Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Packed Lunch Series: Challenge #1: Sandwich Breakthrough...

In my last post, I talked on how feelings of lunch time, especially if you were a lunchbox toter evoked strong emotions of childhood.... Sadly for me it only brings back bad feelings and guilt-- and it's directly towards the brown bag sandwich cliché. You see, I was lucky to walk home to have a hot lunch all the way up until Middle School, then the distance was too much. Mom also started working out of the house and so the brown paper bag lunch was born. Everyday Mom packed me the same ol' pan-fried bologna on white Wonder Bread with the crusts dripping with grease. That wasn't the worse part-- I think I would of ate it (ok, sometimes) if she didn't swipe some margarine on the breads first. I don't remember the play-by-play details, but it was gag-filled! I regretfully recall tossing the unloved sandwich straight into the bin day after day, and I would do it robotically with abandon. Sometimes I ate off my friends or took dollars I earned from household chores to buy junkie foods in the cafeteria. I never broke a sweat with my secret lunch affair while I munched on that hot-off-the-fryer fry! We didn't have a lunchbox like we do now where it's brought back for inspection and discussion-- just a paper bag that gets crumpled and slam-dunked into the trash along with my poor sammie. Why, oh why, did I not just speak up that I no-likey margarine and that bologna need not be fried?? That was a lot of unnecessary food waste and bumming food off my friends. 

Trying to put this all behind me (I wonder if I would ever tell my mom-- she'll be heart-broken), and turning over a new leaf for my children's sandwich lunches. The occasions when I make their lunch, I eagerly greet them at their bus stop with a "How was lunch?", very similar to the Chinese when greeting someone, "Did you eat yet?" So let's begin. Despite my past, I LOVE sandwiches. In my previous role in a test kitchen I worked on developing out-of-the-box sandwich recipes using condiments, sauces and mayonnaise. Take a carrier, spread some sauce, put in the main filling with some toppings, enclose it and enjoy! Simple right? Well, it is and skies the limit really... 

When I think of packing lunch for my kids I factor in the four food groups and make sure they are covered off over two snacks and lunch. I brief my kids ahead to what I'm making and get them to weigh in. I want to avoid waste or not packing enough, so I gage how much they are able to finish by inspecting their lunchbox and talk about what they liked, was it satiating and if I could change something, what it would be. My kids only have 20 minutes before they are hurried into the playground so I emphasize a lot on focusing to eat during that short period. Here are two out-of-the-typical-sandwich box idea I made for my kids yesterday and this morning, hopefully sparking inspiration to customize to your own children's tastes. And I even got Carol Harrison, RD from Yummy Lunch Club to weigh in on the nutrition, variety and satiate-ness my meals:

Day #1: Open-faced Chopped Chicken with Cilantro on Bagel--

I say use up what you have on hand first before going out shopping for a bunch of groceries. We had a leftover chicken breast from dinner so I thought of chopped chicken. This filling could be in a mini bagel but I had fresh regular bagels on hand. A whole one would be too much and too big to wrap small mouths around, so I opted to do open-faced. A bit of mayo spread on the slightly toasted bagel half to adhere the piece of lettuce that covers the hole, then pile on the chicken filling (chopped chicken breast, mixed with mayo and cilantro). You can mix in small chopped avocado, celery, onions, cucumbers or your child's favourite herb-- basil and chives works deliciously. Cling wrap the sandwich.

Substitution TIP: Change it up with canned tuna or chopped low-sodium ham or turkey.

Yesterday's school day with all four food groups covered between lunch and two snacks. How did I do?

Carol from Yummy Lunch Club says: Both these lunches look so appetizing with all the colour and variety and they cover off the food groups too. Appetizing and nourishing are my first go to checks for lunches. Great wholesome choice of unprocessed meats which have less salt than processed options and are a great way to use up leftovers too. Stuffing chicken salad into two mini whole wheat pitas is a better spill-free bet :).

Whole pieces of fruit are great "insurance" in case your child is still hungry but won't go to waste if they are not eaten at school. Remind them not to throw any food out so you can see what got eaten and problem solve as need....too much food, couldn't open container etc.

