School Lunch 101 - How to Score an A+ in Lunch Prep
If you have a kid who only wants to eat a ham sandwich with an apple every single day, you are a lucky woman who should stop gloating but you don't need to read this. For those of us who have kids who love food and demand some variety when it comes to their lunches, read on.
This is a bit of a rehash for what I wrote last year at this time, but bear with me because this time I am going to show you a few of the things I use to make my life easier and give you ten more recipe ideas to carry you through the school year.
I am not really the most organized person on earth but, somehow, I manage to shine when it comes to packing lunches. Until he was in grade 7, The Kid ate the lunch provided by his school so I only had to make a packed lunch from time to time and it was a fun novelty. I would get up an hour early, make him sushi or onigiri and send him off to the Science Centre, knowing that he would not be coming home hungry but with barely touched food in his bag.
In grade 7, the catered lunch gravy train came to a screeching halt and suddenly I had to pack lunch four days a week (Friday was the day they went out and bought lunch to bring back to school). Look, I love my kid, I really do, but there was no way I was getting up early every morning to make fresh sushi so something had to happen. He didn't really eat sandwiches at that point and was getting too big for just a bento style lunch of pita bread, dips and veggies cut into animal shapes, so what to do?
Bottom line is that, annoying as my sandwich snubbing kid was, I created this food snob and now I had to feed him. I won't admit it to him because I like being able to hold all these fabulous lunches over his head when I need to, but, once you get this stuff down and have a well stocked freezer, it's not any more work to whip up some butter chicken with basmati with naan than it is to open a can of salmon.
Shhhhhhhhh. It's good practice to dab some water on your brow to make it look like you worked up a sweat in the kitchen and bashing pots and pans around in there to drown out the beep of the microwave while I threaten to send him to school with dry bologna on Wonder Bread if he doesn't buck up.
So, my favourite equipment:
|Zojirushi Insulated Bento|
By now, I have this thing down to a science. We have two different soft lunch bags for cold lunches and I finally bought him a Zojirushi insulated bento thermos, which gets the most use. It's an investment but, for us, it was a godsend. The Kid prefers to eat a hot lunch but once he started high school, he no longer had easy access to the toaster oven and microwave that they had in his classroom at his magical unicorn school.
This thing keeps food piping hot (I never use it for cold food but it will do that too), it is durable and their customer service is amazing if you ever need any replacement parts. You could also just use an insulated food thermos like one of these but the bento works better for us because he likes miso soup most days so we really do use all three containers in the bento. The coolest part about this thing is that the lid of the middle container is insulated so that it creates a heat barrier, keeping the lower two nice and hot while the top container stays closer to room temp so I can put cut up bread, pita, raw veggies, dessert or even a bit of salad in the top one and it won't wilt or get weird. Oh, and it comes with a spork (HOW MUCH DO I LOVE THAT WORD??) and a set of chopsticks in a case.
We have a regular insulated lunch bag that he takes on days when it's a sandwich, sushi, or other cold lunches. My favourites are the lunch bags from LandsEnd because they are durable and cute and are pretty indestructible but you can get a good bag from The Gap, Old Navy, Loblaws, Canadian Tire or any department store.
|It's great having spots for salad dressing and wet ingredients - no more soggy salad|
I bought a Rubbermaid Lunch Blox and so far I like it. You freeze the removable base that the box sits on in the lunch bag and it's great for salad or for cold soba noodles, pasta salad etc. We have the salad kit but as you can see, there are lots of different configurations that all look good, depending on what kind of food you are sending. We eat a lot of salad so this one works for us. You just throw the blue bottom in the freezer and the bowls sits right in that in the lunch box so you don't need another, bulky freezer pack.
I also use it to do noodle bowls. I put cold buckwheat soba noodles in the large container with some leftover meat or tofu or something and then anything that would get soggy goes up top and the soy sauce/sesame oil sauce goes in the salad dressing container. You could do the same with cold pasta so they can have pasta salad without the pasta getting all waterlogged after sitting in it's dressing all morning. It's awesome.
|ziploc perfect portions|
I measure out one serving size portions of stews, curries, and chili into these bags and then fill a bigger freezer bag with the single serving portions. I also freeze serving size portions of rice in these bags.
The night before, I pull out a bag of rice and a bag of stew or curry and let them thaw overnight in the fridge. In the morning, you just heat it up in the main container of the bento or to put into a food thermos.
They are also great for freezing individual pieces of meat - you just put the bag over your hand like a glove, pick up the chicken breast or pork chop, turn the bag inside out, press out all the air and tie the top in a knot. You never have to touch a raw chicken boob again.
Of course, I also have a collection of small containers of various shapes and sizes that I use for dips like hummus and tzatziki and little bottles that I found for salad dressing that look like this:
|save little condiment containers from take out orders, etc to use for vinaigrettes, dips, etc|
|My ten ideas for lunches for adventurous eaters from this time last year|
My 10 favourite recipes of 2014 for making ahead and freezing:
Burritos: You can turn any leftover into a burrito style wrap. A smear of guacamole, refried beans, hummus topped with a bit of rice or quinoa, some sort of shredded meat or canned tuna or salmon, roasted veggies, tomato, maybe a drizzle of salsa or tzatziki and you have a wrap. Not only do I keep a stash or ready made burritos in the freeser (they also make a great, quick dinner on the run) but I try to keep a few 10" flour tortillas in there too.
|beef and mushroom burritos from your freezer stash|
|Middle Eastern Meatball Wraps|
I just pop these cod fritters straight from the freezer into a 400F oven for ten minutes in the morning while I am getting everything ready and throw them in his bento, sometimes on a bed of butter rice but he will eat them on their own with his fingers too.
Tamales are another thing that are fun to make all together as a group and then you just reheat them in a steamer or in the microwave in the morning
This chili verde is great over rice, throw a handful of tortilla chips and you have a pretty hearty winter lunch
lemony red lentil soup or it can be thickened up with a handful of rice to turn it into a hearty stew
|easy chinese style bbq pork is great over rice, or in a sandwich|
|Saucy BBQ Pork that cooks itself in the crockpot - great for sandwiches, wraps or on rice|