Thursday, May 6, 2010

HOMEschooling, HOMEmaking: lunches

I hate it when one of my systems breaks down--mostly, I admit, because I don't like expending the energy to rethink a process that should/ought/used to run like a well-oiled machine. But from time to time, our family seems to outgrow or no longer need The Way Things Are.

You can deny it for only so long. And then, tail between your legs, you have to reinvent the wheel.

This is me right now with lunch planning. For years (years, people) we have eaten mostly leftovers for lunch. By making a larger meal the night before, I could sock away enough to feed Mr. Blandings, myself, and all of the children the next day with most offerings. True, there have always been some things that we tend to turn our noses up at when reheated. (Tuna casserole on day two is somehow toxic, isn't it?) For those days, we'd fall back on a handful of staples. We've never been really big into sandwiches ( I save those as a to-go item for appointment days), but anything else was fair game. Usually, it was Jo cobbling together something that sounded appetizing to her. It was a once-every-other week deal. Barely a blip on the radar.

But for months now, lunch has been, well ... off. There simply haven't been that many leftovers. Many times, Mr. Blandings has been left scrambling for something in the a.m. hours--the platter of bounty from the night before had been virtually licked clean, as it were. No lunch goodies. Every man for himself!

At first I thought it was a phase, and didn't adjust my dinner proportions. Finally, I admitted that this was a new norm, and upped my kitchen output. Guess what? Still no love. Turns out that a pregnant Momma, a Daddy who has increased his weekly workouts to include some weight lifting, a pre-teen girl, two boys on the cusp of hitting their Big Boy Growth Spurts, and two growing toddlers eat a lot of food. And I do mean a lot of food.

I can barely make adequate dinners right now. Pretty much everything ends up supplemented with a nice loaf of bread and a massive bowl of greens tossed into a salad. Even then, the kids seem to loom at me over the table, wondering if there's anything more to eat. More often than not, there's a run on fruit for dessert that rivals the bare shelves one sees when someone tells folks in Georgia that it might snow.

This is life in a big family. Get used to it, right?

Having acknowledged that leftovers are--for now at least--a thing of the past, I had to sit down and pump up our lunch menu. Turns out our general options were only 6 rotating items. Not bad when you need them two or three times a month ... but paltry when 30 or 31 long days stretch endlessly before you. I scoured recipe sites, asked around, and came up with some options that are working for us, for now. My criteria was: minimal prep (because we are usually coming straight off of some seatwork and into lunch with a bunch of very hungry peeps), as few processed ingredients as possible (personal preference), and kid-friendly. If an item has a dairy component, it had to have a corresponding non-dairy option that didn't require additional work so as to accommodate my dairy-free kiddos. And, oh yes--the more work that my kids can do in putting it together, the better. They love kitchen time, and I am trying to hand over the reins whenever I can to help them along in that life skill area.

One other thing: you'll notice that there are only a couple of options where meat figures prominently. Again, that's a personal preference, and it limits our menu somewhat.

Having done all the legwork, I thought I'd offer up a list of the options that have worked for us in the last few weeks. When needed, I've included a description, link, or very brief directions. And please, feel free to leave more ideas in the comments, or post them on your own blog and link back. I'd love any help other moms can offer in this area!

