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The Après-Holiday School Lunch Season


We’ve all felt it – the post-holiday food hangover. Sluggish and slow, weighted down from one too many latkes or candy canes or slices of honeyed-ham, we swear we’ll say no to the leftover chocolate mocking us from the candy dishes. And we’re not the only ones in the fog of the food hangover. Our children can’t remember a time when a vegetable was good for anything other than a vehicle for artichoke-cheese dip.

This is the stuff the dreaded New Year’s resolution is made of, especially when we’re staring down the back-to-school date and wondering how kids are going to adjust to meals that don’t include black olives topping each finger. But returning to a “normal” lunch doesn’t have to be painful, and the calendar change provides an opportunity to reinvigorate lunch routines with new foods in new ways. Try these ideas to create a new year of lunch.

1. Involve your children in the process. Talk about the difference between holiday treats and food that nurtures their minds and bodies. Bring them to the store and encourage them to pick out new fruit and vegetables that they discovered over the holidays.

Did your son fall in love with cranberry sauce? Pick up a package of cranberries to make a sauce for turkey sandwiches. Did your daughter clean out the bowl of candied peanuts at the neighborhood open house? Introduce her to different kinds of raw nuts and research ways to use them in meals.

2. Include kids in the kitchen. Even pre-schoolers can get in on the action. The holidays are filled with opportunities for kids to satisfy their love of dipping (and ignoring utensils). Dips can be a healthy and delicious part of lunch, too, and kids love making them, especially when it involves smashing or mashing or mixing.

Try smashing a ripe avocado with a little garlic, salt, and lime (you can sneak in some tomato, too). Give kids pita chips or a whole wheat tortilla chips to dip with. Or mash up chick peas with some olive oil, salt, lemon juice, and tahini (sesame butter) for a quick and easy hummus. Carrots, celery and cucumbers will disappear fast. Even plain yogurt mixed with a bit of honey can be a fun and exciting fruit dip for children  used to the same old apple or banana in their lunch bag.

3. Explore healthy alternatives to the less healthy holiday foods your kids love. Shred zucchini, beet, carrot and parsnip into your latke mixture. They’ll taste great served with fresh made apple sauce (easy to make and kids will love it).

Have a child still pining for candied sweet potatoes? How about sweet potato fries? Slice the potato into fries. Lightly coat them in olive oil and sprinkle with salt (black pepper, chili power, and garlic powder also work well). Bake instead of frying and the natural sweetness will shine.

4. Return-to-school season is a perfect time to revisit beloved stand-bys that went missing over the holiday season. Foods they eat repeatedly can be comforting when easing back into routines. So welcome back those hard-boiled eggs and ants-on-a-log. They can cue your child for other transitions of the post-holiday season, like the return to an 8 o’clock bedtime (yay!).

5. Finally, consider resolving to help make food healthier at your child’s school. Does your school need a salad bar, recipes for cooking healthy food from scratch, financial modeling tools to showcase how to make it work, or videos and marketing materials to promote the program? Those and much more are available at our websites: Food Family Farming Foundation, the Lunch Box, Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools and Chef Ann.

Chef Ann Cooper

Chef Ann Cooper

Chef Ann Cooper is a celebrated author, chef, educator, and enduring advocate for better food for all children. In a nation where children are born with shorter estimated life expectancies than their parents because of diet-related illness, Ann is a relentless voice of reform by focusing on the links between food, family, farming and children's health and wellness.

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