Healthy School Lunch Ideas: Baked Falafel Plate
In my mind, falafel is one of the most perfect lunch foods for kids ever. Not only can it be incredibly healthy, but it also covers all major nutritional groups, includes a variety of colors of vegetables, and gives kids a chance to mix-and-match to make their ideal sandwich. Here’s what to include:
Falafel are balls of ground chickpeas, mixed with onion, parsley, cilantro, garlic, and cumin. Usually they are fried, but they are much healthier if baked. Because they are mostly made of chickpeas, they are a fantastic source of vegetable protein. The fact that they are ground up also makes them easier to digest. They are great for school lunches because they are just as delicious cold as they are hot. Falafel balls can be eaten on their own, but are usually stuffed inside a flatbread along with a variety of spreads and salads.
Whole Wheat Pita Bread
Pita is a type of flatbread that naturally forms a pocket when you slice open one side of it. You can fill it with all sorts of things, including falafel, spreads, and salads. Because it is a pocket, the food doesn’t drip out of the bottom, which makes it great for mess-free eating by little kids. And it is a good source of whole grains for kids. (For those of you who are gluten free, check out this recipe for amazing gluten free pita breads! Use rice milk and egg replacer to make them vegan.)
Tahina is actually sesame paste. You can buy it in jars in the supermarket. It is shelf-stable and keeps for ages. It’s really high in calcium, as well as B vitamins and lots of trace minerals. I use it in all sorts of things – sauces and salad dressings and even desserts! For sandwiches, mix some of the paste up with fresh lemon juice, a tiny pinch of salt, garlic (garlic powder works fine), and some water. Send a small container of tahina for spreading on a falafel sandwich. Or send a bigger container as a great dip for fresh vegetable sticks during snack time.
Hummus is a chickpea spread, so it’s another good source of protein. It’s great spread on a falafel sandwich or plain bread. It’s also delicious for dipping fresh sliced vegetables in. Send a small container with your child’s falafel lunch and they can add as much or as little as they like to their sandwich.
Matboucha is a middle eastern tomato spread. It is made by sauteeing together fresh tomatoes with lots and lots of garlic and (optionally) hot peppers in olive oil. Make a big batch when tomatoes are in season and freeze it in small containers to use throughout the year. It is a much healthier substitute for conventional ketchup as a sandwich spread.
Israeli salad is another traditional item added to a falafel sandwich, but it is also amazing eaten on its own. It is basically made up of tomatoes, cucumbers, and capsicum (bell pepper) (my favorite is to use yellow ones), diced into small cubes, with some finely diced red onion, and dressed with a bit of salt and pepper, lots of lemon juice, and some olive oil. In my opinion, the longer it sits, the better it tastes!
Basically any cole slaw will work here, but those heavy on the mayonnaise or sour cream are definitely less healthy (and less well suited to a falafel sandwich) than those dressed with a touch of lemon juice and olive oil. Use purple/red cabbage to get more sweet flavor and more antioxidants into your child’s diet.
Fresh or Dried Fruit
As a sweet end to your child’s meal, consider including a piece of fresh fruit. Figs are particularly well-suited to this meal, as they are common in the middle eat. Fresh figs are absolutely a delight and are also a good source of calcium. Of course, dried figs are a good option, too, as are dried dates (fresh dates are amazing if you can get them, but in my experience very hard to find). Medjool dates in particular are juicy and sweet. For my kids, dried dates are their version of candy!
Sending a falafel plate should cover all your nutrition bases: it has protein and grains, fiber and a touch of healthy fats (from the olive oil). It includes fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors: green cucumbers, red tomatoes, yellow capsicum/bell peppers, red onions, purple cabbage, and brown dates (or dried figs). Unlike most sandwich spreads, all the options listed here are really healthy, with no nasties in them (if you make them yourself – you can buy them in the store but they will generally include preservatives).
Not only is a falafel plate incredibly nutritious, but it is also a lot of fun for your child. They can assemble it on their own, giving them a sense of control and power over their lunch. It makes them a partner in lunch preparation and gives them creative license to accept or reject foods according to their preferences, all the while ensuring that no matter what the foods they are consuming are healthy ones. This, to me, is one of the very best lunch meals to help Inspire Healthy Kids!