Think Outside The (lunch) Box

Every school year we all long for summer and it’s balmy nights, family adventures and some much needed time to tune out.  Cut to mid July, a few surprisingly pricey camps and a LOT of family time later, and every parent is counting the minutes until the kids are back in school and there is, once again, some semblance of a routine.  But with this resurgence of peace and order comes mastering the task of creating a healthy school lunch that your kids will actually enjoy eating, every...single...day.

There are three things we know for sure about school lunch: they must be delicious, they must be easy to make and the key to success is variety.  Switch it up and keep ‘em on their toes. They can’t complain about not liking something anymore if they can’t think of the last time they had it!  Don’t get me wrong. We do PB & J, turkey sandos and mac and cheese fairly often, but I find that when I throw unexpected items into the mix, we never fall into a rut and the kids feel satisfied.

Here’s a week’s worth of lunches in our house that are really easy to make, full of nutrition and get five star reviews from the toughest tiny critics.

Monday

  • Pesto pasta salad with fresh snap peas and cherry tomatoes.  Toss your favorite store bought pesto with cooked and drained pasta, sliced snap peas and halved cherry tomatoes.

  • Grapes, blueberries and strawberries

Tuesday

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  • Celery stuffed with salmon salad.  Drain one can of wild salmon and stir together with 1 tablespoon each of diced red onion, capers and chopped dill, the juice of half a lemon, 3-4 tablespoons mayo (depending how creamy you like it) and salt and pepper to taste.  Cut celery ribs into 3 inch lengths and fill with salmon salad.

  • Dark chocolate covered almonds

  • Dried tart cherries

Wednesday

  • Chicken and red bell pepper stir fry with brown rice (recipe follows)

  • Orange slices

Thursday

  • Strawberry-banana-sunflower roll ups.  Lay a large whole wheat flour tortilla on a cutting board and spread evenly with sunflower butter, top in an even layer with sliced bananas and strawberries, leaving about 2 inches at the top.  Roll up from the bottom as tight as possible, making sure the seam is sealed with the sunflower butter. Slice crosswise into rounds.

  • Black bean hummus with jicama and carrots

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Friday

  • Chicken meatballs with “Ancient Grains” Quinoa Blend.  We love Hip Chick Farms Organic Gluten Free Meatballs.  Ancient Grains has a blend of Quinoa, Lentils and Garlic that gets inhaled by everyone in our family.  With a 90 second prep time, it’s a great busy day cheat for getting a quick side dish in the table, or in the lunchbox.

  • Broccoli slaw with dried cranberries and sunflower seeds.  There are yummy pre made versions of this salad at every grocery store in the packaged lettuces section.  Just open the bag and toss!

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Recipe:

Chicken and Red Bell Pepper Stir Fry

Make this a day (or two) ahead and have it ready to go when you need it.  This recipe makes enough that you can have it for lunch or dinner, too!

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 pound ground chicken or turkey

½ red onion, diced

1 red bell pepper (yellow or orange are delicious, too), diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated on a microplane or minced

2 scallions, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons oyster sauce (in the Asian section of any grocery store)


Method:

  • Heat sesame oil in a large pan over medium high heat

  • Brown the meat, breaking it up with a spatula as you go

  • Add onion and pepper, cook until the onion is translucent and the pepper is tender but not mushy, about 5 minutes

  • Add garlic, ginger and scallions and cook for one more minute

  • Reduce heat to low, add soy sauce and oyster sauce, cook for one more minute and stir well to combine

  • Serve over brown rice

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Katie is a graduate of the California School of Culinary Arts, she and her husband have two kids and she has spent over 10 years cooking for private families and small businesses