The school year is rolling right along, and I am happy to report that Project Lunch Box is still going strong. I can’t claim to be making elaborate eye-candy Bento lunches, but ours are almost entirely waste-free and look and taste better than last year’s. I’ve tried to keep having fun making them and, while some days are better than others, I haven’t succumbed to the pull of pre-packaged bags of chips, GoGurt, or the dreaded Lunchables. My school has even made significant strides toward improving its hot lunch program (so far so good on that front, but no final decisions yet).
I made a minor breakthrough when I actually started asking my children what they want in their lunches. You’d think that would be an obvious first step, wouldn’t you? Well, in the past, I’ve usually gone with the theory that, assuming I make things they are generally known to like, the kids will happily eat what I give them — something along the “easier to get forgiveness than permission” lines I guess. It’s similar to the stall tactic I use when they ask what’s for dinner, which usually goes something like this:
Kid: “Mom, what’s for dinner?”
Me (standing by stove, wearing apron, stirring pot): “Hmmm, not sure yet.”
I figure they can’t complain about something if they don’t know what it is.
So, not sure why I braved asking what they wanted for lunch. But their answers surprised me. My son wanted “more vegetables in my wraps, and nothing crunchy,” which I should have guessed because he has been bringing home smashed (uneaten) crackers, pretzels, and chips for years. My daughter, whom I’d always relied on to eat sandwiches, declared, “no bread, please.” Well. There you have it. Simple stuff, I know, but revelatory for me.
Here are a couple of her recent lunches, which I must say, are kind of adorable.
These get packed inside her insulated lunch sack (also quite cute, purple polka-dots of course) with an ice pack so they stay cool. Since apparently WordPress won’t let me make links within photo captions, here are the links for the two products I mentioned there. Both are processed snack foods, but they are (at least slightly) better choices than Cheetos and those nasty circus crackers: Tings and Snackimals.
One last idea, which was a hit with both my kids, are pre-made (by me) black bean burritos. I made a bunch of them last week and froze them. All you have to do in the morning before school is reheat in the microwave. In an insulated lunch container, they stay warm enough (for the kids at least). Here’s how to make them:
Neat Little Grilled Black Bean Burritos
2 cans black beans (I recommend Eden Organic brand because of the BPA issue, which I won’t bore anyone with AGAIN).
Mexican spices and/or diced green chiles and/or salsa
whole wheat flour tortillas
shredded cheese (Monterrey Jack)
Open the cans of beans and drain but not thoroughly. Pour in a saucepan with about a tablespoon of olive oil and pinch of salt. As you heat the beans, smash them with a potato masher until they resemble refried beans with some whole beans mixed in. (All of the above steps can be avoided by opening a can of refried beans, but I like these better, they’re cheaper, and of course no BPA.) Add spices and salsa to taste. I use a little garlic, cumin, and green chile powder, plus a little bit (maybe 1/4 cup) of jarred salsa. Spray a skillet with cooking spray or lightly grease with oil. Fold and tear several tortillas in half. Spoon a little bit of the bean mixture into one half tortilla, sprinkle with cheese, fold into a burrito and grill on the pan until it’s fairly intact. Flip over and grill the other side. You can make several at a time. Serve for dinner with salad or sliced veggies. Allow the rest to cool and freeze them.