This, mercifully, is the last lunch I need to pack for a week. Next week is March break and I will be taking a well needed break from the lunch packing grind. I was at a loss of what to make for the 128th day of school and kept checking the calendar (I think I may have checked 3 times!) to be sure it wasn’t a pizza lunch at the school. Just like when you open the fridge hoping to find a chocolate cake, the elusive pizza lunch did not materialize and I had to make something, anything for lunch.
I keep a bunch of frozen vegetables on hand for making soup or throwing into salads or for the odd dish that is better with frozen vegetables than fresh. I always have edamame and buy enormous bags of organic beans at Costco and have smaller bags of corn for tossing into salads all the time. One of the vendors at the farmers market near me sells bags of frozen kernels if they have had a big corn crop and I pick up a bunch of those to take us through the winter. I also had a bunch of bags of frozen roasted corn from Trader Joes but seem to have used them all up. At any rate, I took inspiration from the corn and edamame along with the contents of my gorgeous CSA share delivery to whip up a quick succotash. I sautéed some onion in some olive oil and when it started to soften I tossed in a diced potato and some minced garlic. I cooked this on medium heat until the potato started to soften, but still held its shape, and then added in the rest of the ingredients – corn, edamame, a diced red pepper and some carrots. I sprinkled in some pimenton – smoked sweet Spanish paprika – gave the whole pan a big squeeze of lime and called it a day.
While I cooked the succotash, I opened a tube of premade polenta and roasted some little rounds of it until they were golden and crisp. Finally, I packed a selection of fruit, pulled a couple of frozen banana buckwheat muffins out of the freezer, tossed in a few gummy bears and sighed with relief that lunch was packed.
Two more days of the gimme five challenge and an unexpected trip to Chinatown lead me to packing a lunch full of colourful fruits and vegetables. I had a errand to run downtown which left me about an hour to kill before picking the girls up from school. The sun was shining and it was the first really nice day this winter so I headed directly to Chinatown and Kensington Market (where I could park and walk around) to pick up some fruit, vegetables and great bread from my favourite bakery in the market.
Dumplings are always a hit with my kids and they are so quick and easy to make that I was happy to whip up a batch. I filled these ones with chard, broccoli, mushrooms, carrots, onion, garlic, ginger and tofu. It would be a rare day that the girls would dig into and polish off a bowl of these veggies, but as soon as they are stuffed into a dumpling they cannot resist. My little one actually ate a bowl of the filling (it is cooked first!) while I ran the assembly line. I hesitated when she asked for a entire bowl-full but caught myself before dissuading her from eating such a healthy snack.
Served alongside of the dumplings, are some slices of roasted lotus root – I roasted them in the oven until they were nice and crispy – some fruit and a few more energy balls. I made this batch of energy balls with oats, protein powder, dates, raw cacao powder, dried bananas, vanilla bean, water and a bit of salt. All that seems to matter to my kids is that they look like chocolate and that they taste good. This is something I absolutely understand!
Planet Box – the company that makes the terrific lunch boxes that we use – instagrammed that Michelle Obama had challenged parents and school children to pack five fruits and vegetables into their lunches every day and they in turn challenged their followers to do the same. While we are Canadian, I am so impressed with the work that Obama has done to improve and educate people about healthy eating for kids and am sure her influence will extend north of the border. My kids hang out with other kids who come from like-minded families for the most part. The kids come to school with healthy lunches and we bond over our frustration about how much candy is handed out at school (far too much!!) while we wait for the kids to come out of school at dismissal. Our school also has a zero tolerance policy for garbage and runs a boomerang lunch program so that any garbage – food included – is sent back home at the end of the day. This serves a number of purposes, including allowing whomever packs lunches to see how much food is actually consumed and also lets us compost (we have a city wide green bin program to collect food waste) and recycle whatever waste there is. I expect that this policy also forces people to pack lunches instead of rely on prepackaged foods and may give them some pause before stuffing a shelf stable lunch tray into their kid’s school bag.
