Here’s my problem with making school lunches in the morning: I’m not a morning person. By sheer will power, I do manage to get out of bed, stumble down the stairs and pour a cup of coffee. I then proceed to stare at the wall above the kitchen sink and wonder what I’m supposed to be doing. As the caffeine wakes up my brain, I remember, “Ah, yes, make school lunches … but what should I make?” And the staring continues.
With the start of this school year, though, I have a new plan that will minimize the need to think in the morning, but will get the job done. This plan works equally well for “work lunches” also.
Much like a meal plan for the dinner hour, each day of the week has a different theme to ensure a variety of lunches and not just the standard turkey sandwich every day. My biggest tip for easing the lunch-making routine: whenever possible, double your dinners.
Monday: Sandwich Day
I see the sandwich as a complete meal in a tidy package. Many of the below ideas can be toasted, wrapped in foil and stored in a thermos for a Panini-style, cold weather lunch.
• Pita pocket with hummus, carrot, red pepper, cucumber, avocado and spinach
• Sesame bagel lightly toasted with smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumbers
• Ciabatta roll with turkey, provolone, tomatoes, green leaf lettuce, pesto and mayo
• Kaiser bun with ham, Gruyere, whole grain mustard and butter lettuce
• Baguette with goat cheese, pesto, tomatoes and arugula
• Rye with pastrami, red onion, dill pickles, whole grain mustard, mayo and baby greens
• Whole grain bread with tuna, mixed with mayo and lemon pepper and romaine lettuce
• Rustic white bread with freshly ground peanut butter and Nana’s blackberry jam
Tuesday: Soup or Chili Day
For dinner, I make “Soup on Sunday” which makes it easy to use those leftovers for lunch later in the week (even freezing the extra if necessary), when it won’t feel like a spoonful of de ja vu.
• Potato and corn chowder
• Ham and white bean
• Sausage and lentil
• Chicken noodle
• Kielbasa and kale
• Taco soup
• Pasta and pancetta
• Spicy pumpkin
• Chili: vegetarian, beef or chicken
Wednesday: Appetizer Day
Invest in some containers with dividers, and put together a medley of finger foods.
• Italian theme: cheese, salami, crackers, olives and Caprese salad
• Mexican Theme: guacamole, salsa, chips, bean and cheese quesadillas (kept in thermos) and pepitas
• All-American theme: cut veggies with ranch or spinach dip, trail mix, a hardboiled egg and applesauce
• Mediterranean theme: hummus, cut veggies, Greek salad and dolmas
• Breakfast theme: hardboiled egg, yogurt, whole wheat muffin/ banana bread, fruit salad and granola
Thursday: Pasta or Rice Day Again, make use of the Thermos.
• Ravioli with marinara
• Cold pasta salad
• Sesame peanut noodles
• Spaghetti with Ragu
• Pasta with pesto and cherry tomatoes
• Chicken and rice
• Beans and rice
• Sautéed veggies and rice, and so on
Friday: Give Yourself a Break Day Use up any remaining leftovers, or have your kids eat school hot lunch. Sneak away with a friend or your partner for a you lunch.
Extras I always include a container with in-season fruit as a side, a couple of pieces of dark chocolate for the sweet fix, and a Klean Kanteen full of water for a drink.
Ah, summer, the season that should be a time of rest and relaxation. The reality: most of us spend our summer trying to cram in sightseeing “vacations,” concerts in the park, a few days at the beach, hiking in the mountains, a weekend in the Gorge and so on. And if you have kids, then even more of your relaxation time is devoured driving them around. This frenetic pace not only leaves us dizzy, but depleted of energy for making dinner. And guess what, your in-laws called and they are coming for dinner tonight. What are you going to make?