Milestones Child Development Center
1411 O St.
Sacramento, CA 95814
At Milestones Child Development Center, most of the food served during its daily program is made from scratch by a staff with culinary backgrounds. Executive Director Aimee Walker says the quality nourishment prepared at Milestones strays away from the “nugget” or “stick” forms of food and instead turns to fresh fruit, veggies and lean proteins cooked in a variety of fun and creative ways to ensure the children are well fed and educated about nutrition. Walker is also a mother of two, so she’s no stranger to guiding her own children in the comfort of their home-kitchen to prep easy, daily lunches for the new school year. Read Walker’s five simple and delicious lunchtime suggestions straight from her children’s lunch pales.
With perfectly portioned sections tucked inside a portable lunch kit, the Bento Box is the newest trend gaining steam when it comes to school lunches. For Walker, the creative and nutrition-based educational opportunities to think inside the Bento Box were endless and it also allowed her children to assign important food groups to the different sections of their own Bento Boxes. For example, Walker’s 12-year-old daughter’s Bento Box contained five slots, so she explained that each needed to be assigned as follows: protein, grain, veggie, treat and fruit.
“What I found is once they have those parameters, I don’t care if their grain is Chex-Mix, or a tortilla or a couple of Ritz Crackers, a grain’s a grain. If the protein is yogurt, or leftover tri-tip from dinner last night, I have to be OK with that,” Walker explains. “So, my biggest recommendation is to do something like that. Make sure you have all the ingredients to fit those categories and let them choose within those parameters. Then, they’re more likely to eat it.”
Wraps are a delicious and more eye-appealing alternative to the standard, sometimes boring, sack-lunch sandwich. Instead, Walker suggests to wrap it up! At the grocery store, choose from spinach or sun-dried tomato tortillas to use as the “bread” for the base of the wrap. Next, give your children a handful of choices that include lean meats, ranch dressing for a little added flavor, cheeses and a variety of shredded vegetables like carrots and cucumbers. Spinach instead of lettuce also gives the wrap a tad more color and adds in some extra iron to boot. Once all the ingredients are layered onto the tortilla, roll it up, and slice the wrap into circles, which let’s the child see just how colorful healthy eating can be.
Walker’s Food Tip: “Sometimes it takes serving an item up to ten times in the same way for [children] to accept it. Just keep doing it and have a back up (not in sight) and ask them to take a ‘No thank you bite.’ It’s surprising.”
Two healthy and creative snack alternatives instead of the tired bag of potato chips or sugary serving of fruit snacks are “ants on a log” and crunchy cucumbers slices as a substitute for carb-fueled crackers. Use cucumbers as a base instead of crackers and let the dipping and stacking commence! Walker recommends tuna salad, chicken salad, egg salad, hummus, or any variety of meats, cheeses, and veggies as toppers on cucumber slices. So, what is “ants on a log?” Wash celery and slice into three-inch sticks. Next, spread any of the nut-butters like peanut, cashew or almond, or if there is a nut allergy in your family, opt for some cream cheese. Lastly, top each celery stick with raisins, Craisins, or sunflower seeds for a fun and nutritious lunchtime snack that resembles ants on a log.
Hummus is pretty mild in terms of flavors and is loaded with protein, so it’s no surprise that this healthy dip is made regularly in the Walker household. First, she recommends grabbing a step stool so your child can participate and watch the entire process. Next, ask your child to rinse the garbonzo beans by pouring them into a strainer and washing them over the kitchen sink. The fun part is pouring all the ingredients that go into hummus into a food processor: tahini, garbonzo beans, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, a pinch of salt, and spices like pepper and paprika. Walker says measuring all the ingredients for hummus is also a fun way to work in a little math lesson while making a healthy snack together. What’s left is to show the child which buttons to push on the food processor and watch the ingredients whip into a delicious batch of hummus.
Walker’s Food Tip: “I’m a visual eater and I think kids are kind of the same way. So, try to use a variety of veggies and colors to dip in your hummus like carrots, all of the bell peppers, cucumbers, celery, jícama is fun because a lot of kids aren’t unfamiliar with it, or snap peas.”
When looking to satisfy a child’s sweet tooth in a healthy manner, Walker recommends simple strawberry yogurt as a dip for sliced fruit like apples, berries or melons. Another yummy lunchtime treat she suggests are yogurt parfaits, a layered sweet snack that your child can assemble easily.
“All you need is Greek yogurt for more protein and it’s creamier and richer, a scoop of granola, and fruit like berries or whatever their favorite fruit is,” Walker explains. “If you’re going the Bento Box route, the child can then pour all the ingredients together right before they eat.”