Ask A Sacramento Expert: School Lunches To Prepare In 10 Minutes Or Less

August 28, 2015 5:00 AM

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Sacramento native Lisa Vorce is the nutritionist for Twin Rivers Unified School District, and spends her days focused on keeping kids well fed and growing strong. Having raising three now-adult daughters, Vorce has been involved with school lunches both as a mom and as a nutritionist. She knows what a challenge it can be to make quick, healthy lunches that kids will actually eat.
Lisa Vorce
Twin Rivers Unified School District
3222 Winona Way
North Highlands, CA, 95660
(916) 566-1600 ex. 50502

Vorce checks what kids in her district bring to lunch and has concerns; hectic schedules mean parents often rely on prepackaged foods. Vorce regularly sees bologna lunchables, fruit roll-ups and white bread sandwiches stuffed with processed lunchmeat. Millions of advertising dollars are spent making such items sound nutritious, but reading food labels often proves otherwise.

Force says lunches should include 100 percent whole grains for fiber, vegetables, fruit, protein and calcium.

School cafeteria food has come a long way since baby boomers were growing up, says Vorce, laughing. School meals now offer both good nutrition and good taste. But there are many options for quick, healthy lunches that can be brought from home.

Healthy Crunch

Fill a whole-wheat pita with crunchy veggies like grated carrots and shredded romaine; a week’s worth can be prepped ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator. Add sliced or shredded low-fat cheese or poultry. Avoid salt and fat-laden lunchmeat; precooked chunks of chicken are available frozen or refrigerated at most grocery stores. Alternately, pick up a rotisserie chicken or turkey, remove the fatty skin and slice up for use.

Tip: Use whole-grain pitas or bread with low-salt peanut butter — beware of reduced fat versions that have added sugar. For extra fiber with less sodium, fat and sugar, use a tasty peanut-free sunflower spread like SunButter. Sliced bananas or strawberries increase the yumminess, kid appeal and nutrition.

Related: Ask A Sacramento Expert: After-School Activity Ideas

Be An Egghead

Peel hardboiled eggs, either cooked in advance or purchased, and cut them in half. Add carrot chips or cucumber coins, also available in stores or from a refrigerated stash prepared at home. Sugar-free applesauce cups taste great and add sweetness to the meal. “Candy doesn’t belong in the lunch box,” says Vorce, especially since children usually eat the candy first and are too full for the real lunch.

Tip: Freeze eight-ounce bottles of water and include one in lunch boxes; it functions as an ice pack, and thaws enough to drink with the meal.

Be Dippy

Kids love eating with their hands, so pack apple or bell pepper spears or whole-grain, low salt pretzels and crackers for dipping. Include small containers of hummus, yogurt or bean dip, either purchased or made in advance. Small chunks of watermelon or berries are a sweet treat; dried fruits — not processed rollups that have more sugar than fruit — are also easy and fun to eat.

Tip: Children need three daily dairy servings, so pack milk or add money to buy it at school. Juiceboxes made of 100 percent juice can be given occasionally, but read the label before buying. Most also have much more sugar than fruit.

Get Kitted Up

Certain prepackaged meals are okay, such as tuna kits with whole-grain crackers. Add items like cut up carrots, cucumber, apples, almonds or zucchini to the meal.

Tip: Vorce suggests getting kids involved in shopping and planning their lunch. Sacramento has year-round farmer’s markets, and grocers and mass-retailers have fresh produce from which kids can choose. Even better, help them grow their own tomatoes or bell peppers in flowerpots or in the yard.

Pack Some Heat

Pack hot soups, homemade chili or leftovers in a thermos, and include whole-grain crackers.Vorce does not advise doing this for very young children, she suggests this “for older kids, so you actually get the thermos back at the end of the day,” she laughs.

Tip: To keep kids interested in opening their lunch bag, add a simple note each day. A quick “I love you,” smiley face or even a sticker gives them more to look forward to at lunchtime.

Related: Cooking Ideas For Kids From A Sacramento Chef

Valerie Heimerich is a freelance writer out of Sacramento. She typically covers business, employment, animal rescue, volunteerism and nonprofits. Her work can also be found at