As a young immigrant to this country, I had a lot to learn about what were the best and healthiest choices when it came to eating. Many a times, I just ate what was convenient or readily available not being cognizant of what I was consuming. This was over two decades ago, and there was not as much awareness about healthy eating back then. Whatever we could afford, we ate.

One major setback that occurred from this for me is that as an adult, it is hard for me to let go of these bad habits. Skipping breakfast, eating quick-fix meals, and waiting until the late hours to eat is what my body has become accustomed to. Now as a mother, I have to go against my poor self-training and set a better, proper example for my children.

Breakfast is a must in our house, even if it is a bowl of cereal. The kids are hungry first thing in the morning, so they are not as picky. Eggs are a staple breakfast item for us with so many different ways to cook them.

Lunch time is where things get tricky. My kids are different ages, go to different schools, and have the most different tastes and preferences. My older daughter wants more dry foods that can be easily sandwiched or rolled, whereas my younger son wants rice mixed with some kind of savory meat or vegetables. This sounds like a recipe for more work for mommy dearest, but I do not mind it. With a little extra planning, meeting my kids’ needs is doable. This way I know what they are eating and can insure that it is only from halal and tayyab (pure and good) ingredients. The most rewarding thing for me as a mom is when my kids bring home empty lunch boxes and satisfied tummies.

So what am I filling their lunch boxes with exactly? The main thing is to keep the lunches simple, healthy, yet keeping the kids’ particular taste buds in mind. It is important to give moderate portions to avoid over-eating, keep the selections colorful, presentable, and pleasing to the kids’ little eyes¸ and avoid any sugary snacks or drinks. Throwing in a nice little note also helps put them in good moods.

However, since I am still a work in progress on incorporating a healthy eating regimen and lifestyle for my family and me, I turn to the experts to help me along the way.

Farheen Farooq of Schaumburg, Illinois, is a nutrition educator for Salihah Central, a Muslim women’s online community that teaches about various Islamic sciences and includes information on how nutrition affects our spirituality. Farooq has dedicated nearly 15 years to the field of health and nutrition. After obtaining her Bachelor’s degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics, she has headed various seminars and workshops in the areas of eating right, stress management, exercise and weight loss, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, living ‘green’, and other topics aimed at relating one’s livelihood to one’s faith in God.

Farooq, mother of three, shares with Halal Consumer some of her great tips on ways to make lunchtime easy and full of bliss for both parents and kids alike. These should be plastered on all our refrigerators.

  1. For sandwiches, use toast made from 7-9 grain breads (high fiber) and spread low-fat cream cheese or nut butters (antioxidants) on them.
  2. Carrot sticks, cucumbers, broccoli, green bell peppers with dips make great sides and snacks for school.
  3. Fruit kabobs are easy to make and fun to eat. Put pieces of pineapple, strawberries, melons, blueberries and other cancer-fighting, fiber-rich fruits on non-pointy skewers.
  4. Chop up broccoli in milk-based soups or with melted cheese and even bake in quiche. Broccoli is anti-cancer!
  5. Add beans (kidney, great northern, pinto) to a colorful salad or serve with rice to add fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. You can even add raisins to provide additional antioxidants, fiber, and iron.
  6. Make yogurt shakes with berries, bananas or mangos and sweeten with honey.
  7. Put whole grain cereals in baggies. Use those brands that are packed with fiber and protein.
  8. Whole wheat pita bread can be served with boiled chicken chunks and hummus dip for added fiber and protein. Make sure the first ingredient listed for the bread is 100% whole grain flour.
  9. Steamed vegetables with some home-made butter sauce can make a tasty treat.
  10. Offer children water or milk instead of juice. If juice is preferred, then orange juice is good as long as it is 100%.

“It is very important as parents for us to set an excellent example for our children by eating healthy foods and in moderation,” says Farooq, mother of three. “Do not talk about dieting, fat, or calories to children. Instead, talk about healthy eating habits and inculcating the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) eating style of moderation and health,” she says.