Brown Bag It for Back-to-School Season

With the economy in a slump and back-to-school season drawing near, families across the country are looking for ways to save money while still eating healthy. This fall, the Grain Foods Foundation is encouraging everyone to brown bag it by packing healthy, affordable and satisfying lunches for themselves and their families. Brown-bagging expertise is particularly important when packing lunches for your family: when analyzed, school lunches are usually healthier than lunches children bring from home.

To help make lunch a power-packed and great-tasting meal for your whole family, the Grain Foods Foundation has created the tips below, as well as providing an online savings tool for consumers to track the financial and caloric savings of packing a lunch. Consumers can calculate their savings and browse dozens of delicious lunch recipes by visiting Bon appétit!

Combine a carbohydrate with a protein. For the perfectly paired lunch, include high-fiber foods and a protein to help keep you and the kids satisfied through the day. Try hard-boiled eggs with a whole wheat English muffin, or low-fat cheese with pretzels or low-fat whole wheat crackers. Even if your kids are too young to remember Elvis, a banana-and-peanut-butter sandwich is a nice variation from the usual. Be sure to throw in a piece of fruit and some veggies to round out the meal.

Toast it. Nothing is better than a toasted sandwich: the crunch, the melted cheese… Delicious! Just because you are packing your lunch doesn’t mean you need to miss out on life’s little pleasures. For those working moms and dads, most office kitchens or lunchrooms have a toaster oven; put it to good use and make your very own homemade panini. Alternatively, if packing in the morning, let the bread cool before assembling and wrapping so it doesn’t get soggy.

BYOS – Bring your own sandwich and SHARE. This is part potluck, part tea party. Gather your buddies at work and one day a week everyone brings in their favorite sandwich. The catch (and the fun) is that everyone will cut their sandwiches into fourths, the modern-day cucumber sandwich, and share!

Room-temperature salads. They’re easy, endlessly variable, tasty and nutritious. Salads of beans, grains, and pastas are inexpensive and flavorful, and they go a long way toward filling you up while offering lots of nutrients and fiber. Best of all, they can be made ahead of time and they actually improve after a night of flavor-melding in the fridge. We like the couscous with almonds and dried cranberries recipe below.

It’s okay to judge a BAG by its cover. Most women love to show off a new handbag; why should your lunch bag be any different? There are a host of insulated, environmentally friendly options in fashion-friendly colors and designs. Sticking to the traditional brown bag? Have the kids add ribbons, name tags or their own drawings, and packing a healthy, tasty and creative lunch will become a family tradition.

Try these delicious recipes for a little variety in your brown-bag meals:

Chicken On-the-Go Sandwiches
Mix and match the slices of bread; it’s okay to use two different slices of bread on the sandwich for greater variety! Feel free to add vitamin-rich vegetables such as fresh spinach, shredded carrots or shredded red cabbage.
Recipe provided by Mrs. Baird’s Bakeries

Couscous with Almonds and Dried Cranberries
Couscous (which comes from the same durum wheat from which pasta is made) is versatile and easy to prepare, and it is good served warm or as a room-temperature salad for lunch the following day. Try these flavorings with Israeli couscous (a/k/a. pearl couscous) rice, or bulgur.

Recipe developed by Ted Allen for the Grain Foods Foundation