When I homeschooled, we relied on leftovers for lunch. Leftover meat could be rolled in a tortilla and baked to make taquitos, or I could throw together a salad and serve with slices of cheese. I didn't have to plan for lunch. Now, however, with everyone in school (including me), lunch is a little more complicated. Modern parents can't rely on the schools to provide a healthy lunch, nor can we send the traditional PBJ in this allergy-prone era. Here are my solutions:
1. The Leftover Wrap. I keep whole wheat tortillas in the fridge--they stay good forever, it seems--and I use leftovers to make healthy, tasty wraps for our lunches. The only potential problem is sogginess, but there are ways to solve this. First, spread something thick and water resistant on the wrap before filling, like cream cheese, hummus, or a nut butter. Second, use hardier veggies, like cole slaw mix, broccoli, or cabbage. Thicker leafy vegetables work too--think chard, spinach, and kale. From there, just add a filling, fold, and enjoy. You can get really creative with wraps! Our favorite right now is hummus, red curry chicken, and shredded cabbage. Don't knock it until you've tried it!
2. Cheese and whole grains. This is the easiest lunch solution, and my kids are almost guaranteed to eat it provided we haven't had it for lunch all week. I slice cheese and send it with whole grain crackers, whole grain toast, or just about any whole wheat grain. Whole wheat pitas can be sent with spaghetti or pizza sauce and shredded cheese for DIY pizzas. Kids love cheese, so be creative and you might be surprised at what they will eat.
3. Chopped fruits and veggies with protein dips. These can include hummus, which is super cheap when homemade with the recipe at the bottom of this post, or nut butters. Earthbound Farm sent me some individually packaged organic carrots and apple slices that were so good we couldn't manage to save any for when school started. If you go to their website, you can get on their mailing list and get coupons for delicious, healthy products sent to your home. With or without coupons, these still cost less per ounce than packaged chips, and the nutrition is clearly superior. I'm not fond of things that come in individual packages, but this company uses recycled materials, which takes some of the guilt out of this easy, busy-morning solution.
4. Pasta Salads. Mayo-based salads are a breeding ground for dangerous bacteria, and not even really healthy. Oil based salads, on the other hand, are safer and healthier. Simply start with whole grain pasta boiled as directed--they give a kick of healthy fiber and don't get mushy--then add your child's favorite crunchy vegetables chopped into bite-sized pieces. Complete with a protein, like nuts, beans, or crumbled cheese, and mix with olive oil and spices to make a yummy pasta salad.
Any of the above main courses with a homemade snack (like pumpkin bread or peanut butter cookies) and a fruit or veggie will make a frugal and green lunch that your kid is very likely to eat instead of trading for a Twinkie. If you have any fun lunch ideas, email me or leave a message. I'm always looking for kid friendly lunch ideas that are tasty enough that I can bring them to school as well.
Easy Homemade Hummus
1 can garbanzo beans, drained
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup tahini
salt and pepper to taste
Put all in food processor or blender and process until a paste forms. Refrigerate until ready to enjoy.