Tuesday, 14 July 2009

The Lunch Box Post

Heather Beauty That Moves
Today I am bringing you a post from my personal blog archives, it was written last October as a collaboration between some of my readers (they sent me many ideas) and myself. This post also contains my everyday bread recipe which many of you have asked for. :)

Although the calendar does not currently mark the beginning of a school year for any of us right now, we still all eat lunch each and every day! Whether you are mid-school year and in need of refreshment, pack a lunch to take to work, or you are on summer vacation and packing many, many picnics to take on your daily activities, creatively packing a home made lunch is economical, generally treads lightly on the earth, and is always tastier! Okay, here we go...
Here we are, stepping into October. There is very little that is more beautiful than October in New England.

Most of our children have been back to school for about a month now - and you know I've been trying to collect some good information to formulate one (as it turns out very long) blog post about packing lunches. I'm finally getting to do that and I hope you are still in need... I do believe whether your children attend public, private or home school - making lunch an interesting, likable and fresh experience is somewhat of an art form. I have a lot to learn myself and your links and suggestions have been a tremendous help. I'll be sharing each and every one here. I'll also be sharing a few recipes and ideas from my own kitchen, but mostly this post has been written by each of you! Sorry it's taken me so long to place it all here in one easy spot.

Cropped 1

It is fitting that a lunch post from this household starts off with chocolate. You could say it is part of our daily lives. Have you ever made your own chocolate sauce? Does your little one (or you!) love chocolate milk with their lunch? You will never buy the throwaway land-filling bottle again once you make this recipe, and you will know each and every ingredient that goes in. Makes a mama feel good.

Homemade Chocolate Sauce

1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup water
1 cup sugar (we use evaporated cane juice crystals)
splash of vanilla extract

Sift cocoa and sugar into saucepan, add water. Heat, whisking often until it comes to a boil. Let it simmer for a couple minutes. Add vanilla, turn off heat and stir. Cool for a bit and bottle it up! Store in the refrigerator and shake before each use. I haven't done the math but my guess is that this costs less than .50 cents per bottle to make. Pretty economical and easy as can be.
I've tried many, many bread recipes with the hopes of finding a good, soft sandwich bread. One that would stay soft for longer than a single day... it's been important to me that I replace store bought (nice and soft) wheat bread for one that we could make here and Emily would go for... I came up with this recipe, it fits the bill perfectly. And again, I know what goes into it. Let's just say that is my lunch-making mantra.

Our Sandwich Bread
2 cups warm water (110F)
1/2 cup agave nectar (honey or sugar is fine)
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 cup light vegetable oil (your preference)
4 cups all purpose white flour (we use organic white whole wheat, germ still in)
2 cups whole wheat bread flour

1. In a large bowl, dissolve the agave in the warm water, add yeast. Allow to proof until yeast resembles a creamy foam, about 10 minutes.
2. Mix salt and oil into the yeast. Work in 6 cups of flour. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Use a little more flour if needed. Place in well oiled bowl, and turn once to coat the entire surface of the dough with oil. Cover with a clean damp cotton cloth. Allow dough to rise until double in size., about an hour.
3. Punch dough down. Knead for a few minutes, and divide in half. Shape into loaves and place into two well oiled 9x5 loaf pans. Allow to rise for 30 minutes.
4. Bake in a 350F oven for 25 minutes. When you thump the top of the bread it should sound hollow.

TIP: My house tends to be on the cool side, even in the summer. I turn my oven on 200 and allow the bread to rise on the stove top. Works really well.

For a buttery crust, brush hot loaves with butter. Cool on a rack and enjoy!

