Saturday, August 28, 2010

Healthy Snacks and Lunches for Back to School

By Junie Norfleet, L.Ac.

The start of school brings the challenge of a healthy snack or lunch that is easily packed. Below you will find some suggestions, but first some information on the systems of the Spleen and Stomach.

The Spleen and Stomach systems are an integral part of digestion in Chinese medicine. The Stomach system must have some "heat" to begin the digestive process. Too many hot, spicy foods can create too much "heat" and disrupt the digestive process. The Spleen system can become depleted if we consume too many "cold" items. "Cold" can be temperature cold, or energetically cold. For example, raw foods and soy products are energetically cold.

The Spleen system is strengthened by the taste of sweet. Sweet from a Chinese medicine perspective is the sweetness of rice. In our culture, many people would not recognize that rice is sweet, because we are so accustomed to the sweetness of refined sugar. Eating rice, sweet potatoes, beets, and carrots will strengthen the spleen.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, it is strengthening to the digestive system for foods to be lightly cooked. A weak digestive system will not be able to absorb nutrients adequately, so it aids the digestive process to begin the break down of foods by lightly cooking them.

Preparing a bento box can be a fun way of introducing less "traditional" foods into the lunch. Bento boxes were designed in Japan and are becoming more popular in North America recently. A bento lunch is a compact, balanced, visually appealing meal packed in a box. There are many websites that discuss bento boxes. They include ideas for taking advantage of leftovers when preparing a bento box and elaborate or simple meals that can be prepared ahead of time. This website has a lot of great ideas that can give you inspiration for lunches: click here

Fresh vegetables are great fillers for bento boxes. Cutting them into special shapes can make the food more attractive to a picky eater. Carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, and green peppers are easy to add to bento boxes. Add a small container of almond butter (less oil than using peanut butter), hummus, or Lemon Tahini dressing (quarter cup tahini, 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, 1 clove garlic, juice of 1 lemon, half tsp tamari, third cup water), as a dipping sauce. (This recipe and the recipe for Apricot Kudzu Custard below are from Feeding the Whole Family, Recipes for Babies, Young Children, and Their Parents by Cynthia Lair.)

Healthy snacks can be made from leftovers: just mix cooked rice with leftover vegetables. For small children, a fun snack (or breakfast) can be made by warming cooked rice and sweet potatoes (or winter squash in the winter) in some rice milk and adding some walnuts or seeds to add texture. Below is a recipe for a seed mixture that is great to add as a topping for vegetables or just to eat as a snack.

Take the seeds that are the same physical sizes and dry fry or toast them. (To dry fry, just put the seeds in a frying pan without oil and heat until the seeds pop.)

Seed Mixture

Quarter cup of each of the following:
black sesame
white sesame
gold flax
brown flax
pumpkin seeds
unsalted sunflower seeds

Mix all these together after dry frying.

You can learn to use your left over rice to make sushi rolls. Cucumber, carrot, asparagus, and avocado can be added to make sushi interesting. Sushi rolls make a great addition to a bento box.

Nuts are healthy snacks. Walnuts and almonds are better choices, because they are not as oily as peanuts and cashews. Overeating oily nuts can congest the liver.

According to Paul Pitchford in Healing With Whole Foods, goat milk is more easily digested than dairy products, because the curd is softer and the fat globules are smaller. Add rosemary and/or basil (or spices of your choosing) to goat cheese and spread it on rice crackers. Berries and other fruits can be easily added to goat yogurt for a sweet snack. The darker the berry, the more it nourishes blood, so blue and black berries are excellent choices.

Fruits are also good snacks, with local fruits being better choices. Remember that fruit sugar is still sugar, and that too much sugar can deplete the Spleen system.

Another sweet snack is Apricot Kudzu Custard:
Prep time 5-10 minutes
Makes 4 servings
2 Tbs Kudzu
2 cups apricot juice (or any juice of your choice)
2 tsp tahini
1 tsp vanilla extract

Dissolve the kudzu in cold or room temperature apricot juice. Put mixture in a small pan over medium heat, stirring constantly. As mixture simmers, it becomes clear and thick. Once this happens, remove from heat. Add tahini and vanilla; mix well. Serve immediately, custard will get rubbery if allowed to cool to room temperature.

Have fun with these suggestions and invite your child to learn how to make some of these snacks, too.