Last year, a friend and I took our big kids out of school for the day to visit the new aquarium that opened up on Toronto’s waterfront. The lines and wait times were legendary so we figured that by going during the week, right when the aquarium opened, that we would be able to walk right in. We were absolutely right and wandered in. What we didn’t count on were the buses of school children that would arrive just after us and take over the place. We escaped the crowds at lunch time but got to wade through all of the kids who were sitting on the floor eating their lunches. I really couldn’t believe my eyes at how much junk the kids had to eat – tons of candy, chips, cans of pop, etc. This stuff is all great once in a while but a steady diet of this doesn’t set kids up for success at school. It is for this reason, that I thought it would be fun to take a look at what I have been packing and see if I was able to meet Obama’s challenge of packing 5 different fruits and veggies.
My big daughter is headed on a field trip today so needed an easy to eat lunch that would travel well with her on public transit across the city. After a quick school yard discussion before she went over a friend’s house to play, we settled on a veggie packed whole wheat wrap – it is spread w a spicy roasted red pepper spread, sprinkled w goat cheese and stuffed with asparagus and what remains of a giant batch of broccoli sprouts. I grilled it and wrapped it up in some waxed paper to help keep it off of her clothes when she ate it. I packed it with some sliced veggies and a spicy kefir dip that I picked up at the supermarket at the suggestion of the guy who was restocking the cooler who assured me that it was delicious (it is) and that it was on sale (it was not). A sliced pluot and a handful of kiwi berries were packed for fruit and a delicious vegan Meyer lemon and poppy seed muffin. I like fruit and I like muffins, but rarely like fruit in my muffins. This one is the exception and the kids were so excited about teaspoon of frosting drizzled over the top that they probably wont notice the oats and other good stuff baked into the muffins. Oh – and the fruit and veggie count? 8!
Mondays are so busy between trying to get organized from the weekend and resuming the school week. For that reason, I try to streamline my work on Monday afternoons by packing the same things for lunch as I am making for dinner. For dinner we had some tofu lettuce cups on the menu. They are a great way to get the kids to eat all kinds of veggies (the veggies are diced so finely that it is really too much trouble to pick out what you don’t like) and it is a fun assemble it yourself kind of meal. For lunch, I made the girls some brown rice noodles and topped them with a quick stir fry of the veggies that were destined to also be dinner. The pieces are all much bigger since they are eating w cutlery but I packed a mix that they (usually) like.
On the side I packed some nori snacks, some fruit and three granola energy balls. The energy balls are essentially the same as the granola bars I made the other day, but rolled into balls. Rolling the mixture into balls was inspired entirely by my little daughter. She ate one of the bars for breakfast by first picking out every microscopic piece of chocolate and leaving the rest of the bar (next to her plate) on the countertop. I looked on in amazement and horror until she rolled up all the crumbs into a ball and popped them into her mouth! Genius! I made up another batch of the granola mixture but this time added some cacao powder and diced dried banana and then rolled out tablespoon sized balls. The kids went crazy for them, ate far too may after school and had plenty of energy! Three seemed like enough for lunch.
After losing count of the school days last month, I finally sat down and counted out which day of school we were up to. While I did this, I discovered that while there are 196 days of school, there are only 188 instructional days! The other days are PA days but I figure my kids still each lunch on PA days so I will leave things as they are.
The amaranth from last week got mixed reviews so I picked up some whole wheat couscous for a do-over. I made some couscous up and lay down a bed of it in the largest section of the girls’ lunch boxes. I topped it with a roasted red pepper that I made by charring the outer skin of the pepper on the gas flame on my stove top and then peeled. I topped both of those with a big pinch of broccoli sprouts from a living bunch from my CSA share. They taste just like broccoli and the leaves are heart shaped – lovely! This got a drizzle of lemon infused olive oil and a good sprinkle of salt and pepper.
For protein, I packed some edamame as well as a raw granola bar that I threw together in minutes in my food processor. I pulsed some whole oats in the Cuisinart until they were fine, but not yet a powder, and then added some dates and hemp hearts and whirled them around until the dates were well incorporated. I finished off by adding some salt, cinnamon and a handful of dark chocolate and a few tablespoons of water so that the mixture had a dry doughy texture. I pressed the mixture into a pan and cut out bars. I was very uncertain about how tasty these would be and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked them and how delighted my kids were with them.
