My big daughter and I were at a café and cooking school the other night making soup for women at risk in Toronto. The café was closed for the event but their menu was posted on the wall. I have been to other events and parties there but haven’t ever popped in to buy food but will keep it in mind the next time I need something delicious! The sandwich menu looked great and my daughter dragged me across the room to show me an amazing sandwich – a wrap with some grilled veggies, pesto and goat cheese. As a vegetarian of nearly 20 years, I feel like I have eaten this sandwich a million times and ate too many of these in the late 90s – just needs a balsamic drizzle to take me back to my undergrad years – but was delighted that she found something she was keen about for lunch so added it to the menu for the week.
Dinner last night was a Spanish chick pea and spinach stew – found the recipe online and thought the spicing was unusual so figured I would make it. It turned out to just be strange (unusual is sometimes a red flag) so wont be making it again but we did have it along side of a salad of hearty grilled veggies – cauliflower, broccoli, peppers, carrots – with a big squeeze of lemon juice and sprinkling of Maldon sea salt. Simple and delicious and also great for packing into some wraps for lunch! While I put the veggies on a platter for dinner, I took a big wrap and spread it with some nut free pesto, sprinkled on some chevre and dotted it with a roasted red pepper condiment that was a new arrival to the supermarket that I like to shop at (I am such a sucker for new food products!!). On top of that, I laid out some baby spinach (the same stuff that went into the stew), a couple of roasted carrots, some sundried tomatoes, sprouts and a few bit of cauliflower. I rolled it all up, cut it in two – one for each kid – and wrapped it up for lunch.
I love beets so have been roasting a bag every so often to keep on hand to toss into a salad for my lunch. I diced up a couple of the beautiful golden and candy cane (they turned uniformly pink after roasting) ones and packed them into the kids lunches. I added some fresh fruit – mangoes and raspberries – some cherry tomatoes and black bean crackers and a few chocolates for a treat. My little daughter has a been turning down vegetables recently but was so enthusiastic about having a wrap sandwich like one of her good buddies that she just might eat something fresh and tasty!
We usually get together with our families on Fridays (my family) and Sundays (my husband’s family) for dinner. Everybody pitches in and hosts when they can and this week, we volunteered to have the gang over. My CSA boxes have been spectacular of late – late summer and fall are the best times of the year for locally grown produce in Southern Ontario – and between the intensity of the colours of the vegetables and their amazing flavours, cooking is an even greater pleasure than usual.
A couple of hours before everyone was set to come over, I took a quick look over what we had on hand and devised the following menu:
baked ratatouille w eggplant, peppers and zucchini,
baked sweet potatoes, leeks, and red onions with a mint, lemon and garlic tahini dressing, sprinkled w sesame seeds and rose petals
red kale salad w black rice, mandarin oranges, pickled beets (I made these with the beets from the box and have been waiting for them to be ready to eat!) and seeds w a cider vinegar dressing
apple, carrot and red cabbage slaw with a lemon, smashed coriander seed dressing and fresh mint
My husband picked up a couple of chickens from our terrific local butcher while I got started and in the end we had a lovely, nourishing meal. Buy the time everyone left, and the kids were tucked in, it was nearly 9pm. I looked through what we had for dinner and devised a lunch plan. I had set aside some rice for the girls’ lunches so I made up a few cubes of rice for each them. Along with this, I threaded some smoked tofu on to skewers and put some fruit from what remained of the fruit plate into their lunch boxes. Finally, I put a scoop of the slaw into a muffin cup and a few sugar snap peas into another cup and called it a day. The girls are always keen to take on new responsibilities and had kindly volunteered to choose a treat for their lunches so I added the 9 jellybeans each had chosen to their boxes. Tomorrow’s less abundant treat may be a disappointment!
I am not sure if the sun ever managed to peek through the clouds today and tomorrow isn’t looking much more promising. It isn’t cold, but it has rained on and off all day long and soup for lunch fit the bill when I was thinking about what to make for dinner and lunch. I had a few bunches of baby bok choi from my CSA box, some sweet carrots, some broccolini and a package of tofu on hand. I always have rice noodles – they are so quick to prepare and great for a quick meal – so between what I had on hand and the shiitake mushrooms I picked up at the supermarket, I was ready to make a couple of meals.
