Skip to navigation.

Beat the back-to-school food blues

Going back to school often means hitting the books for ideas to create healthy lunchbox and after-school treats that kids will love. Luckily, the experts at the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) have developed a host of easy tweaks and creative twists that will keep you thinking outside the traditional lunchbox all year long.

Milk it: Don’t forget the milk money. Studies have indicated that more than half of children aged 2 to 8, and three-quarters of children age 9 to 19, do not consume the recommended daily servings of milk and other dairy products. Replacing soda and juice with low-fat or skim milk is an easy way to eliminate empty calories and enhance the nutritional value of kids’ diets. Milk and dairy products not only taste good, they are excellent sources of calcium and important nutrients like vitamin D, phosphorus, riboflavin and protein that growing minds and bodies need.

Go global: Encourage your children to experience the foods of the world. Lettuce wraps are a great place to start. Pack a stack of iceberg lettuce leaves, grilled chicken strips, shredded cheese and a yogurt-spice dressing (cumin, mint and dill all work well). For younger kids, send veggie sticks with homemade dip made with Real California buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream. Even better, create cheese and veggie “sushi” rolls by slicing cucumbers into one-inch rounds, scooping out the center and filling with your favorite cheese like Mozzarella or Cheddar. Finish it off with a sprinkle of sesame seeds for added effect.

Make food fun: Lunch time is a break from the day’s learning – why not make it even more fun with food? Instead of traditional cheese slices, try cubes and/or a variety of shapes. Cookie cutters work wonders on cheese and come in every shape imaginable.

And when kids are eating at home, try some fun new takes on traditional meals:

- Kids love the idea of having breakfast for lunch or dinner. For a truly surprising option, try a scoop of cottage cheese (or frozen yogurt) topped with an apricot or peach to look like a fried egg, complete with strips of fruit leather “bacon” and pound cake “toast” on the side. This makes a great after-school snack as well.

- Or, transform the beloved grilled cheese sandwich into look-alike French fries by cutting the sandwich into strips and serving in a paper boat or fry bag with ketchup or fry sauce on the side.

Say “yes” to sweet treats: Sweets aren’t all bad. Why not let your child indulge in a cottage cheese “sundae” starting with healthy low-fat cottage cheese topped with strawberry preserves and sprinkled with chocolate chips, toasted coconut or granola. Fruit slices dipped in yogurt and rolled in granola also make a yummy, healthy lunchroom or after-school bite.

Or, if you want to surprise your child with a frozen treat, try freezing yogurt sticks. Not only do kids love the way they taste, but they keep the contents of the lunchbox nice and cool. Remember, when you’re preparing lunch to keep ice packs at the ready because dairy products stay their freshest at 38 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Armed with these tips and tricks, you’ll be able to create fun, healthy and exciting school lunches that your kids will love. For tips and recipes featuring California milk and dairy products, visit www.RealCaliforniaMilk.com or go to Facebook.com/RealCaliforniaMilk for more delicious ideas.