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If I were a Lynyrd Skynrd cover band, this would be my get-out-your-Bic-lighter topic. What’s been most requested by my friends and readers is, What can I feed my kids for dinner — besides Subway — when we’re going from school to swimming to piano to baseball, and we’re not going to be home until after 8 p.m.?

We have days like that, too. More of them than I’d like to admit (I try not to over-schedule my kids, but whatever). First, I will say that sometimes you just have to punt. By that, I mean cut yourself some slack if you’re not preparing organic, home-cooked meals every night. Or even preparing meals at all. Sometimes a PB&J in the car (or a spin through Subway) is going to have to cut it.

That said, being a food evangelist I do think your kids deserve something real to eat most nights of the week. I got to thinking about this a few months ago because my 5-year-old insisted I feed her something for dinner that’s “not lunch” (Hmmm, possibly after too many PB&Js in the car?). Fair enough, I thought. So, if I know we can’t be home for dinner, I try (operative word) to make something that’s portable in advance and then feed them picnic style between practices. While I haven’t made vegetable nori rolls like Gwyneth Paltrow suggests on her website, my efforts have been fairly well received by my (generally starving by that point) kids. At least my son isn’t the one bonking on the soccer field.

Here are a few suggestions worth trying. If anyone has any more tips on this subject, please share!

  • First, get some portable meal containers. We just got Laptop Lunches, which are really cool and contain no BPA, phthalates, or lead, which are not cool.
  • If you have the right containers, you can bring just about anything — pasta, soup, sukiyaki, jambalaya — but I prefer foods that don’t require utensils when we’re eating in parking lots or on bleachers. But maybe that’s just me.
  • You’ll also need a cooler or insulated lunch bag. There are a gazillion of these on the market, but my I recommend this one from one of my favorite websites, reusablebags.com? Not only will it hold an entire family’s meal and drinks, but it’s made (“upcycled” — cool word I recently learned) out of juice packs (like CapriSun) that otherwise can’t be recycled and would end up as litter or landfill.
  • Make the food ahead, like right before school pick-up if possible, and pack it in the car. Even if you can’t have a quaint picnic-style supper, at least you know your kids will have something to eat that’s healthy and not full of nitrates or trans fats (which, sorry guys, I suspect Subway might be).
  • Here are some ideas of things to make.

Mediterranean Picnic Snack: A Bento Box or Laptop Lunch is perfect for this, but it works in Pyrex, too. Just bring some organic grape tomatoes, some olives (whatever kind your kids like; mine like pretty much all olives, so I skip the cans and get the oil-cured ones from the deli), some sliced cheese (I would recommend manchego, but that’s kind of advanced for most kids, including mine), a dollop of hummus (my favorite local hummus is Wild Thyme Naturals Black Bean & Lime; no link but you can get it at Vitamin Cottage and Whole Foods), and a hunk of bread or pita. No cooking required.

Quesadillas: Obviously a kid fave and super portable, too. All you need is whole wheat tortillas, shredded cheese, and whatever else your kids like in there. I usually make a chicken one (with leftover grilled chicken; next time you’re cooking chicken breasts — which is probably tonight or tomorrow night, right? — make one or two extra and keep them in the fridge) for my son and a black bean one for my daughter.

To make: Spray a skillet with organic Pam (or use a little olive oil) and heat. Put one tortilla in the hot pan and sprinkle with cheese. Add chicken, beans (Eden Organic brand is BPA free, by the way), sliced olives, veggies, salsa, whatever, and then cover with another tortilla. Cook until the bottom tortilla starts to brown and the cheese melts; flip and cook a bit more until the other side is slightly browned. Cut in fourths and wrap in foil or a cloth napkin.

Roll-Ups (or Pinwheels): For some reason, my kids like these better than basic wraps (and, yes, I have explained to them that they are THE SAME THING). I guess they are pretty nifty, and I know I for one can eat about 20. You can make them with whatever your kids like, even PB&J (with all-natural peanut butter on whole wheat bread; brands like Skippy have Jif have stuff like preservatives, sugar, and hydrogenated oils added to them — I’m not exactly sure what mono-diglycerides are, but I’m pretty sure I don’t want them in my peanut butter.). A few ideas:

Pizza Roll-Ups: Spread a whole wheat tortilla with marinara and sprinkle with shredded mozzarella and your choice of pizza toppings: sliced olives, mushrooms, peppers, some sliced (nitrate-free) meat. Roll, slice, voilà.

Taco Roll-Ups: Same idea, only using salsa instead of marinara. Beans and a little avocado are great additions to this one.

Hummus Roll-Ups: Great with sliced veggies, turkey, avocado.

Cream Cheese Roll-Ups: Okay, this is getting boring. Again, same idea, only spread tortilla with cream cheese. Add sliced turkey, salsa, lettuce…

To make the picnic seem more like dinner, pack some sliced veggies, cloth napkins, and of course dessert. Have fun and here’s to surviving little league!

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This post has 2 comments

  • Helen O says:

    Love your posts, Bevin! Good plan on the roll-ups. i will try this.

  • Carole Brandt-Fink says:

    Where was this post in January when I was completely out of school lunch ideas? I know this is supposed to be dinner, but I am printing it out for lunch box ideas in the fall. Thanks!

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