By Angela Shelf Medearis
I've prepared lunches for my family for several years, and one thing I know for sure, you've got to have a plan! Eating out every day is not only too expensive, the meal choices are typically unhealthy. And if your child is a picky eater like mine, buying school lunches are a waste of money.
A nutritious lunch prepared at home does not have to be boring or cost you a fortune. Making small changes can save you money, like planning a lunch with ingredients that also work well for dinner meals. Remember that well-nourished adults and children have a greater chance of success at work or at school.
Proper nutrition also is a key ingredient for back-to-school success because it fuels brain cells and gives your child the energy and nutrients needed for optimal learning. Packing your child's lunch lets you know exactly what he or she is eating.
Follow these tips, and not only will you save money, you'll also pack a nutritious lunch that your child will enjoy!
-- Practice good nutrition yourself. Children learn by association -- you need to be a role model. Discuss with them the benefits of healthy eating.
-- Plan ahead and have a list when you go to the store. The more time you spend in a store, the more money you spend.
-- Use foods from each of the five food groups: Carbohydrates, protein, dairy, fruits and vegetables. Choose whole-grain products like bread, tortillas, pita bread, bagels or whole-grain crackers. These are more nutritious, have more fiber, vitamins and minerals, and keep blood sugar steady for optimal learning.
-- Include the kids in the preparation process and give them choices. Take them along when grocery shopping. Let them pick a new fruit or vegetable to try each week.
-- Buy what's on sale each week, then work it into a menu. Use fruits and vegetables that are in season.
-- Make your own ingredients. Look beyond lunch meat. Slice your own meat or grill a chicken breast and cut it into strips or cubes. Avoid prepackaged lunches, since they are high priced.
-- Let your children help prepare dinner and use the leftovers to pack their lunch. Invest in a good insulated food container to keep food warm.
You can use my recipe for Mediterranean Chicken Two Ways as a delicious dinner and a nutritious lunch. It makes eight servings (four for lunch and four for dinner). One meal with two ways to save money!
MEDITERRANEAN CHICKEN TWO WAYS
2 cups plain fat-free Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon packed fresh mint or basil
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped, or 1/2 tablespoon dried dill
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 pounds chicken breast tenders
1 English (seedless) cucumber
2 large ripe tomatoes
4 whole-wheat pitas
1. In small bowl, combine yogurt, mint, dill, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 1/3 of the garlic and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Let stand for 15 minutes. Place half of mixture in a covered container and refrigerate to use for lunch.
2. Using a shallow container or pie plate, combine 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice, 1 1/2 tablespoons oil, poultry seasoning, oregano, 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper, 1 teaspoon cumin and 1/3 of the garlic. Add chicken, turning to coat. Let stand.
3. Heat a grill pan or heavy skillet on medium-high. Grill chicken 10 to 12 minutes or until no longer pink in center, turning once.
4. Meanwhile, cut cucumber and tomato into chunks; toss, in large bowl, with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper, and remaining lemon juice, oil and garlic.
For Dinner: Divide the chicken, yogurt sauce and the cucumber and tomato mixture evenly. Place half of the ingredients in sealed containers. Transfer remaining chicken to serving plates and serve with the remaining cucumber mixture and yogurt sauce. Prepare a side of orzo or couscous to serve, if desired.
For Lunch: Toast pitas in a large dry pan over medium-high heat on the stovetop, or on the top rack of an oven, or in a toaster oven until lightly browned, about 1 minute on each side, turning once. Fill the pitas with the remaining chicken, and top with yogurt sauce and the cucumber mixture. Place in a reusable container in a lunchbox along with fruit.
Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children's author, culinary historian and the author of seven cookbooks. Her new cookbook is "The Kitchen Diva's Diabetic Cookbook." Her website is www.divapro.com. To see how-to videos, recipes and much, much more, Like Angela Shelf Medearis, The Kitchen Diva! on Facebook. Recipes may not be reprinted without permission from Angela Shelf Medearis.