First up, I made a vegetable broth – I sautéed some leeks, onions, garlic, ginger, carrots and the mushrooms until they were cooked but not too soft and then poured in some water. I let that cook and checked the seasoning after it had simmered away for about 20 minutes. I cooked the rice noodles in some hot water, drained them and set them aside. Separately I cooked the broccolini and bok choi. For lunch, I tossed some of the noodles in a pan with some oil, garlic, ginger and some sliced mushrooms and tossed in a mix of the greens. I put them in a container in the kids’ lunch boxes. In the morning I will heat up some of the leftover broth and pour it into their insulated bottles so that they can either just eat noodles and drink the broth or pour the broth over the noodles to have warm bowl of soupy noodles.
For both meals, I tossed cubes of tofu in some seasoned corn starch and cooked it in a lightly oiled pan until it was crispy. The kids love to eat tofu like this and I had to refill the cup of tofu pictured on the left twice after taking this picture! For lunch, I put some of the tofu and some dehydrated corn into little cups, added in some dried pineapple and an orange. Finally I tossed in a few candied sunflower seeds.
For dinner, I put some of the brown rice noodles in the bottom of a bowl, topped it with the greens, a handful of carrots, and then topped it with some of the broth. I tossed a handful of the tofu cubes on top of everything. We had this soup served with sliced lime, extra green onions and a selection of other sauces to make the soup spicier, sweeter, nuttier, etc. Everyone seemed to enjoy and I was delighted to have two meals made at once.
I love fall produce – squash, sweet potatoes, hearty leafy greens, pears and apples – and I decided to make a quick and easy curried squash and pear soup with the squash that was left from our CSA box and the pears that are always overlooked in the presence of apples. I peeled and diced the squash and tossed with halved pears with some olive oil and fresh sage. I spread it out on a cookie sheet and put into the oven to roast. Last week we had our family over for dinner and I whipped up some squash and apple waffles for the little kids for dinner. It is hard to get them to sit down for long when they are all together and just want to play, so waffles made with fruit, vegetables and other nourishing ingredients seemed perfect for getting some good food into them before they wandered off to dress up or spy on the adults!!
When I pulled the cookie sheet out of the oven, I had more roasted fruit and veg than I needed so decided to replicate the dinner waffles for lunch. I pureed all of the pear and squash in the food mill and set aside about 1 1/2 cups of the puree for the waffles. The balance was destined for the soup pot. I sautéed some celery, onions and carrots in a bit of olive oil until the onions were transparent. I added about a table spoon of curry powder and let it cook until it was fragrant and then added in the squash and pear puree and some water and salt. I carefully stirred in the puree and let it cook on low heat. After about 20 minutes, I checked the seasoning, added the juice of a lime and some salt and set it aside for dinner. We had it as is, but it would have been delicious with a drizzle of yogurt and some cilantro.
With the soup made, I got to the waffles. Since getting pet fish, the girls have largely stopped eating fish so I swapped out the eggs in the waffle recipe and substituted some ground flax seeds that I soaked in water so that they get a nice dose of omega 3 fatty acid. Besides this, I just used my usual recipe and at the end folded in the puree. I cooked them in the waffle iron and popped them into their lunch boxes. The waffles were served up with some sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, grapes and raspberries. The kids chose a juice sweetened jelly for a treat. A perfect lunch for a fall day!
My little daughter came home from school early feeling sick – turns out she was just really hungry – so we picked up a snack on the way home and then made a detour to the supermarket to pick up a few things for dinner. We have a wonderful independent grocery store that is a 20 minute walk from our house that has the most amazing selection of produce with a focus on locally grown fruits and vegetables. This time of year is particularly bountiful with squash and gorgeous brassicas. We walked past a display of romanesco cauliflower and my daughter stopped to admire it and asked if we could get for dinner. Never one to discourage vegetable consumption, we found the loveliest one, picked up some other things for dinner and headed home.
