Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bottling Simple, Smooth Summer Lunches

*Here is a version of an article written for Jax4Kids.com's Summer Camp Expo Guide that was published in EU newspaper!

Nutritious, fun, easy-to-make ideas for your summer camper’s lunch box

by Penny Powell

While summer typically inspires simpler meals, knowing just what nutritious lunch to send off to summer camp with their children is not so simple for many parents.

"I have been meeting more and more women who are curious how to feed their children healthy and tasty food," says Carrie Zarka Dooley, owner of Shakti Life Kitchen located at 51 Pine Street in Atlantic Beach. Dooley opened this organic, live food cafe with “a vision of creating a different food culture” for the children of Jacksonville, so she is on a mission to help area parents rethink the food choices they serve their kids and learn about some other kid-friendly options. Shakti Life Kitchen has begun offering weekly classes for students enrolled in the after-school program at Atlantic Beach Elementary.

If your child is headed off to summer camp this year or simply "camping" at home, here are some easy and 'smooth' ideas to consider -- for lunching or snacking -- that are sure to nourish your children while pleasing their palettes. Plus, these foods are just fun for families to prepare together.


Who doesn't like a cold, refreshing smoothie during the summer? Not only are smoothies filling, but they’re so simple to prepare and a quick way to get nutrition into your children. You can simply put a few combinations of your children's favorite fruits in the blender, mix with some water and perhaps a little Honey or Agave Nectar (derived from the Agave Cactus plant) for an extra sweetener, and viola, there goes some good nutrition hydrating those growing bodies.

How will I keep the smoothie cold and fresh when I send it off to camp with my child? you might be wondering. It's simple. Invest in some Mason Jars that will preserve the ingredients; they’re inexpensive and can be purchased at places such as Wal-Mart and Publix. Get some ice packs, too. Place enough frozen ice packs in your child's lunch bag to keep the jar cold. You can also freeze the fruits before you blend them. This often takes away the need to add ice, therefore, doesn’t water down the smoothie. For instance, after purchasing the bananas for my son’s favorite Banana/Strawberry smoothie, I peel the bananas, cut them in half, place in a large zip-lock bag, and freeze them. When it comes to smoothie-making time, the beverage turns out quite icy.

Remind your child to shake the smoothie jar before opening it at summer camp in order to remix the ingredients that will have been ‘sitting’ for a while. My son, Caleb, enjoys drinking his smoothies with a straw, so don't forget to also send those along, if desired.

After-Camp Smoothies

I often make a smoothie for Caleb before I pick him up from school; at that time of day he’s really ready to slurp up the goodness. Your drive home from camp can also be an ideal time for smoothie time.

Banana/Strawberry Smoothie Recipe

~ 3 frozen Bananas (more or less depending on the texture and sweetness you want)
~ approx. 5 Strawberries
~ approx. 1 cup of Water (varies depending on the texture you are after)
~ approx. 1 tablespoon of Honey or Agave Nectar for added sweetness, optional.

The Smoothie Wheel

Smoothie options are endless as demonstrated by 14-year-old Raven Talifero from Ojai, CA. Her creativity prompted her to create a Smoothie Wheel as a Christmas present for her 4-year-old brother to increase his smoothie choices. Little did Talifero know that she would also be helping parents out as far as Jacksonville, FL.

On the Smoothies/Juices section of BotlingHealth.com, a site I’ve created with Jacksonville parents in mind, you can spin Raven's Smoothie Wheel for smoothie choices or print it to store in your kitchen. Your child will be spinning up new smoothie choices daily. Imagine just how much healthier your children will be by the end of summer? I'm already visualizing every child in Jacksonville just glowing with health. And remember, healthier children make healthier choices and healthier children are happier children; it all works together. Good health inspires all good things.

The Green Smoothie

Have you heard about the Green Smoothie? News about this highly-nutritious, easy-to-digest, easy-to-make drink is spreading fast and furious, and parents are using this beverage as a tool to get more greens into their children. I can't tell you how many people I've served a green smoothie to who have been totally surprised that they only tasted the fruit in the smoothie and not the greens. My husband asks for one every day.