Finally, I packed a rainbow of fruit including some adorable kiwi berries. I have seen them at the supermarket many times but decided to buy them for the first time this week. Turns out they are fantastic and I should have been buying them all along! They are sweet and so tasty – they will definitely be a new staple on my shopping list.
Another day, another lunch inspired by our new cookbook Salad Love. Today we chose a kale, apple and dried apricot (those are the brown cubes on the salad – they are unsulfured apricots, used to be tricky to find but Costco carries them most of the time). Not sure that the raw baby kale will be eaten, but worth a shot in case the girls have suddenly embraced raw leaves.
Since this was an end of the week lunch, I wanted it to be a little more fun than usual so decided to make some mini pancakes and filled them with some red bean paste. There is a terrific Korean supermarket near me that makes fish-shaped waffles full of bean paste that I pick up for the kids for a snack once in a while. Red bean paste is easy to make – just cook the beans until they are soft and then drain, put in a pot and then cook again while slowly adding some sugar. You can mash it at this point or pass through a food mill if you want it to be smooth) By making it myself, I can dial back the sugar (a lot!) and also add other flavours – in this case, a bit of orange zest that was a nice compliment to the adzuki beans.
Finally, a handful of carrots, some strawberries and a few fruity gummies round out this lunch for a chilly Friday.
The cold weather seems to have broken and so I did two things that I have been putting off – 1) getting a car wash (it has been too cold to get a car wash without having the water freeze all over your car and apparently even on your brakes) and 2) visiting Costco. I get most of my produce from my CSA so besides the boxes of organic strawberries and blueberries they usually stock, I don’t purchase fresh food from Costco. I do buy frozen organic fruit for smoothies year round – it is priced well and they have a great selection but that is about it food-wise. Regardless, I always walk past the book section and walk especially slowly past the cookbooks where I have been known to pick up a book or two. Yesterday, I came across a book called Salad Love. It documents a year of a David Bez’s lunch at his desk, made at his desk – this part is particularly amazing. There are 250 unique and delicious looking salads that are all organized seasonally – terrific if you belong to a CSA – and my kids were all over it and quickly inspired. We get our share on Thursdays, so the fridge is starting to look a little bare by Wednesday afternoon which meant that we couldn’t recreate something exactly because we didn’t have all the ingredients, but did manage to piece together a lovely looking lunch.
There was a great looking salad on a bed of couscous but I did not have any couscous on hand. I did have a jar of amaranth that I purchased ages ago but haven’t ever used so I cooked it up (in a pot, w water until it was tender but still had some bite) and lay out a bed of it in the girls’ lunch boxes. It turns out that amaranth is a terrific grain – it is protein packed, is a great source of iron and calcium and also easily digested which is only a good thing for my kids who have been fighting a virus this week. I topped the amaranth with some roasted corn (frozen!), sugar snap peas and cherry tomatoes. All of this was dressed w a fast and easy lemon vinaigrette. This was probably enough for lunch as is, but I packed a handful of giant Incan corn kernels, some fruit and a chocolate filled hamantaschen since we are celebrating the Jewish holiday of Purim. Hamantaschen are triangular cookies traditionally filled with fruit (apricots, cherries, dates and prunes) as well as poppy seeds. Growing up I was always hopeful that the poppy seed filled cookie that I had selected was actually chocolate. Now that I am an adult and baking them, I can ensure that they are always chocolate!
My little daughter came home from her “special day” at school – the day when she got to bring in something for show and tell (another stuffed animal), lead the class through the morning routine and bring the attendance down to the office – and crashed on the couch under a blanket. She asked me to make her some tea and complained she was cold. I felt her forehead, grabbed a thermometer and realized that she had a fever of nearly 103F! She is a tough kid and hadn’t complained about feeling unwell besides being cold. She didn’t have a great night and even though her fever had disappeared by morning, I kept her home to rest. After hours in front of the TV watching an entire season of her favourite PBS show – Fetch, in case you wondered – she decided she wanted to make something with flour and water. I was game to get her off the couch and doing something fun so found a recipe for whole wheat pita for us to try out. We made enough pita for dinner (soup and sandwiches on pita of course) and then some tiny ones for lunch. It was easy and absolutely worth trying out.