  1. Bagel/English muffin mini-pizzas (we simply leave the cheese off for the non-dairy folks)
  2. Cheese Quesadillas (non-dairy kids get peanut butter and honey spread on a tortilla)
  3. Noodles & Peas (Cooked elbow macaroni mixed with frozen peas or mixed veggies, topped with grated parmesan for those who like it)
  4. Cold Plate (sliced fruit, raw veggies, cheese, crackers, & tuna for nibbling)
  5. Omelettes
  6. Burritos (we always have a pot of beans (black or pinto) in the fridge, so this one is a given for us)
  7. Peanut/soy butter and bananas rolled up in tortillas (yes, I make tortillas in bulk. can you tell?)
  8. California Veggie Wrap (a huge, huge hit with my kids)
  9. Black bean dip with veggies
  10. Faux Welsh Rarebit (Wheat bread spread lightly with 1/8 tsp of brown sugar, topped with a slice of cheddar and melted. True confession: I find this nasty, but two of my kids love it and will eat it from sun up to sundown. So I'm including it here in case anyone else has raised food degenerates such as this.)
  11. Pasta Salads (I have about three versions, all of which are cold, and all of which I can make a huge batch of and have on hand for a couple of days)
  12. Apples spread with peanut/soy butter
  13. Microwaved baked potatoes with toppings
  14. Waffle sandwiches (spread them with nut butters, jam, you name it)
  15. Deviled eggs
  16. Chicken salad (can be served as sandwiches, or not)
  17. Potato Skillet (chunks of cooked potato sauteed in a little oil and herbs of your choice, a handful of crushed, cooked turkey bacon thrown in, then topped with some grated cheddar)
  18. Seven Layer Dip with chips (you know, the kind with ground turkey/beef, salsa, sour cream, refried beans, etc.)

That's what I have so far. Your turn. :-)

I'm still digging around, hoping to come up with more variety. I'm very excited by the whole Bento-at-home idea because A) I love the portion control B) I think my kids would enjoy making them up from items that I keep on hand in the fridge C) Getting a Bento box is one of my favorite forms of take-out and D) It fits my philosophy of fresh food amazingly well. But so far, I haven't taken the plunge. I'll get back to you on how that one goes ...

(More on Bento)


ThyHandHathProvided said...

I love this idea, Mary Grace. My kids are happy as can be eating PB&J (whole wheat bread, homemade jam) and homemade yogurt everyday, but want more variety for them. I have been thinking I need to get my butt in gear and make some changes.

Occasionally, we do pizza bread- same idea as pizza bagels, but on bread. I have also been meaning to make muffin tin size quiches for lunch since the kids love quiche (and we are getting so many eggs). I look forward to reading other reader's ideas, too:-).

Jennifer Jo said...

GREEN SMOOTHIES!!! No dairy, just bananas, other fruits/juices, and SPINACH. The kids LOVE them. I whip up a blender-full for an afternoon/midmorning snack and then I don't have to feel guilty if lunch is just bagels and cream cheese.

P.S. One blender-full is almost never enough, so you still might be back to Square One with kids looming at you...

Thia said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. I am a mother of 3 almost 4 and have noticed some of our dinners are not stretching as far. So your suggestions of the bread and salad are good. I need to get back to making bread. That will help us for a bit (kids are 5, 3, 1).
As for lunch, my kids live of pbj, by their own choice, but the amount of bread we're going through in a week (especially when you add my husband's daily sandwich) is astounding. I need to start, somehow, moving them to other options.

Anonymous said...

We add nuts to our selection of fruits and veggies at times. Also, just plain hard boiled eggs are easy.

Please tell me if you have any tips on making bulk tortillas... I don't use tortillas much because the idea of making them seems tedious. I do make my own bread, but the easy way a la "5 Minutes a Day (book).

Anonymous said...

LOve these ideas! My kids love veggie tacos. I use Morningstar Farms Tofu Crumbles ( Meal STarters, I think it is)...heat in a little oil with spices (I use garlic powder, chili powder, minced onion, cumin) Put in either soft tortillas or crispy ones with whatever taco garnishes you like. My kids prefer these to meat tacos.

Sandi said...

I'd be interested in the tortilla recipe too. I tried making them from a friends recipe and they were well....awful.

Ticia said...

Excellent !
I like to make twiced baked potatoes and freeze them.
They are great just to pull out for lunches. Fruit and yougert are also a big one for us. I sure understand about those meals not going as far when they get bigger.

Jen said...

If I could reach through the screen and hug you for sharing this list I would. I'm in a similar spot these days and just can't seem to wrap my brain around what to do.