What Taher Jaber doesn’t know about healthy, delicious food isn’t worth knowing. Jaber’s Harmonie Garden Cafe is a local Detroit food legend. It’s so popular he had to open a new Harmonie Express in Corktown. Jaber, a native of Nazareth, is known for vegan and vegetarian Mediterranean foods and raw juices. His specialty is falafel. This Detroit expert shared recipes and tips on school lunches to prepare in 10 minutes or less.
Taher Jaber 
Harmonie Garden Cafe and Harmonie Express
4704 Anthony Wayne Drive and 1366 Fort St.
Detroit, MI 48201
(313) 638-2345

Jaber serves up awesome-fresh, crazy-delicious, super-reasonable meals to hungry diners on the Wayne State University campus. But Jaber also takes time to help out with healthy school lunches in Detroit Public Schools. He works with school staff to educate kids on the importance of nutrition and vegetarianism. He uses real-world experiences right in his restaurant to help kids connect food, education, health and happiness. Here’s how he suggests busy parents feed kids good lunches fast. These tips work for families who keep halal and kosher, too.

Think Do-ahead Foods

Jaber grew up in Damascus, where falafel is king. He’s kind of a big noise in falafel here in the U.S. His license plate proclaims him “Mr. Falafel.” And it’s spelled that way on purpose. “Falafil” he says, indicates filler (aka junk food). Falafel is a good make-ahead meal. It can be refrigerated and used in pita sandwiches with sliced cheese, fresh, chopped vegetables and tahini. Falafel is made with ground fava beans so it’s low fat, high protein and full of fiber. Other good do-aheads include boneless skinless chicken breasts, beans and rice. Cook enough for a week. These are yummy cold or hot. Make macaroni and cheese with pasta and shredded Colby cheese. Serve with steamed broccoli and carrots.

Put Kids In The Kitchen

As part of their “home ec” training, school kids come to Harmonie Garden for culinary arts immersion. Jaber puts them to work in food preparation, serving, clean-up and of course, eating (their favorite part). The kids from Hamtramck schools dubbed this event “Fun Day at Harmonie.” Jaber says getting kids involved is the essence both of quick, but also healthy, school lunches. Starting at young (as in preschool) ages children can begin to help fix their own lunches. This teaches them self-reliance, responsibility and autonomy. It also makes them excited about eating good food they helped make.

Grab-and-Go Pocket Sandwiches and Wraps

Pita is a super versatile bread. It’s pocket-shaped and can hold a multitude of good stuff.  Make a quick three-cheese pita melt. Stuff Swiss , provolone and mozzarella in half a pita pocket. Grill or toast. Add sliced tomato. Make a cold veggie-cheese wrap. Fill wheat or white wraps with fresh spinach or romaine lettuce , tomato slices , cucumbers, sweet red pepper strips and sliced provolone cheese. Put a little Italian dressing in a zippered snack bag to pour on sandwich at school (and save messy lunchbox cleanup). Serve with yogurt cup.

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Mix In The Fun

Some kids came Harmonie Garden hating (as in would not even look at) vegetables, especially broccoli. So Jaber taught them how to color celery, broccoli, lettuce leaves, onions and cauliflower pretty shades. They liked making hated green veggies pink and purple. And they left confirmed veggie lovers. Show kids how to have fun with food. Fill a cup with beet juice or food coloring. Place vegetable stems in coloring like flowers. Wait for magic to happen. Refrigerate colored vegetables for rainbow school lunches. Make Pita Boat Salad. Open pita half like a boat. Call it that — kids love food with fun names. Fill it with Greek salad (romaine lettuce , beets, black olives, tomato slices, cucumbers and feta cheese). Have kids assemble the night before for a ready-made lunch.

Don’t Forget Dessert

Desserts get a bad rap in school lunches. Sweets shouldn’t be all a kid eats. But seriously, what fun is lunch without a little treat at the end? It doesn’t have to be a big sugary dessert. Teach kids that fruit desserts and yogurt are just as good, maybe better. Make a batch of rice pudding, baklava, peach cobblers, finger Jello or oatmeal cookies. Package in snack size zippered bags, plastic dishes or Bento boxes. Freeze or refrigerate so the child can quickly assemble his lunch before school.

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A veteran teacher and web journalist, Marilisa Sachteleben’s career spans Montessori, special education, homeschool and ESL. She writes for Examiner.com, AXS.com and Yahoo! News, on parenting, education, Detroit and her native Grand Rapids. A self-proclaimed “manic blogger,” Marilisa’s 55 niche blogs cover everything from autism to zoology, and everything in-between!