Ditch the Lunchables! Here's a Personal Chef for the Kiddie Set

By: Cynthia Hacinli

All those candy holidays (Halloween, V-Day, Easter) are bad enough. Not to mention the onslaught of birthday party goodie bags crammed with gummie worms and Jawbreakers. Where will it all end? With lunch. Health e-Lunch Kids to be exact. This Fairfax, Virginia-based outfit is a sort of personal chef for the soccer set, delivering healthy lunches to area schools daily. Think Chic’n Slam Dunk (baked chicken nuggets, baby carrots, apple slices, and dips for dunking), Popeye’s Turkey Roll (whole grain wrap filled with turkey, spinach leaves, and veggie cream cheese, plus carrots, and grilled cheese puffs), or America"s Favorite (soy “peanut” butter and grape jelly on wheat, with cucumber chips, and sliced apples).

The only catch: Your child's school has to be a Health-e-Kids member (click here to check the list of more than two dozen schools already signed up for the program, including Green Acres in Rockville, the British School and Rock Creek International in DC, Blessed Sacrament in Alexandria, and Langley in McLean). Then, head to the menu and click away.  Menus change every four to six weeks, with a handful of faves kids vote on grandfathered in. And though there are a dozen choices daily, you can order the same tuna sandwich on extra-squishy whole wheat bread (aka the Chesapeake Bay) ad nauseum if your tyke is in one of those tedious ruts. Better to get the kids psyched about trying new things (chicken Caesar wrap anyone?) by letting them choose their own lunches by pointing to the pictures and reading descriptions on the website.  

A basic lunch — a main course and either fresh fruit slices or vegetables for dipping — is $3.99. Add on water and a “mystery” healthy treat for $1 more (usually a mini low-sugar, all-natural brownie, chocolate chip or oatmeal cookie, or sunflower seeds). Smaller appetites can go for little meals from the snack menu, like turkey rolls to dip in honey mustard with apple slices, and pita with hummus and cucumber chips, both $2.99.     

Founder Monica Tomasso, who loves to cook, got the idea while working in the corporate world. She'd hear parents complain about packing lunches and how it was easier to pack a bag of chips than chop up vegetables or fruit. Teaming up with a nutritionist, she created Health e-Lunch Kids. What's her favorite lunch? The low-fat, high-protein five-layer bean dip with multi-grain tortilla chips ("Bean Dip and Diane").    

Tomasso has said that Health e-Lunch Kids will soon be available in some DC schools and at various area camps this summer (check the site in a few weeks for the list). She's also hoping to sign on neighborhood groups — that is, a band of families that signs up together. And you thought the Strike Bethesda birthday party (they do it all, you just show up) was the best new thing in hands-off child rearing.

Health e-Lunch Kids, 703 635-7279; Healthelunchkids.com