce in some recipes; substitute peanut sauce if your child doesn’t like spicy food.
- Chinese chicken salad featuring noodles, chicken, and greens.
Latin American fare
Signature tastes from this part of the world include kid-friendly foods, such as avocados, beans, jicama (a crunchy, mild-tasting fruit), quinoa (a protein-packed, grain-like seed), mangos, and tortillas.
3 dishes with Latin American flair:
- Quinoa salad with beans and mangoes.
- Jicama salad — Just peel, slice, or dice, and mix with lime juice. Add a sprinkle of chili pepper for kids who like a kick.
- >Taco salad wrap made with a flour tortilla and a side of avocado-mango salad.
Middle Eastern eats
Most kids love dips. Creamy dips are a popular starter in the Middle East and in European countries like Greece and Turkey. Common ingredients in Middle Eastern foods include olive oil, garlic, garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas), peppers, and bulgur (cracked wheat).
3 lunch ideas with Middle Eastern influence:
- Hummus, a garlic and garbanzo bean dip (try roasted red pepper hummus for a change).
- Tabbouleh, a hearty side salad made with bulgur and lots of veggies.
- Falafel are chickpea patties that can be dipped in hummus or served inside a pita pocket with lettuce, tomato, tabbouleh, and hummus.
Out of Africa
Flavors from Africa (north and south) can be combined with ingredients from the southern United States to create healthy, satisfying fare. Common ingredients include black-eyed peas, peanuts, sweet potatoes, and couscous.
6 African-meets-Southern lunch ideas:
- Moroccan Couscous, dressed up with vegetables here, or try with dried fruits, nuts, citrus zest, and roasted chickpeas (which are also a great, better-than-chips snack).
- Moroccan Lentil Salad.
- Peanut Soup for cold days.
- Black-eyed pea salad for warm days.
- Baked sweet potato chips for a wholesome treat.
Indian cuisine ideas
Indian dishes tend to be fragrant, with spices such as cardamom, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, curry, and turmeric. Other common Indian ingredients include yogurt, chickpeas, paneer (cheese), chutney, and rice.
3 flavorful Indian lunch ideas:
- Cilantro chutney & cucumber sandwiches — It’s one of six ideas for something different for the kids’ lunches.
- Cucumber mint raita, a yogurt-based, cool, and refreshing side dish.
- Vegetable biryani, which is like the Indian version of fried rice. Options like these will expand children’s palettes and help them appreciate other cultures. Plus, with the mix of fruits and vegetables, they encourage healthy eating.