Back to School: No Peanut Butter Sandwiches for Arab Students, Please!
By: Udochi Esomonu/Arab America Contributing Writer
School is quickly approaching, as the summer has surpassed its midpoint, it is important that we all begin to get into school mode. What kids eat for lunch has been a topic of conversation for many years. Many continue to ask, “What is the best lunch to pack my child?” and “Does my child’s lunch have enough nutrients?” School lunch is essential to fueling and strengthening students throughout their school day.
For many immigrants, the question intersects the challenge of representing their cultural cuisine in predominantly American environments, which may pose to be a hardship for parents. For many immigrants, this challenge still remains difficult, as they may fear to send their children to school with food that may smell and look different from the typical American lunches like that of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cold cut sandwiches, juices, and snacks.
Although this fear is present, many Arab parents, in hopes of sustaining and preserving main cultural ties, choose to send their children to school with Arab dishes, foods, and snacks. Not only does this build cultural pride, but it allows children to actually learn about their own heritage and background.
Apart from preserving culture, Arab parents are packing their children healthy and hearty meals which help to sustain their children throughout the school day. The cuisine of the Arab world is widely known for being full of various nutrients ranging from high in protein to low in fat as much of its cuisine consists of grains, meat, lentils, and vegetables.
So, are you curious about what healthy foods you can pack your child for lunch? Tired of packing your child cold cut sandwiches and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Stress no more and check out some healthy and hearty Arab foods and dishes that you can pack for your children to eat at lunch during the school year.
Arab Bread (Pita)
Arab bread, also referred to as Pita bread, is a fairly easy food to pack for your children. Pita can essentially be paired or topped with any dip, sauce, or food item. For example, think about spreading labaneh/labneh–a cheese spread of yogurt–on a piece of bread, it can also be topped with fresh or dried mint, and can even be accompanied with fresh cut vegetables such as cucumbers and/or tomatoes. This is a very easy food item to pack a child due to its versatility, as it can be paired or topped with most food items.
Manousheh, also referred to as Zaatar, is a popular combination of Middle Eastern dried herbs–Thyms, Origanum, Satuerja, and Calamintha–and is often mixed with olive oil and baked on fresh dough. It is often found paired with pita bread but when cautious of time, it can be easily spread on a flattened biscuit. Zaatar is a great item to pack your child for lunch, due to the simplicity in its preparation, and can easily be paired with a variety of meats, grains, or lentils.
Baba Ghannouj (similar to Hummus)
Baba Ghannouj is a dish, often used as an appetizer, which consists of cooked and mashed eggplant (accessible also in jars), that is mixed with tahini, olive oil, garlic, and basic seasonings. Arab bread is also commonly eaten with this dish–the spread of grounded chickpeas blended with sesame oil, tahini, and a variety of other spices. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of a sandwich, it can easily be eaten as a dip using Arab bread or pita chips. This type of lunch as most on the list may be accompanied with olives, pickled cucumbers, and fresh cut up vegetables. The beauty of this dish is that you can substitute the eggplant with mashed chickpeas which would create the hummus dish. Both are great for lunch because they provide a variety of nutrients. They are also very accessible, as they can easily be found at your nearest Middle Eastern restaurant or grocery store.
Sfeeha is a pie-like-dish which is often comparable to a meat pie. It consists of ground meat that is cooked with onions and spices and placed on dough prepared at home or flattened biscuits pinched to create four corners. It is often topped with pine nuts or slivers of almonds. This is a rather simple and easy lunch to pack a child for lunch that will provide some protein (coming from the meat).
Falafel is deep fried and can come in a variety of forms –ball, or patty–and is made with chickpeas or fava beans and is often made with both items. It is recommended to parents not making a falafel sandwich because it can become very soggy by the time lunch rolls around. You can accompany the falafel with Arab bread, with hummus or tahini (sesame oil) sauce on the side, or even just a simple pairing with freshly cut vegetables. Falafel is a great item to pack for your child’s lunch!
Kafta is essentially known to be a kebab, made from ground lamb or beef, mixed mashed onions, chopped parsley, and spices, and is a very popular food item. If you chose to pack Kafta for your child’s lunch, it is preferable to be heated and accompanied with cut-up fresh vegetables. The protein and nutrients coming from the beef and the vegetables will definitely provide the energy needed for your child to get through the rest of the school day.
Meat, Cheese, and Spinach Pies:
Similar to Sfeeha, this dish consists of dough and a variety of fillings. The fillings are based on preference, it is quite common to use spinach as the base of the filling or meat or cheese. These pies can easily be cooked and prepared, especially if biscuits dough is used, and can also be purchased readily from a nearby Middle Eastern bakery. The simplicity of this dish will make it easy for your child to not only eat but will also be easy for your child to quickly gain nutrients.
Tabouleh is a very popular Arab dish which consists of chopped parsley with tomatoes, mint, onion, bulgur, and seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Some variations of this dish add garlic or lettuce or use couscous or quinoa instead of bulgur. Tabouleh is easy to prepare and can simply be packed into a container for your child to enjoy at lunchtime. It is preferable to pair your child’s tabouleh with Arab bread, hummus, or baba ghannouj dips. Tabouleh is an all-around vegetable heavy lunch which your child is bound to enjoy!
Stuffed Grape Leaves
Stuffed Grape Leaves is a great food item to pack for your child for lunchtime. The grape leaves can be stuffed with a variety of items like rice and ground meat. While meat is often found in stuffed grape leaves, you can also prepare these grape leaves substituting the meat with chopped vegetables, depending on your preferences. This is a delicious nutritious food item to send your child off with to school.
Kibbeh Ball is a popular dish often made with bulgur, minced onions, and finely ground lean beef, lamb, or goat meat with Middle Eastern spices. Other types of kibbeh may be shaped into balls or patties, and baked, cooked in broth, or served raw. The versatility of kibbeh is endless, making it exciting for a child’s lunch for school. Kibbeh can be served in a sandwich or even by itself, but it is preferable to eat the kibbeh warmed up.
Mjaddara is a popular dish which is prepared with cooked lentils together with bulgur or rice, and garnished with sautéed onions and spices. It is often accompanied by yogurt or salad. It doesn’t need to be heated and is an ingredient packed dish which will keep your child full and satisfied during lunch time!