Re-think your families’ lunches by including more local food

Back to school is the perfect time to re-energize your go-to menus.

Bento lunchbox.
Bento box-style lunch. Photo by Sheri Shen (Flickr).

Peak harvest season of Michigan produce is upon us during these upcoming late summer weeks. Going to farmers market, or eyeing the local section of your favorite grocery store is sure to highlight the agricultural diversity with which Michigan is endowed. This is prime time to make use of the wide variety of delicious locally grown, raised and produced products that Michigan has to offer. A carefully constructed dinner is one way to achieve this, but what about your lunch? Or your kid’s lunch?

Farm to school programs receive the most attention when it comes to eating local food at school, but many students bring their lunch from home. This shouldn’t preclude them from eating fresh, nutritious local foods. And many working adults bring their own lunches to work as a cost-saving measure and a healthy alternative to eating out, which also makes eating local foods an option. As many Michigan students are headed back to school, it’s perfect timing to re-think your families’ lunches and re-energize your go-to menus.

Incorporating local food into your lunch, or your kid’s lunch, doesn’t need to be expensive, time consuming, or mean that your lunch looks like something out of a gourmet magazine. By including local produce in your lunches, you can benefit from eating fresher, more flavorful foods, which have the potential of being more nutritious. Purchasing local produce, or branching out to include other local food products like meat, dairy, eggs, snacks or other options will benefit local food producers in your area and bolster your local economy – a win for everyone!

Consider some of the following options, tips and tricks to include more local food in your and your families’ lunches.

  • Vegetable sticks and slices are great for lunches, especially with a delicious dip. You can pack an assortment of vegetables to provide a range of flavor and nutrition.
  • A piece of local fruit (we recommend slicing it for better chances of being consumed), or berries, are great alternatives to desserts and you’ll naturally achieve a variety if you purchase what’s available seasonally.
  • Salads of all different types are encouraged and are an easy way to highlight vegetables, fruits and other local products that are available and in season. Remember that salads don’t have to include lettuce or greens, and can include a protein source like meat, eggs, nuts or beans for more staying power.
  • Consider a bento box style lunch container that allows you to pack multiple different foods, keeps them neatly separated, and looks appetizing.
  • Substitute your standard deli meat for a local meat option on occasion. Sandwiches are a great place to include local bread, produce, other condiments and extras as toppers. Michigan pickles, anyone?
  • Go on a quest for your favorite local cheese by packing a small hunk with crackers or local bread, alternating from week to week. You might be surprised at how many amazing cheesemakers and local dairy products Michigan has to offer.
  • Soups, casseroles and roasted dishes are excellent choices to use a variety of local produce, beans, meats and other local products. These can be made for dinner, or in a big batch on the weekend. Many of these dishes taste better the next day after melding together, and saves time in preparing a lunch from scratch.

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