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Native Cooking

Back to school, already? Seems like summer just started. Going back to school always seemed like such a fresh start to me: a chance to improve myself in all ways. Even if you aren’t in school, this season still becomes a chance to start new projects. One of mine is starting a hunt for the best healthy snacks and lunches for kids. School cafeterias have become more aware of nutrition due to parental and media pressure regarding health.

Although they present more fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains, it’s up to your kids to make the right choices – juice or water instead of soda and raisins, granolas and nuts versus gooey desserts full of sugar. It is much safer today to bring your own lunch, with all the great insulated bags and ice packs, as well as individual serving sizes of many foods available. This is a far cry from the peanut butter and jelly on white bread in a brown paper bag that got squished down to a quarter-inch flat.

Remember, kids aren’t going to eat what they don’t like, so get them to tell you their favorites and write this down. If they really like something, it probably won’t bother them to have it more than once a week. Adult taste buds need more variety, but kids have plenty of time to work up to that stage. So if they like tuna or chicken, give it to them. Try different ways to present the same food, like wraps one time, whole-grain bread another. Even no bread at all, just tuna salad in a container with a fork, a couple of pickles and some no-fat chips: and voila!

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Buffalo Summer Sausage Wrap

1 large whole-wheat tortilla wrap

3 thin slices buffalo (or beef) summer sausage

3 thin slices sharp Cheddar cheese

3 leaves soft green lettuce

1 tablespoon ranch dressing

Spread the dressing over most of the wrap, leaving a one-inch border so it won’t ooze out when you fold it up. Put the lettuce down first, then the meat, the cheese last. Fold over one end and roll the rest.

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Sun-dried Tomato Wrap

1 large sun-dried tomato tortilla wrap

2 tablespoons low-fat cream cheese

2 tablespoons hot bean dip

2 tablespoons black olives, sliced

1/2 cup alfalfa sprouts

Spread the cream cheese on the wrap first, then the bean dip, then sprinkle with black olives and, finally, sprouts down the middle. Fold over one end and roll the rest.

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A lot of teens think anything unusual is “cool,” including pita bread and wraps. Fillings for pita should be carried in a separate container. Wraps are great surfaces and come in multiple flavors like sun-dried tomato, spinach, whole grain, corn and regular white flour. You can have fun designing your own. Kids love them and may be the source of some really different fillings – let them do their own and see. Another great surface is rice cakes. Toppings can be packed separately in small plastic jars or even in snack-size bags (peanut butter, cottage cheese, or other cheese, jelly or preserves).

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Finger foods are always a winner for school. Try sliced veggies like carrots, celery, jimica or cucumber, for example. I know someone who takes a can of those tiny ears of corn, drains and dries them, then puts them in a snack-size bag with just a touch of salt. It’s really pretty, too, alongside carrots and green celery.

Some fruits travel well. Good old banana has its own coat; apples, too. Grapes, cherries, plums and pears can all go as they come. Oranges are better peeled and sectioned. Just don’t forget to wash all produce, even if it’s organic and has no pesticides. Organic foods are the best for you and for the environment. Don’t go for beauty; go for taste.

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Navajo Squash

2 pounds yellow summer squash

1/2 pound Cheddar cheese

1 scallion, sliced very thin

1 cup cooked prickly pear pads (nopalitos)

1/2 teaspoon salt

Wash and trim squash; do not peel. Cut into cubes or small pieces. Cook until tender, then drain and put in a baking dish. Sprinkle with the prickly pear pads, scallion and cheese. Bake in a hot oven, 425 – 450 degrees, for 20 minutes.

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Notes and Tips

• Don’t forget to use your thermos, especially the wide-mouth type, for school lunches of chili, soup, cooked veggies like potatoes, carrots or wild rice. I’ve even seen them used for hot nacho sauce.

• Some great snack ideas for school or after school: Molasses and bread, pretzels and dip, fruit salad, popcorn, corn chips and salsa, baked sweet potato fries, a handful of raisins, pine nuts, walnuts, craisins, crackers and peanut butter … if kids see a list like this on the fridge door, they might be inclined to eat healthier.