Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Lunch Well

Listen. Can you hear it? It's the chatter of little voices, sharing tales of road trips, sunburns and silly bandz, wearing well planned outfits with shoes that will never again be this clean, dawning shiny new stainless steel water bottles on backpacks brimming with supplies, gossiping about teachers and recess, while the smell of starched fabric, fresh paper and clean rubber fill the air. The bell rings. School is in. They're ready. Are you?

Packing lunches can be a daunting task, but when you want to pack healthy, and allergen free lunches that your kids will ACTUALLY eat, it can seem overwhelming. Don't fret. With a little planning, you will have several quick and easy options to throw together on hectic 'we're-still-on-summer-time-and-overslept' mornings.

First, invest in containers. A few good thermoses will go a long way, for hot and cold foods. You will use them often. Also, little tight seal containers, like Rubbermaid 1/2 cup food storage cups, are great for delicate items like berries, and tomatoes, as well as dipping sauces, like ranch, ketchup, maple syrup, almond butter, etc.

Second, make sure your children have insulated lunch boxes. Brown bag lunches are rare for the prude.

Third, plan dinner like you're feeding an army. Deliberately have leftovers when you cook, they make great lunches.

Finally, below are some tangible suggestions that will keep your little foodies happy, without requiring a full time chef.
  1. The classic sandwich. This one is a given. If you're going gluten free, I recommend Udi's Whole grain bread. For wheat eaters, look for the words 'whole grain' as the first ingredient, not enriched wheat flour, and I suggest sprouted grain products like Ezekiel bread. Layer with valuable ingredients such as organic or nitrate free deli meat, organic cheese, olive oil mayonnaise, or deli mustard, (no artificial colors), fresh spinach leaves, and a tomato for the liking. Or, a more classic take, organic or all natural peanut butter with banana slices, or honey. Serve with a side of organic carrots and ranch (buy quality ranch, no chemicals please).
  2. You can't go wrong with yogurt. But be careful if you buy the convenient little single serving containers. Many of them contain corn syrup, among other chemicals, and are LOADED with unnecessary sugar. Instead, buy one each of Organic Low Fat Plain, and Vanilla 32 oz. tubs of yogurt. Using a thermos, mix 1 part plain with 1 part vanilla yogurt. Include a side of fruit like berries or apples. Typically my children will mix the fruit into the yogurt or dip it. They love this fun little process and I love knowing that they are not eating a ton of empty calories. Serve with something crunchy, like pretzels, or crackers and Nutella.
  3. Whole Grain Pasta. Different shapes, different sauces, it's always fun. This one is handy to have cooked and ready in the fridge at all times. Warm and spoon into a warm thermos, drizzle with olive oil and a dash of basil, include diced tomatoes on the side for mixing just before eating. Serve with edemame or peas (warm or cold). Or layer the pasta with shredded cheese of choice, and diced organic turkey dog pieces. Serve with natural (no sugar or corn syrup) applesauce. Or use leftover taco meat and layer with pasta and cheese. Serve with whole grain organic tortilla chips and guacamole. The possibilities are endless.
  4. Brown rice. Another staple in your lunch menu. Use leftover rice, or make up a batch and keep it in the fridge. Brown is a much more valuable rice than white because it packs fiber and protein as well as minerals. Spoon into a warm thermos with veggie of choice, peas, corn, diced carrots, red peppers, cooked spinach, etc. Drizzle with olive oil and a dash of sea salt. Serve with string cheese.
  5. Pancakes. Protein laden pancakes. When you make them for Saturday morning breakfast, make extra and refrigerate. Warm and place into warm thermos. No butter necessary. Include a small container of pure maple syrup. Instruct your child to roll the pancake, dip and enjoy. Serve with strawberries, or fruit of choice.
  6. Quesadillas. Don't worry, they cook up quick and transfer from fridge to thermos well. Use whole grain tortillas (organic preferred, corn or rice if gluten free), drop oil on griddle, layer tortilla, re fried black beans, and shredded cheese, or spinach and cheese. Flip, cook, move to cutting board, use pizza cutter to quarter. Store in air tight container in fridge. In the morning, warm quarters (paper towel underneath to absorb moisture), and place into warm thermos. Serve with Tomato Salad.
  7. Tuna Salad. On whole grain bread, with crackers, or in a bowl with a spoon. Mayonnaise is the traditional way to make it, and you can get (or make) healthy versions of mayo, and/or use a very small amount of it in your tuna salad. Or you can try mixing the tuna with diced organic tomatoes marinated in olive oil (you can usually find a canned version of this to simplify), deli mustard, pickle relish, minced onion and celery. This also works as a spread. Serve with a vegetable, if doing a sandwich or crackers. Serve with a veggie (like carrots, or celery), or fresh spinach and Italian dressing for dipping; and a starch (like a cinnamon rice cake) if the tuna will be sans grains.
  8. Oatmeal. Yes, oatmeal. Plain, whole grain oats. For the glutino's, in your house, you can get gluten free oats. Don't get the little packets of quick cooking artificially flavored over sweetened wanna be oatmeal. You can make the old fashioned kind quickly too, and flavor and sweeten yourself. I love Overnight Oatmeal from "Super Baby Food": mix 1 c. rolled oats with 1.5 c. organic milk of choice, and 1/2 c. apple juice, and refrigerate overnight. Warm in saucepan in the morning and spoon into thermoses.  Or cook it overnight in the crock pot with 5 cups of water to every 2 cups of oats, chopped peeled apples, dried fruit, and a dash of cinnamon. Try cooking with craisins and a dash of brown sugar. Or raisins and cinnamon. There are tons of fun ways to make oatmeal. Too many for me to list. For some ideas, check out Mr. Breakfast.   Serve with a banana and Nutella graham cracker sandwiches.
  9. And there's always a quick turkey and cheese roll with fruit and a rice cake.
  10. Dinner left overs that work really well for kids: 
  • Burgers (turkey, or beef), they warm and hold well.
  • Taco meat, warm and place in thermos with pasta, or alone for use on a salad with tortilla chips, or with warm tortillas (warmed and rolled in foil and placed in thermos).
  • Chili, alone, with chips or salad.
  • Tortilla soup, sent with cold tortillas to be torn up and placed in soup, and a side of cheese to top it.
  • Spaghetti, (made with whole grain pasta and organic sauce, of course) with a side of lightly buttered whole grain bread, and broccoli.
Think dinner, but smaller and portable. That's your 'brown bag' lunch. Do the un-lunch-able, get creative, and don't forget to tell the rest of us. We could all use some new ideas!

For a few more ideas, Mommily Ever After has posted several links for school lunch ideas.
Bon Apetit!


  1. You're a natural-born writer, and have become very kitchen knowledeable. Keep up the good work!

  2. Robin, thanks for sharing this on Facebook! Dad, Thank you for your encouragement!
    Angie, I hope you got some useful info out of this. Your first year of gluten free lunches may be a little challenging, but stick with it, it will get easier!


Are you a fellow Food Prude? Tell us your thoughts....

For Email Marketing you can trust