Food Friday: Packed Lunches

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Sundays are fraught again with anxiety. Not only do you get that feeling of dread in the pit of your belly about forgotten homework – you have to figure out a clever plan for packed lunches. I remember the homework dread well. Along about the fourth grade Mrs. Poole made us all miserable. She sucked all the joy out of school for 180 days. Luckily, the fifth grade brought Mrs. Shulman, Laura Ingalls Wilder and the best construction paper timeline of U.S. history every crafted in that elementary school.

I was lucky and got to walk home for lunch every day in elementary school, though I always felt like I was missing out on something fabulous. There wasn’t a cafeteria in our school – everyone toted their own lunches. I was deeply envious of all the lunch boxes stashed in the class cubbies. And by the time junior high rolled around it wasn’t cool to bring a lunch box. Brown paper bags were the only way to transport the mid-day meal. I missed that window.

The American cheese on white bread sandwiches I carried dutifully to seventh grade wouldn’t cut it today, when gluten and nut allergies and personal wellness issues are paramount. I can’t see my mother dithering over non-GMO hydroponic tomato varieties. She might have suggested a little bottled catsup instead.

Making lunch interesting and healthy is a real concern these days. And you can’t just slide by using leftovers and hurricane supply-peanut butter. On Sundays, while you are planning your dinners for the week, you need to plan out lunches, too. Take a page from practically perfect Amanda Hesser from Food52. She packs fabulously original lunches for her children. We could hate her if she wan’t so clever. And her ideas are reasonable. They don’t call for too many obscure and expensive ingredients. With a little practice, we might just be trainable. Because we know there will be dessert.

https://food52.com/blog/17941-13-greatest-hits-from-amanda-s-kids-lunches

Another Food52 writer has some brilliant ideas for meals to bring to the airport. I’m sure that the lunchroom can be every bit as friendly as an airport waiting room. Here are some healthy ideas: https://food52.com/blog/17133-16-lunches-and-dinners-to-pack-for-the-airport
And lunch doesn’t have to be sandwiches! It can be a good time to prepare people for college: cold pizza! Chicken wings! http://www.thekitchn.com/thinking-outside-the-lunch-box-10-sandwich-free-kids-lunch-ideas-222906

Here are some ideas for your lunch, too. What a concept: make your own lunch while preparing food for others. http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/family-meals/slideshow/30-quick-easy-school-lunches-pack-kids#1 Surely these are better than the chocolate protein bar I just tore through while staring down my deadline.

A few years ago the world-famous Spy Test Kitchens came up with this great list of ingredients for packing school lunches. It is just as timely today:

Column A
Let’s start with bread:
Ciabatta bread
Rye bread
Whole grain breads
Hard rolls
Portuguese rolls
French baguette
Italian bread
Brioche
Flour tortillas
Croissants
Bagels
Challah bread
Crostini
Cornbread
Naan bread
Focaccia bread
Pita bread
If storing overnight, top bread with lettuce first, then the spreads, to keep sandwich from getting soggy.

Column B
Next, the spread:
Mayo
Sriracha
Ketchup
Dijon mustard
Honey mustard
Italian dressing
Russian dressing
Cranberry sauce
Pesto sauce
Hummus
Tapenade
Sour cream
Mango chutney
Butter
Hot sauce
Salsa

Column C
Cheeses:
Swiss cheese
American cheese
Mozzarella
Blue cheese
Cream cheese
Havarti cheese
Ricotta cheese
Cheddar cheese
Provolone cheese
Brie cheese
Cottage cheese
Goat cheese

Column D
The main ingredient:
Meatloaf
Turkey
Chicken
Corned beef
Bacon
Crumbled hard boiled eggs
Scrambled eggs
Corned beef
Salami
Italian sausage
Ham
Roast beef
Egg salad
Tuna salad
Ham salad
Crab salad
Chicken salad
Turkey salad
Lobster salad
Tofu

Column E
The decorative (and tasty) elements:
Tomatoes
Lettuce
Basil
Onion
Avocado
Cucumber
Cilantro
Shredded carrots
Jalapenos
Cole slaw
Sliced apples
Sliced red peppers
Arugula
Sprouts
Radicchio
Watercress
Sliced pears
Apricots
Pickles
Spinach
Artichoke hearts
Grapes
Strawberries
Figs

Column F
Finger foods:
Cherries
Carrots
Strawberries
Green Beans
Broccoli
Celery
Edemame
Granola
Rice cakes
Apples
Bananas
Oranges
Melon balls
Raisins
Broccoli

Nobody will ever complain about lunch again if you can remember to jazz it up a little. My son, who lived for at least an entire year on (requested) white bread, bologna and yellow mustard sandwiches, is now a strapping 6 feet 4 inches tall. Imagine how far into the clouds he would stretch if we had thought to make him fig, goat cheese and caramelized onion sandwiches.

And don’t forget dessert!

“A party without cake is just a meeting”
― Julia Child

About Jean Sanders

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