Seasonal creep isn’t just a problem with holiday decorations seeping into store displays as early as September. Though that’s pretty annoying all on its own.
It also marks an ever longer period when the healthy eating habits we try so hard to impose on our kids get corroded by one celebratory sugar bomb after another.
Weeks of Halloween candy blur into days of giving thanks with ample pie which, in turn, meld into one candy cane-spiked holiday party after another.
Sure, we try to stem the tide. But truth is, I’ll only fight it so far. I’d prefer to focus on the battles I can win. For me, that means working to find balance.
Since I know October, November and December tend to pack in the sugar, I try to counter that by packing lunches for my son that are jammed with some good stuff.
One of the easiest – but least appreciated – ways of getting healthy foods into kids is whole grains. These days, there are plenty of whole-grain foods that don’t taste “whole grain.” There also are some whole-grain surprises you might not have considered.
So here are my top eight ideas for slipping whole grains into your kids’ lunches. And maybe even your own.
1. Popcorn: Seriously. Even when it’s coated in powdered “cheese” or caramel sauce, it’s still a whole grain. It’s also easy to pack, and kids consider it a treat. It also makes delicious “croutons” for salads and soups. These days, you even can get popcorn formed into tortilla-like chips.
2. White whole-wheat flour: You’ll find it in the baking aisle right next to the regular whole-wheat flour. But it’s a different variety of wheat. It has the same nutrition as the regular whole-wheat stuff, but a flavor and texture similar to all-purpose flour. Substitute it one-for-one in any recipe – pancakes, cookies, banana or pumpkin breads, even dumplings and biscuits.
3. Pretzels: Most grocers now have plenty of choices for whole-grain pretzels. Like popcorn, they are easy to pack, and kids consider them a great snack. They also are perfect for dunking in guacamole or hummus.
4. Tortilla chips: Speaking of dipping, have you checked out the tortilla chips aisle lately? Chips these days are jammed with seeds and whole grains. Accompany them with a packet of salsa and you get veggies as well as grains.
5. Wraps: Whether you prefer pita pockets, flour tortillas, naan or some other flatbread variation, just about all of them are available in whole-grain versions. It’s an easy way to wrap a kid’s favorite sandwich fixings in something healthy.
6. Rice: Brown rice is great for mixing into salads and soups. No time to boil some up (I’d do it at dinner and pack the leftovers)? Check out the heat-and-eat rice section at the grocer. There are tons of whole-grain packets that nuke in seconds and can be popped into a thermos.
7. Sushi: This is almost too easy. Even 7-Eleven sells sushi these days. Grab some brown rice sushi filled with avocado or cucumber (or more adventurous stuff if your kid is game). It’s an effortless, healthy lunch kids will get excited about.
8. Pasta: You no longer are allowed to complain that you don’t like the taste of whole-wheat pasta. Grocers have tons of varieties, including many designed to appeal to folks who don’t like whole grains. Find one your kids enjoy and stick with it. At dinner, boil up too much. The next morning, toss the leftovers with meat, veggies, and vinaigrette for an easy pasta salad. Or toss it with cheese and nuke it for mac and cheese (pack it in a thermos).