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Katie Morford Dishes on the Best Kids Lunch Ever

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All moms know that making lunches your kid will dig is difficult. Well, lunch-stressed moms, worry no more. Katie Morford has tackled the tough issue of preparing healthy and tasty kids lunches in her book, “The Best Lunch Box Ever.”

I recently chatted with Morford and asked her what inspired the book, how she keeps her kids’ lunches fresh and how she approaches common lunch logistics issues. [Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

Organic Authority: What sparked the idea for the book and how did you go about writing the book?

Katie Morford: I got the idea because I’m a dietitian and write a blog (mostly for moms) called Mom’s Kitchen Handbook. A lot of parents talk to me about nutrition and feeding their families because that’s really the focus of my work.

And by and large, the biggest gripe that I hear from parents is packing lunch. More than anything else, they just really did not enjoy it and struggled. There are always a lot of questions and concerns, and needing inspiration. So, it seemed like there was an opportunity. And it seemed like there was a need for both nutrition information and what to put in there -- what really does a nutritious lunch box look like? And also, how to get out of the rut of packing the same things over and over, without having to spend a ton of time. That’s kind of where the concept came from.

OA: How did you go about finding unique recipes that were relatively easy to make and travel well?

KM: It was a little tricky! I admit, I have my own sort of focus group right in my house because I have three kids and I have been packing lunches for a long time, so I knew what would work for me. I felt like that was a good starting point, but I also hit this point where I thought it has to be enough for it to warrant it being in a cookbook -- I couldn’t just tell people how to make a turkey sandwich. It was finding that balance between having it be interesting enough so that it was worth going into a cookbook, but not so complicated that people wouldn’t want to make it for lunch. The other tricky balance was making recipes that were fundamentally nourishing and good tasting, and at the same time, would appeal to kids. Those were the considerations as I sat down to type up the book.

Then, I just decided to break it into “the mains,” which is the sandwich section. I decided to do a salad section because we do salads for lunch at home. I feel like, in my experience, if you make salads a certain way, kids really do like them and it can be an interesting thing to add into a lunch. And then I did a section of wraps and pizzas -- that’s another easy, super-kid-friendly idea, but different than a sandwich. I am also a big believer in leftovers for school lunch. So, there’s a whole chapter devoted to how to turn leftovers into lunch the next day.

The other part of the lunch box is the sides--being creative with fruits and vegetables so they are appealing to kids. And having some more wholesome crunchy sides and sweets.

FInally, the last section is after-school snacks. And that was something I get a lot of questions from parents on. So, I thought that was a good idea to include.

OA: Are there any ways that you’ve found to help present new foods, in general, to your children?

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From the Organic Authority Files

KM: I think it is baby steps and consistency. If your kid has been having a certain kind of lunch her whole life, overhauling it overnight is probably not the best way to go. But doing it in little steps, like, if you’ve only ever given your kid peanut butter and grape jelly and white bread, maybe you do peanut butter and grape jelly and one slice of whole wheat, and one slice of white. Maybe you do half peanut butter and half sunflower seed butter. And then consistency: Just keep putting it out there. Certain kids, especially, it takes many exposures to new foods to ultimately adopt them. So, I think very non-dramatically, keep putting food out there and eventually they do tend to adopt it into their diet. I found this with my own kids. I used the lunch box to introduce new vegetables. Instead of, say, just putting in the baby carrots, I put in some baby carrots and maybe a few fennel slices, or you throw in some radishes. And you just keep doing it and just see what happens. And I’ve actually found that really works.

OA: What are your top five solutions for problems that moms have with lunches, and lunch boxes in general?

KM: 1. For cold foods, having an insulated lunch box is really important. And using freezer packs helps. Another little trick I like is to fill a water bottle with water the night before and freeze it, and that doubles as an ice pack and the water will eventually defrost, and the kid can drink it.

2. For hot foods, I recommend that if you have leftovers to use them. So, if you have leftover chili, it’s great for the lunch box. A lot of people find that it really doesn’t stay warm. I think there are a couple tricks you can use. One is you can get a container. I find the Thermos brand and another one called Stanley to be quite good. These are just old school, sturdy thermoses. And the microwave is the most common thing that people tend to use to warm food, but it doesn’t really hold the temperature as it would if you heated it on the stovetop. I recommend, if you can, heat the chili or the soup on the stovetop and heat it really hot -- hotter than you would normally heat it. And you can even go so far, I usually don’t do this, but I’ve heard people who find this as useful: You can pour some boiling water in the thermos and then dump it out (before putting the food in the container). But I find getting a good thermos and then heating the food on the stove really hot, will most likely arrive at least pretty warm at lunchtime.

3. And in terms off fruits and vegetables, a lot of kids will be really turned off by apples or pears that turn brown. I’ll douse them in a little bit of lemon juice, or orange juice, and that little squeeze will keep them from browning.

4. With soft fruits, don’t just throw a peach in a lunch box. I’ll put it in the cloth napkin I’m using in the lunch box and I’ll actually put the fruit in a container, so it won’t get battered around. And then the kid is more likely to eat it if it’s not bruised.

5. And it’s sometimes the simple things that can prevent their kids from getting into their lunch box that a lot of parents don’t think about. Especially for little kids, can they open these containers? So, if you go to the store with your kid, ask them if they can open the lunch box. That’s really important.

Check out Katie Morford’s "Best Lunch Box Ever" for more awesome kids lunch recipes.

Click below for a one of Morford’s recipes:

Best Lunch Box Ever: Sweetie Pie Quesadilla Recipe


Food For Kids: The Best Lunch Box Ever

Image: Mom’s Kitchen Handbook: Raising Fresh Food Kids in a French Fried World

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