After she had her lunch, we decided to bake some bread from a cookbook I picked up at Ikea (surely I am not the only person who leaves I Ikea with a cookbook and nothing else?!) with some local red fife flour – a nice coarse whole grain flour that is milled nearby – and studded with a mix of dried berries and scented with saffron and mace. The house smelled amazing!!
When my big daughter came home she stopped to admire the cauliflower on the counter and was also taken aback by its beauty. This was a clear sign that this cauliflower was going to be going into their lunches! After homework and some playtime, we set out to make dinner. I had some cooked brown rice in the fridge (I usually cook up a few different grains each week to save myself time during the week), and figured it would make a good base for a salad. I broke the cauliflower apart and blanched it and then put it on the barbecue to finish cooking. While it was cooking, I made up a quick vinaigrette with lemon zest, lemon juice, mint, olive oil and a bit of maple syrup. My little daughter broke apart a pomegranate and put some of the airls in containers for lunch and the balance into the bowl with the rice and the vinaigrette. Finally, I grabbed the cauliflower off of the barbeque and put it into the bowl with the rice mixture and put it on the table for dinner.
It was an unseasonably warm October day so I decided to barbeque some tofu burgers and served them with some raw wraps that we picked up while shopping. I like these wraps so much because they are delicious cold and would be perfect in lunch boxes the following day. I cooked up a couple of extra burgers for the kids and assembled their lunches.
The final product – a tofu burger on a corn and flax seed wrap, some pomegranate airls and orange segments, half a dozen florets of cauliflower and some cherry tomatoes, a little sauce to drizzle on the burgers and a few gummy bears for a treat.
After a long weekend with lots of indulgent eating, it felt like it was time for some simple and healthy food. The kids love sushi and we are lucky to live in a city with lots of great sushi and food in general. Over the weekend, I picked up a fun tool to make cubes of rice (and other grains) that I thought would be a handy tool for making lunches. The kids gave it a whirl the day I came home with it and they made – no adult assistance at all! – the tasty cubes of rice with veggies pictured on the left. We made a pot of rice and mixed some of the cooked rice with chopped beet and another bit with some grated carrot. Finally, I made an omelette with some kale and cut it up into little squares to fit into the rice press. The kids got to work and were delighted to have made their own dinner. After this great first run, I was keen to put the press to use for lunch 30. I made up a pot of brown rice – not as popular with the kids, but a healthier choice – and while it cooked I prepped lunch and dinner.
We had fish tacos for dinner – basically just fish that I dip into egg and then seasoned panko and then cook in a hot oven for a few minutes, flip and then pull out the oven. I set out bowls of different toppings – charred corn, rice, cauliflower rice, diced tomatoes and peppers, sautéed zucchini and mushrooms and some salsa – and everyone builds their own lettuce cups or tortillas for dinner. I set aside some carrots, mushrooms, peppers and cucumber and diced these for lunch.
When the rice was ready, I put some in a bowl for dinner and then got to work on what I thought would be a quick and easy lunch preparation with the rice cube tool. What I did not anticipate was that the brown rice I was using was not nearly sticky enough to hold a cube shape and the sushi I had constructed was quickly deconstructing. Rather than giving up, I took this as a sign that I was meant to make deconstructed sushi and ended up packing little sushi salads instead. I set down a bed of brown rice and sprinkled the diced veggies over it, threw on a few radish sprouts for colour, chopped up some nori and called it a day. When my little daughter wandered over to see what was happening in the kitchen she declared that she hated sushi (a lot can change in three days apparently!) but I assured her that she was having some rice with vegetables and predictably she declared she loved rice with vegetables!
Along with the deconstructed sushi, I packed some steamed edamame, a few baby carrots from our CSA box, a little container with some tamari to dress the salad, some rice crackers and fresh fruit. For a treat, my big daughter selected a fruit jelly for each of them.
Back to the carrots for a moment – one of the kids had a friend over to play when we got our CSA box last week. My kids are always keen to see if they are strong enough to carry it in and then open it up to see what is inside. I pulled out a big bunch of magnificent carrots with the greens still attached and soil clinging to the roots. My daughter’s friend looked aghast and asked what I was holding. I explained – really perplexed – that they were carrots. She told me that she only likes baby carrots and what she meant was that she likes the little carrots you can buy in the supermarket that have been cut up and formed into little rounded sticks. This experience made me realize how lucky we have been to get our food directly from a farm for the last 9 years because it has given my kids a connection to where food really comes from and how it is grown. One more benefit from this CSA box!