Yogurt can be source of added sugars so review labels and experiment at home to see which ones kids like best. I like to mix half vanilla yogurt with half plain Greek yogurt to cut the sweetness in half and add more protein too. I'd add a little something with the nori snack to make it more substantial. Try a small container of shelled edamame for hunger-curbing protein. Put in a small container where they can tip it/shake it into their mouth and not bother with spoons. I use the frozen variety and cook it in the microwave in a snap. And remind kids to fill up their water bottle after lunch and if they are able keep it at their desk where they will be more likely to drink in it in the afternoon.

Day #2: Crab Caesar Salad Spiral Wrap--

I love visiting Persian stores particularly their dried nuts and fruit section and their wonderful bakery for breads. Looking for alternatives to tortilla wraps, I like lavash-- a soft cracker bread sold in sheets or oblong pita-style- great for ripping and dipping, and wrapping and rolling. 

My kids love Caesar salad and I thought how great imitation crab meat would go with the flavour-- wrapped up in lavash, I could serve it cut up so it'll showcase as a spiral-- what fun! You know I will tell you to make your own homemade Caesar dressing, but you can use your favourite bottle. Spread Caesar dressing on the lavash or tortilla wrap, lay on romaine lettuce, sprinkle with crab meat, shredded, sprinkle on sliced green onions, finely chopped celery and a splash of lemon juice, then roll up tightly. Slice into large pieces and pack!

Fruit for a snack for one son and a piece of homemade banana bread for the other-- a choice they each made.

Or roll and wrap up with wax or parchment paper.

Or stuffed into a pita-style lavash or regular pita

Carol from Yummy Lunch Club says: Looks terrific and creativity is important because we eat with our eyes. I like how there are not too many containers and kids can see everything at once...how many times do we hear I didn't see that in my lunch! Roasted chickpeas are a fab idea for lunches too. We need to find tasty ways to get kids to eat more pulses for all the health benefits they offer. Dried fruit are nutritious too but they are a concentrated source of sugar and sticky a snack choice I know my dentist would frown upon. Try a container with two compartments one for chickpeas and one for fresh veggies.
And did we notice, no treats. When you have a great tasting lunch you are not looking to always satisfy yourself with something high calorie but if you do want to send it keep the portion small (check out my site for these healthier treats and healthy snack options).

Thank you Carol for your tremendous input-- lots of great tips and advice to keep in mind for further lunch-making.

Consider these vast sliced bread alternatives in your next sammie and choose whole wheat where possible: foccacia, English muffins, sour dough buns, biscuits, bagels, waffles and pancakes (yes-- why not?), dinner rolls, flour or corn tortillas, crepe wrap, lavash, pita, naan, baked pizza dough.

I always think about the cuisines and dishes my kids like to eat to dream up an inspiring filling. Think: Pesto Chicken or Shrimp, Bruschetta, Beef Bulgogi, Chicken Tikka, Swedish Meatballs, Steak and Eggs. This gives you have a start-- turn it into a sandwich, wrap or roll with a suitable vessel. TIP: For saucy fillings use a crustier heartier bun and thicker wrap like naan or roti. 

Here are some other family-favourites for many customizable sammies. Heat up the meats or filling that should be warmed through, add your toppings, enclose and pack. Or serve the hot, cold or crunchy fillings that would go soggy separately, and the bread/wrap in separate containers for a DIY assemble. 

From top left clockwise: Beef, Bean and Rice Burrito, Cold Cut Sub with Hickory Sticks,
Taco Wrap or Corn Shells, Falafel Pita and Banh Mi in Vietnamese bun.

Grilled Afghan Kabobs in Sesame Persian Bread. Grilled veggies are awesome in sandwiches.

My recipe contribution to Healthy Kids Lunch in Asian Gourmet Magazine Winter 2007. Try it with naan.

Get beyond old-school notions of what lunch is suppose to be and you'll find you have a vast array of options-- many of them healthy too and it doesn't have to be difficult or time consuming. Be sure to experiment with your family's favourites together with new combinations of bread vessels. Also, change things up simply by using a different spread such as ranch dressing or pesto instead of mayo or ketchup. Plan ahead, invite your kids to shop, prep and pack with you. The sense of ownership has proven favourable when it comes to getting them to actually eat the food. 

Next up-- Challenge #2: Make too much dinner and you can Make Once and Eat Twice.

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