Ideas From My Kitchen

  • fruits and veggies are tastiest when pierced through a toothpick or wooden skewer. an assortment on a single stick is even tastier and keeps the kiddos from getting bored with one veggie.
  • leftover pasta tossed with a little pesto is always a big hit.
  • i tell emily to eat her fruit and/or veggies first and then she won't have to worry about it. she somehow listens to this. if i don't suggest it each morning though, she will not remember to practice it.
  • sandwiches made with the cut-n-seal are a huge favorite. the crust provides our pup with a rare human food treat. this tool is also great for making mini-fruit pies. use regular pie dough, fill, crimp and bake. really hard to eat just one!
  • i keep my freezer pretty well stocked with an assortment of baked goods that are pre-portioned and wrapped in packages appropriate to a weeks worth of lunches for adam and emily. for instance: recently i made a texas sheet cake (chocolate zucchini style). we can't finish a 15x10 sheet cake before it turns stale... i froze about 2/3 of it, all cut up, in a few packages. i can then just go into the freezer on sunday and select a few different baked goods for the week. it works really well. i have a pretty good rotation going and nothing sits in the freezer for more than a few months.
  • the above idea is also great for when you quickly need to provide something for a playdate or get together with friends. many professional bakers agree the freezer is the most under-utilized tool in the kitchen.
  • quesadillas. i make them in the morning and let them cool to room temp before packing up. eaten at room temperature they are still yummy.
  • the moosewood vegan chocolate cake is my go-to recipe for chocolate cupcakes. these also freeze beautifully (frosted even) and can be taken one at a time from the freezer for an occasional treat. they will thaw by lunchtime.
  • i try to set an example of being a good earth steward by having minimal to no packaging in the lunch box. if it isn't picked from a tree, or baked at home, we try to make our snack selections from the bulk bins at the co-op. emily's current favorite salty snack is flaxseed corn chips.
  • homemade leftover pizza - huge hit!
  • a thermos of homemade soup or macaroni and cheese.
  • overall, emily is a pretty plain eater (as many of you know by now) and thinks simple things are better. i think her favorite part of lunch every day is the note i slip into her lunch box. i know she looks forward to it and it only takes but a moment to do. i keep paper, stickers and pens in a drawer right next to where lunch is prepared. i never forget, and she saves every single one. the daily note is perhaps the most important lunch ingredient.
  • smoothies! current favorite is strawberry/banana/chocolate.
  • bagels and cream cheese - even cuter if min-bagels are used.

Ideas From Your Kitchen

  • Cyndyava: A thermos filled with warm chicken rice soup, or broth and pastina! She's a soup girl. She also gets a lot of great ideas from this great food blog.
  • Jessica: I make a pot of soup on Sundays and then put it into crocks to eat at lunch time at work. Every week I try a different soup so it doesn't get too boring. I add fresh veggies to dip into dressing or salsa (I'm a dip person as well!) and a piece of fruit leather or an apple. I'm pretty seasonal with my lunches so in the fall there's apple sauce and in the spring lots of fresh salads.
  • Amy: I like to roast a turkey breast on Sunday and have slices of turkey for lunch during the week. Sometimes it turns into turkey salad with grapes and or dried cranberries (we're not into nuts here, but I think walnuts would be nice also)
  • Sarah: I make two meals for each girl so they have a hearty snack as well. I used to serve porridge every day for the first "meal" but now I serve porridge for breakfast every day, so need something new.
  • Iris: I love talking lunches...dread making them each day though. New ideas are KEY. Now that Jonas is almost 10, I have him involved with side-by-side preparation of lunchmaking (I still do most of the work for the 6 y.o.'s lunch). We do this at night (can't face any more morning details than absolutely necessary, plus Jonas sounds quite different than Emily...He sort of meanders around a bit in mornings, though he is an early riser. I find my boys like smaller amounts of food, but with greater variety. So I think about lunch food as a bunch of small and healthy snacks...Nuts and dried crans, half of a sandwich, crackers and cheese, Pirate Booty (a favorite), some kind of homemade power bar, fruit slices, veggie sticks and dip, goat cheese with a tiny spreader and rice crackers, etc. etc. My boys are NOT into thermos items, no way no how. One friend uses Sundays to whip up some "deli" type items, like soups and salads that her four children can avail themselves of come the lunch-making week. The whole lunch thing can kind of get maddening. I hate it when lots of food comes home to me uneaten and wasted (or for chicken food!). I also hate having someone come home and tell me I didn't pack enough. So getting their input has helped this somewhat. Woah, maybe I better do my own lunch making blog post! Yikes! Hope this helps...
  • Elizabeth: I haven't had to prepare a lunchbox since I made my own when I was a kid, but in those days the best best thing to have for lunch was a cream cheese and olive sandwich. Cream cheese slathered on wheat bread with sliced green olives.
  • QT: There is a blog I go to everyday that you should check out for your lunches. I usually just look on in envy - Lunch In A Box.

Web Inspiration

I hope you were able to find an idea or two within this post, I really appreciate all your help in putting it together (just sorry it took so long). Please feel free to continue this post within the comments, it really is a never ending subject. I for one would love to hear even more!