After packing tapas for lunch yesterday, it occurred to me that there are endless possibilities for quick snack foods from around the globe. My kids love small bites of different foods and this seems like a great direction for lunches. Today I took the kids on an Italian adventure and packed them a box of antipasti.
Up first, some arancini – rice balls – made from brown Arborio rice that is mixed with egg, parmesan, some herb pesto and salt and pepper and a little cube of mozzarella. I made up a pot of rice for dinner (we had rice bowls) and set aside a couple of cups for lunches. I rolled the balls of rice in some breadcrumbs and then put them in the fridge to firm up. After a couple of hours, I cooked them in a pan with some olive oil and popped them into the kids’ lunch boxes.
We had a big platter of grilled veggies with dinner – broccolini (I blanched it and then gave it a grill on the barbeque), artichokes (I removed the tough outer leaves, halved them, blanched and grilled them on the barbeque) and roasted and marinated peppers (charred them whole, put them in a bowl that I tightly covered with plastic and then peeled them, sliced them up and put the strips in a bowl with some vinegar, oil and garlic). These three went into the lunch boxes along with some sweet yellow tomatoes, a few cubes of fior di latte, some strawberries and a few candied sunflower seeds. An easy and nourishing school lunch!
I had some odds and ends in my fridge when I went to make dinner and lunch and was stuck for ideas. When the weather cools off I usually make soup but the sun made an unexpected appearance late in the day and it did not feel like a day for soup. At the same time, it did not feel like a big salad kind of day either. I was chatting with someone about great food I had eaten (this is not such an unusual conversation – I could talk about food all day long!) and I related the amazing food we ate at tapas bars in Barcelona a few years ago. We also stumbled upon a tapas place nearby recently and had some simple and boldly flavoured snacks before heading into a party. These experiences lingered at the back of my mind and as I stood looking blankly into the my fridge, tapas suddenly seemed like the perfect direction for dinner and for lunches.
Finger foods are always a good option because they can eaten quickly and easily while sitting and eating lunch. I had some corn as well as some roasted mushrooms and cauliflower in the fridge from the night before so decided to make some empanadas. I am not skilled with dough making, or maybe just not patient enough to make dough, so I picked up a container of spelt flour dough at the supermarket. I divided the dough into 2 inch balls, rolled each one out and pulled a couple of tablespoons of the corn, mushroom and cauliflower filling in the middle. I folded the dough up and baked it in a 375 degree oven until the empanadas were cooked. Three little empanadas went into the kids’ lunch boxes and the rest we had for dinner.
I had a bag of mini peppers at the back of the fridge that were not being eaten so I tossed them on the barbecue and blackened the skins. Once they had cooled off, I marinated them in some olive oil, sherry vinegar and garlic. We had some for dinner and some went into lunch boxes. Finally, I sautéed a can of chick peas in some olive oil with garlic and a good amount of smoked sweet paprika. Before serving I gave them a squeeze of lemon and sprinkled a handful of chopped parsley over them. Delicious and easy to eat with your hands.
Dinner was rounded out with some tuna and some pan con tomate – crusty slices of bread rubbed with garlic and tomato and then drizzled with olive oil. It was a lovely meal – the only thing missing (from dinner) was some cava – next time!
My kids love sushi and it is a great lunch option because it is so easy and fun to eat. Lunch “hour” is only about 20 minutes long so it is important that anything I send can be eaten in a relatively short period of time and that it will take them through the afternoon. In the past, I have picked up sushi for them but our school has asked us not to send sesame seeds this year in order to keep kids with life threatening allergies safe (the rolls I picked up were usually sprinkled w sesame seeds) so we decided to make our own. Since we were making our own, we thought we would play around a bit.
