Kids head back to school every year; we all know that. Yet many parents seem rather clueless when it comes to assembling a smart lunch for their students, a meal that manages to be healthy, tasty, interesting and relatively easy to put together. Maybe it's because so many grown-ups flunk when it comes to brown-bagging it, dismissing the whole thing as a big bore.
Mona Meighan wants to change that. The Edmonds, Wash., educator is author of "What Are You Doing for Lunch?" (Book Publishers Network, $14.95), which is billed as "a friendly guide to brown bagging as a better way to lunch."
The book is loaded with recipes and tips parents can use to wean their children and themselves off "fast-food lunches."
The big take-away from the book, she said, is knowing which lunch style fits your child (and you) best and to plan lunch accordingly.
Grab and Go: A person who wants to pack a lunch from whatever is available in the refrigerator or pantry, whether it's hard-boiled eggs, fresh fruit or a peanut butter and banana wrap.
Creative: This type will experiment with new foods and dishes, from a pear and kale smoothie to a curried chicken salad or sandwich.
Traditionalist: Relies on standbys, like a ham and cheese wrap or a tuna salad sandwich.
Midday Gourmet: Will eat dishes cooked the night before or on weekends, dishes like vegetarian chili, meatballs, chicken soup.
Meighan even identifies the Social Networker lunch style, which sounds a bit like a healthier and tastier version of the old schoolyard swap.
"No matter how young they are, it's nice for children to have input in what they're eating for lunch," Meighan says. She also encourages parents to involve their children in making lunch to underscore the importance of healthy food.
Eating good-for-you food is a point Meighan drives home repeatedly. But then the idea of the book was born from tragedy. Meighan's 26-year-old son, Luke, died suddenly from complications of undiagnosed diabetes in 2009.
"Luke was not known for his love of healthy food, but he did love to eat," the book's opening dedication reads. "For the seven years before he died, while he was in college and then working, his choices primarily consisted of pizza, fast food, pop and sweet desserts. All of the speeches from loved ones could not change his eating habits."
Meighan wrote the book to help "young adults and their families recognize the importance of paying attention to what they eat." The book focuses on lunch, she said, because it is the meal most often sacrificed.
Putting together a healthy lunch is "not rocket science," Meighan says, noting that there should be some sort of protein, a sandwich perhaps, and fruit.
"Watch the sugar content and the calories," she added. "When you pick up a product, look at the label."
But the most important lunch lesson? "Do as much together with your child as you can," Meighan says.