With any fruit smoothie you make, you would simply add a handful or two of greens, such as spinach or kale, to arrive at the Green Smoothie. I typically blend the greens first with water and then add the fruit. Remember to add Honey or Agave Nectar for additional sweetness, if necessary. I've seen a tablespoon or two of Agave immediately transform a green smoothie for the better. Agave can be found at local health food stores.

Even though the fruit in this smoothie overpowers the taste of the greens, if your child is like mine and is hesitant about the color of the drink (which is beautiful, in my opinion), then you might have to disguise a little further. Throw in some blueberries, and not only will you have added more nutrition but a color changer, too. Now the smoothie should take on a dark purple color!

Smooth Pudding

Talking about purple and blueberries, Shannon Leone, nutritionist and author of the soon-to-be published e-book "The Healthy Lunchbox" (to be published at RawMom.com), shares her very-filling Blueberry Pudding recipe with Jacksonville parents. Chia seeds are included in this recipe, which Leone says are “a great source of fiber, protein and EFA’s (essential fatty acids).”

Blueberry Pudding Recipe

~ 4 cups fresh Blueberries
~ 1 cup Chia Seeds -- ground or flax
~ 1 tablespoon Honey, optional

“In a dry container (such as that of a food processor), blend the chia seeds so they are powdered. Add the blueberries -- and sweetener if using -- and lightly blend so the berries break down but do not liquefy totally. Pour into your child’s airtight containers and sprinkle a few berries on top, perhaps with some shredded coconut for added appeal. The chia or flax ground will firm it up so they can eat it with a spoon and not a straw!”

Smooth Foods That Crunch Or Not!

Your child may, understandably, want something crunchy or chewy to eat with the smoothie. How about adding carrots or other crunchy veggies and fruits, or watermelon, pineapple, and/or trail mix or granola to your camper's lunch box? How about a salad with a tasty, healthy dressing?

Last summer, my 8-year-old nephew, Zuhri, got hooked on salads when he spent six weeks with my family. Salad had not been a regular staple in his diet, but when Zuhri returned home to Bermuda and school started, his mom informed that he had begun taking salads for lunch. "I love it," she said, "because they're so simple to make." Zuhri and Caleb both enjoy a simple salad made with Romaine lettuce, shredded carrots, and grapes. Colorful and tasty!

Some healthy foods that Juliann Gaus-Graeser from Atlantic Beach sends off to school with her 8-year-old son, Maxwell, are "Ants on a Log" -- cut-up celery sticks spread with a healthy nut butter and lined with raisins. If your child enjoys cucumbers, Ants on a Circle is another variation of this idea. Apples and nut butter also find their way into Maxwell's lunch box. "I cut the apple with an apple slicer," Gaus-Graeser explained, "and then I put the pieces back together, wrap the apple tightly, and then send the nut butter in a container." At lunchtime, Maxwell enjoys spreading the nut butter over apple slices. To prevent apples from turning brown once they have been cut and must 'sit', pour a little lemon juice over the slices. However, Juliann said that simply putting the apple back together and sealing it helps limit the color change, too. "Sometimes it turns a little," she said, "but my son doesn't care."

Smooth Sandwiches

If your child wants traditional sandwiches, wraps or pita pockets, try healthier bread choices, such as Ezekiel Bread found in your neighborhood grocery store or Health Food store. After introducing Orange Park mom, Cynthia Leadbetter, to this line of bread, it became a hit in her home. For breakfast one morning, she spread mashed avocado on toasted Cinnamon/Raisin Ezekiel Bread, and her son “loved it” she said with delight.

About learning to add healthier options to your child’s lunch box, Leone says: “Enjoy the process. Include your kids whenever possible. Learning to eat healthy and make healthy choices is a skill for life they can really use. They may not always thank you now, but they will later. In the meantime, you can walk a little taller just knowing you are doing all you can for your healthy family, and it’s a good feeling, Mom!”

Penny Powell lives in Orange Park, FL. The "Summer Camp" she attended last summer was the 10-Day Healthy Lifestyle Course at The Living Foods Institute in Atlanta, GA -- where she ate healthy lunches every day! This summer, Penny is committed to growing her site, BottlingHealth.com, as a means of connecting with Jacksonville parents who may also be interested in "bottling" health for themselves and their children. Penny can be contacted at penny@BottlingHealth.com.

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