After a long absence from documenting my school lunches, I have returned to share my experience with packing hot lunches. Hot lunches? What?! I’ve been packing lunches and snacks for at least a decade but, for some reason, I never tried using an insulated container to pack warm food. I don’t know why—maybe because it’s rarely cold in this part of California. I also typically pack lunches the night before and making a hot lunch requires a level of morning productivity that I don’t always have. However, if the kids ask for the occasional hot lunch, who am I to deny them just because I’m not a morning person?
I decided to test out our new Themos containers with a kid favorite: mac and cheese with peas. When I asked them if their mac and cheese was hot at lunch, their response was: “um, I forgot.” Next, I tried heating up their favorite Progresso soup in the morning and, this time, they assured me that the soup was nice and warm at lunch time. So far so good. Then I tried packing Cup Noodles with edamame and a little seaweed sesame seed sprinkle on top. They loved it! But, the most popular Thermos lunch was yesterday’s serving of leftover pad see ew from our favorite Thai Restaurant, Thai Boat.
Overall, I’ve been pleased with these insulated containers. They hold 16 ounces which is a good size for bigger kids (mine are 12 and 9). They also have a handy fold-up spoon that tucks into the lid. It is recommended that you pre-warm the containers by filling them with hot water, which I’ve been doing. Because I don’t totally trust my kids conception of “hot”, I packed myself some homemade soup one day for lunch. When I took off the lid, the soup was steaming. Very satisfying!
My favorite Halloween treats to make for the kiddos are these adorable mini mummy pizzas. They take a few more minutes to make than the standard sandwich, but they’re well worth the effort. I typically use sweet, soft King’s Hawaiian rolls, which are sliced in half and layered with marinara sauce, string cheese and sliced black olives for the eyes. Aren’t they adorable?
Usually I’m not crazy about pre-made guacamole because it tends to taste way too smooth, citrusy and chemical tasting. Imagine my surprise when I tasted Wholly Guacamole at my neighborhood Costco and discovered that it’s actually delicious. Even though I’m not a fan of single serving type packaging (wasteful, bad for the earth, too much plastic, blah, blah, blah), I have to admit that Wholly Guacamole Minis are the perfect lunch box item.
Today, I made lunches in a flash thanks to these little guacamole packs.
When I was in high school, I loved to eat a plate of sliders and fries at this place in Omaha called The Diner. It was, well, a charming little diner with classic diner food. Ever since I discovered those mini burgers, I’ve been obsessed with sliders. I don’t even know where the term “sliders” originated. I should do some research on the internets.
In the meantime, I’ll just continue to have fun making different types of sliders. I love a straightforward beef and American cheese slider loaded with pickles, lettuce and Thousand Island (secret sauce) dressing. Sometimes, I’ll mix it up with turkey or pork or even salmon. The other day, I made turkey sliders with sautéed kale and mushrooms incorporated into the burgers. They were fantastic. I always try to make a few extra burgers, so I have some leftover for lunches. They’re actually delicious cold.
I pack a lot of lunches. Luckily, as a college professor, my academic schedule is similar to my kids’ school year. That means I pretty much get to take the summer off from lunch packing. This could be one of the reasons that I’m pretty motivated to make good lunches; I get that much needed break in the summer. When I’m teaching, I often have very little time for lunch. Sometimes I eat during my office hours and sometimes I have a weird schedule like this quarter, in which I have a class that meets from 11:00 in the morning until 2:00pm (it’s a terrible class time). When I’m on campus, I pretty much always have to bring my lunch to work. Some days, I have no energy for making myself a fancy lunch once I’ve finished cobbling together a family dinner, cleaning the kitchen and making lunches for the kids. BUT, occasionally I can muster the will to pack myself a lovely sandwich—and, oh, how I love a lovely sandwich. I would be so excited to have a job in which all I did was come up with interesting sandwich combinations. Look at the gorgeous sandwich I made for my lunch today: it’s got cilantro microgreens that I discovered at the farmers market over the weekend, avocado sprinkled with chile limón seasoning, cheese, and thinly sliced grilled pork loin on sprouted wheat bread with mayo and brown mustard. I can’t wait to eat it today!
