Up close with the Gracious Pantry: How to pack the best school lunches
By Aimee Heckel
The moment Tiffany McCauley had her son, she knew she needed to improve her health to be a better mom.
“I didn’t want to watch from the sidelines. I want to be the mom out there on the field kicking the ball around,” she says.
That intention led to her popular “clean eating” website, the Gracious Pantry. The website offers nearly 1,000 clean recipes — that means no processed junk, as real as food gets — but for everyday living. The recipes are easy, inexpensive and actually taste good.
Here, you will find plenty of comfort food faves, from spaghetti to blueberry pie, but converted to fit clean-eating guidelines.
“My aim is to show people that you don’t have to sacrifice your favorite foods just to eat healthier,” she says.
“Kids need good nutrition to grow properly, but that doesn’t mean they have to feel left out or different from their friends,” McCauley says. “It’s completely possible to give them healthy foods without making them feel different.”
We tapped her brain to get the low-down on healthy school lunches. Here’s what we learned:
How much do you think is a reasonable but cheap amount of money parents can aim to spend per school lunch for their kids?
I would say, based on California prices, about $1-to-$2 per lunch, if you shop and cook correctly.
What is something that many parents think is healthy food but is not?
Things like flavored yogurts and pretzels are often hiding awful ingredients under the guise of being “healthy” or “natural.” It truly pays to read the ingredient list. Quality is just as important, if not more so, than quantity. And sodas, diet or otherwise, are not good for our kids. It’s better to give them a 100-calorie smoothie than a zero-calorie soda. You have to think about the nutrients in the foods you eat, not just their calorie counts. If your body won’t get nutrients from them, why eat them? They serve no purpose.
What is one easy thing that any parent can do this week to start serving healthier food to their kids?
Send a water bottle/thermos to school in their lunch box instead of juice boxes or soda, or buy plain yogurt and mix in your own fruit.
What are two or three of your recipes that you think are the least expensive that kids will love?
- Banana wraps are great and affordable.
- Coconut popcorn using organic popcorn to avoid GMOs.
Where do you buy your food?
Typically, I shop at a few different stores. But for the most part, at Trader Joe’s. They have the best prices on most items. Particularly on organic produce.
Are there any other secrets to saving money and eating healthily that you think parents should know?
- Buy in bulk when you can. It’s far cheaper in the long run.
- Buy whole chickens instead of pieces and cook them in a slow cooker. Then make chicken broth in the same slow cooker using the discarded parts. You’ll get several meals out of one chicken.
- Check in-store coupons. The newspaper doesn’t generally offer coupons on clean foods, but stores sometimes will.
Looking to save more money on your groceries? Make sure you check the coupons and Cash Back from your favorite store at ShopAtHome.com.
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