One of the complaints I have with sushi that is not fresh is that the seaweed gets rubbery and isn’t very appetizing so we decided to leave out the seaweed entirely and I sliced long ribbons of carrots and cucumbers to wrap around balls of rice. I use a mandoline to slice up the veggies like this and left it out for dinner prep. The carrots were too rigid to wrap around the rice, so I blanched them in some salted water before assembling the rolls. Tofu slices are a staple in my kids’ lunches. They are protein packed and tasty at room temperature so we sliced them lengthwise and rolled them up with some rice too. The rolls were unfurling so I threaded them on to skewers and popped them into their lunch boxes. Before putting the boxes into the fridge, I lay a damp piece of paper towel over the rolls to keep the veggies crisp and the rice moist.
Since I had already worked vegetables into their lunch, I packed lots of fruit – half of a delicious passion fruit each and some oranges and raspberries. Finally, I threw in a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds and a few gummy bears for a treat.
The kids love dinners that they assemble themselves and they always seem to eat more veggies when they are challenged to make themselves a meal of what we often refer to as “healthy growing food”. I added the julienne blade to my mandoline and sliced up lots of raw veggies (carrots, cucumber and candy cane beet are pictured here) and cooked a mix of wild mushrooms with some ginger and shallot and put that out in bowls on the table. While I was busy doing this, the girls got to work mixing their “signature sauces” to serve with dinner. They made up delicious combinations of soy, rice wine vinegar, tamarind paste and hoisin sauce and set them out for everyone. When it was time to eat, I gave everyone a scoop of rice and some protein and let them pile up their bowls with veggies. Everyone ate what they liked and seemed to enjoy this meal of healthy, growing food.
Today is the city-wide cross-country running meet so lunch had to power my big daughter through her run and also had to be easy to eat since they will be sitting on the grass or sand for lunch. Dumplings, as I have written before, are a great vehicle for all kinds of veggies. I ran down to Chinatown before school pick-up to get some dumpling wrappers, a selection of mushrooms and some fun fruit for lunches for the week. When we got back home and started to prep dinner (corn tortillas w mixed roasted veggies, tofu and the apple and tomatillo salsa I made last week) I realized I had half a box of spinach that could be mixed in with the dumpling filling and we all got to work.
I started by prepping the veggies for lunch and dinner. The dinner vegetables – mushrooms, cauliflower, carrots, celery and squash – all went into the oven with some olive oil and salt and pepper to roast. The lunch vegetables – carrots, celery, mushrooms – were diced up finely and sautéed in a pan with some grapeseed oil until there was some colour on the mushrooms. I folded in some diced tofu, the baby spinach that I had minced up, a few teaspoons of soy sauce and some minced garlic and ginger. The kids had been foraging in the pantry and found a package of brown rice noodles so we rehydrated them, chopped them up a bit and folded them into the filling mix.
The kids love making dumplings and the only requirement I have is that they make themselves half a dozen moon-shaped dumplings each to pack in their lunches. Once they have done that, they can create any shape or size dumpling they can conceive of and they don’t hold back! We end up with letter-shaped dumplings, tiny dumplings for their stuffed animals and all kinds of other creations. We cook all of these up for a snack to tide them over until dinner. To assemble the dumplings, each kid sets up a station with a stack of wrappers, a bowl of water and spoon. I transfer the filling to a bowl and put it in between them and they set out to work. This is usually pretty messy but I had no idea how much messier adding noodles to the dumpling filling would be! We had tiny noodle bits all of the floor and stuck to the side of cabinet where they were working and hours later I was sweeping them up in adjacent rooms! I vowed to myself that we would not use noodles again until they both declared that these were the best dumplings that we had ever made.
I cooked up their lunch dumplings in the same skillet that I had cooked the filling in (I wiped it out first) filled with a bit of water and teaspoon of oil. I brought the water to a boil added the dumplings and covered the pan for 3 or 4 minutes until the dumplings were ready. In the meantime, I cut up some fruit (mango and dragon fruit), washed some sugar snap peas and pepper rings and mixed up a little dipping sauce with some soy sauce, rice vinegar and a tiny bit of maple syrup. I had a package of tofu jerky that I divided and added at the last minute along with some little panda cookies. I wish I had made myself a lunch like this! Happy 26th day of school!