My kids were never that into broccoli—that is, until I made roasted broccoli. I wouldn’t say they beg me to make it on a regular basis, but they will actually eat a delicious serving of tender, roasted broccoli. I try to buy broccoli at our local farmer’s market, because it really does taste better than your average bunch of grocery store broccoli. After reading Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal, I started getting into the habit of roasting a big bunch of broccoli during the weekend. Roasting broccoli is the easiest thing ever: chop broccoli into bite-sized pieces (kids can help with this), line a sheet pan with parchment paper, toss the broccoli with olive oil and salt and pepper (and any other seasonings of your choice), and roast in a 425˚F oven for about 25 minutes. Broccoli can go from perfectly roasted to burnt in a matter of minutes, so I tend to keep an eye on it: opening the oven and stirring the broccoli ever few minutes. Once the broccoli has cooled, it will keep in the fridge for about a week. It’s super convenient to quickly heat it up as a side dish or toss it into salads or soups. The best thing about buying broccoli and immediately roasting it is that you tend to eat it before it languishes in the back of crisper drawer and becomes sad, forgotten, stinky, half rotten broccoli (we’ve all been there).
I actually love kale salads. They are crunchy and filling and will last for several days in the fridge. I’ve even cracked the code and found a way to get kids to eat kale salad: make it just a little sweet with either the dressing or toppings to counteract kale’s slight bitterness.
Here’s a super delicious kale salad I made last week.
Versatile Kale Salad with Grains
1 cup dry grains (such as quinoa, couscous, farro, barley, wild rice etc.)
about 8 oz. of Lacinato (also called Dinosaur or Tuscan) kale
1/2 cup nuts, toasted and chopped
1/3 cup dried fruit, chopped
optional additional veggies (cooked or raw), such as: green beans, sugar snap peas, cucumber, radishes, sweet peppers etc.
fresh herbs if you have them, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cook grains and drain off any extra water.
Wash your kale and dry it well. Pull the thick stalks off of the leaves (I find this is easiest to do with my hands). Set the stalks aside. Stack the leaves and cut across them to make kale ribbons. In a large bowl, toss the kale with the grains (it’s okay if the grains are still warm).
Chop the kale stalks into small pieces. Sauté them in olive oil until they are tender. If you want to add cooked veggies to your salad, you can cook them along with the kale stalks. Salt the cooked veggies to taste and toss them in with your salad. Add the dressing and remaining ingredients and toss to mix.
We have an overloaded snack drawer in our house. You know the one: it’s filled with random stuff like Goldfish, rice cakes, those applesauce squeezy packs, granola bars, fruit bars, etc. Sometimes, the kids forget about one of the best snacks ever: a banana.
Seriously, bananas are cheap, delicious, available everywhere, totally unprocessed, and not likely to be contaminated with pesticides due to that lovely wrapper of thick skin. They also fill you up. You can even mash them up and feed them to a baby. So, the next time your kids tell you they are starving and dinner is still two hours away, tell them to eat a banana.
I wish I could say that it was a regular occurrence, but one in a while, the kids do make their own lunches. They are more than capable of doing this, especially since we pretty much always have a stocked fridge and pantry. Actually, we probably have a far too stocked fridge and pantry. Here, Lily builds a lunch around one of her favorite snacks: honey whole wheat pretzels dipped in peanut butter and Nutella swirled together.
I typically feature kid lunches on this blog, but I also pack lunches for myself. My teaching schedule typically doesn’t allow for time to go out to lunch, so I frequently eat in my little windowless office—not the best ambiance, but at least the food is okay.
Here are a few of my favorite lunches from the past two weeks:
I’m afraid the start of the academic quarter has made for sparse lunch posts on my part. Funny thing about teaching: it’s always a challenge, even for a class that you’ve taught for twelve years in a row. Or, maybe it’s just me. I can’t resist making new assignments, because I get bored looking at the same old thing year after year. That’s how it goes with lunch, too. If the lunches get too repetitive, the kiddos complain.
One thing they never complain about is when I make a fun, snacky lunch—a Momables lunch box, if you will. The snacky lunch is all about balance: something sweet, something crunchy, something salty, and something proteiny (I don’t think “proteiny” is a word).
If I have several little things to organize (like edamame and small slices of meat or cheese), I like to use silicone cupcake liners in the lunch box. Crackers are always de rigueur in a snacky lunch. Our favorites are good ol’ Ritz. Not the healthiest option, but I don’t make snacky lunches every day.
Mini muffins are a great thing to build a snacky lunch around. Banana peanut butter chocolate chip muffins are definitely a kid favorite. I like to swirl a few scoops of peanut butter into the muffin batter before pouring it into a mini muffin pan. If you don’t fully incorporate the peanut butter into the batter, you get satisfying blasts of peanut butter deliciousness in every muffin. Small fruit is also great to throw into a snacky lunch: things like figs and apricots (fresh or dried).
The Basic Formula
A lunch of snacks is basically built around finger food. The formula is simple: crackers/bread + veggies (small or cut small) + fruit (bite sized or cut into chunks) + protein (meat or cheese or tofu or nuts) = a fun lunch.