For lunch – Along with the pita, I packed some odds and ends – some chick peas that I tossed w lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil and pea tenders that we have growing on the window sill, some cherry tomatoes, carrots and a few pieces of celery. I found a bag of black bean snacks in the pantry that we picked up on a cross border jaunt to Trader Joes and put a few of those in, some fruit and a lone penguin in honor of the snowy day!
Word on the street is that people are wondering about the boxes I use to pack school lunches. They are from planet box and are the best lunch packing system I have used. I was scared off by the price 4 or 5 years ago when I first came across them but realize in retrospect that I would have spent less on lunch packing systems if I had just bought them then. The other systems I purchased in the interim have broken, lost pieces or just disappointed overall. The planet boxes have a tray that is always pictured and a hinged lid that is attached (=cannot get lost or thrown out). They fit in the dishwasher and seem to be indestructible (and have a 5 year warranty just in case). We have two different sizes – a smaller snack size one – and the medium rover size too. The portioning is great – I seem to pack the right amount of food every day (I used to pack way too much before) and the sections lend themselves to variety. The only downside is that they are not water tight so that you cannot pack wet stuff in them without leaking. They come with a couple of containers that do seal and fit in the tray or the carry bag, but my little one has trouble opening them with her 6 year old hands. They go on sale every so often and well worth every penny- even at full price!)
Spring is definitely on its way. The weather is a bit milder, the temperature is finally creeping up towards 0C and there is more sunlight every day. I go to the gym just before 6 every morning and come out at about 7. Seeing the sun come up as I walk out the gym door is one of the greatest moments of the day and after months of going to the gym and returning home in the dark, it is really a delight to see the sun. The sun was still shining when I took a pic of the green tea noodle lunch I packed (full disclosure, I stood in about 18 inches of snow in my backyard and had the lunchbox balanced on an enormous pile of snow on top of our BBQ to take this sunny picture, but at least there was sun!).
I picked up these green tea noodles at a natural food store that is in the north end of the city but that I venture up to because they carry a number of things that I cannot find elsewhere. While I was there, I spotted these noodles and thought they were worth a try. When I was making dinner and lunches, I mentioned what I was cooking to the girls and my little daughter looked displeased. A look of displeasure isn’t ever enough to dissuade me so I continued making lunch – sautéed some ginger, shallots, king oyster mushroom, carrots and broccoli, drizzled in some tamari and then tossed in the noodles. My little daughter still didn’t look convinced and let me know she didn’t really like the smell of lunch, but she came over and tasted them and practically declared them to be the best lunch she had ever had when she said “these are actually ok”! They didn’t taste like green tea and the green colour largely disappeared after cooking so they went into her lunch box (there were going in regardless).I packed the noodles with some steamed edamame, popcorn w some nutritional yeast and some mango and blueberries. Some sunshine fruit to go along with the sunny afternoon.
The chewy pretzel bites we made last week were a real hit with the girls. They ate them warm out of the oven after school and ate all of the ones I packed in their snack boxes the next day. They loved making them themselves and decided that the tiny (the bigger ones were the size of a quarter) little nobs of dough would make perfect tiny sandwich buns and proceeded to eat what remained of the pretzels for dinner with even tinier sandwich toppings. This may have been inspired by the tiny hamster eating tiny burritos, not sure, but was happy that they had found something new and delicious.
I haven’t ever been a bread maker – something about bread seems intimidating – but this recipe worked so well that I made up another batch and made a bunch of tiny buns for lunch. My big daughter has been hands-on in the kitchen lately and made up some ratatouille for dinner that she also planned to eat piled onto a bun (or five) for her lunch the next day. I packed my little daughter more of her favourite smoked tofu with slices of cherry tomato. Both kids took some carrots, blood orange segments and some kale chips. They are funny girls – they cannot get enough kale chips, but refuse to eat it in any other form! These chips are from a raw café near us and are nut free so perfect for school. Not as delicious as the nutty ones, but we can eat them after school! I packed the “best treat ever” – a few chunks of 70% chocolate that I use for baking. I used to eat my mother’s chocolate chips from her baking cupboard when I was little, well, only until she left a note telling me she had them counted (this didn’t scare off my brother, but was enough to keep my fingers out of the bag!) and wonder if the allure of the chocolate is that it is a restricted food?