By Andrea Swedberg // Photography by Paulette Phlipot
The world of parenthood has us scrambling with a calendar of functions, a task that goes hand-in-hand with having school-aged children. And while I wouldn’t trade the chaos for anything, time constraints certainly damper my ability to pull it off flawlessly. We all have the occasional epiphany, “There just has to be a better way!” Only to follow that thought with, “LUNCH! I [still] have to pack lunch!”
As a child, I was a list maker, a bed maker, and a rock collector. I couldn’t tell you why, but I was the only one in the house who didn’t mind folding the laundry, helping mom with dinner, and even diminishing our supply of silverware while clearing the dishes (sorry, mom!). I give huge props to my mother for accomplishing what she did every day with two children and a full-time job.
Now that I’m older, and a mother myself, I am also a clock racer. When the alarm goes off in the morning, it’s a sprint to get Piia (my daughter) to the bus stop ON TIME with the accoutrements for a successful day. My morning checklist includes: clean clothes, brushed teeth, hair—mmm—decent, change of shoes, homework folder, and the pièce de résistance—LUNCH, packed and in the backpack!
Isn’t this the clincher for moms and dads everywhere?
With young palates and hard-to-trick minds, we are plagued with empty lunch box questions. We’re facing the cupboards like a goalie waiting for the puck to come down the ice, deflecting anything that we know will not fly as a supposed “meal.” I ponder the box-packing puzzle: What containers will she be excited to open? Cold or hot? Gluten-or dairy-free? How much time does she actually have to eat? Wouldn’t she just rather eat school lunch?
Lunch building is not about reinventing the wheel. Just add fun! Replace the boring ol’ carrot sticks with flower-shaped, cookie-cutter ones, and then add hummus or ranch for dipping. Make a heart-shaped sandwich to guarantee the lunch won’t come back home. Have your child or teen take ownership by packing her own lunch, ultimately reducing food waste. Write a fun note on a cute card—she’ll just giggle her way through the meal!
Right about now, you might be thinking, “How does one accomplish this madness five days a week?” While it might sound crazy, I make 90 percent of the lunch the night before. I spend ten extra minutes in the kitchen, after cleaning up from dinner, which then gives me ten more in the morning to make breakfast, listen to Piia read, answer math questions, or, even better, hang by the fire and just plain cuddle. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll pack MY OWN lunch.
I am a one-pan chef when it comes to time-constraint meal prep. One of my favorite ways to bring lunch to work is a layered salad in a jar. It’s easy, fast, and marinated to perfection by the time I am ready to eat.
And my better half, Troy—well, he does a great job packing his own lunch. As a builder in Teton Valley, he doesn’t always have a way to reheat homemade food, so leftovers are not generally his go-to. Soups are the exception, however, due to a keen little invention called the “thermos.” And while I would love to be his private, on-site chef, his lunches generally consist of: a sandwich, fruit, rice cakes, almonds and raisins, sometimes a small can of ginger ale, and, of course, a little chocolate.
For those of us blessed with a company kitchen, consider these options:
- Roasted veggies and quinoa, with a homemade vinaigrette (easy nighttime prep).
- Tacos. Use any night-before protein. Requires minimal reheat time.
- Strata. Use the bread scraps you created from making your kids’ supercool sandwiches.
- Random mix: raw almonds, hard-boiled egg, piece of fruit, and half an avocado.
Life is for loving and learning. Not for wasting time pining over lunches. Make your food with love and it will be the best meal of the day!
Mama's Red Sauce
Makes 1 1/2 cups
This recipe suits a young foodie’s palate—simple and uncomplicated. And it assures me she’s eating a fresh, homemade sauce.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1clove garlic, roughly chopped
1teaspoon dried Italian herb
1cup home-canned organic stewed tomatoes (sub
Bionaturae aluminum-free organic canned tomatoes,
available at Whole Grocer or Barrels & Bins)
1tablespoon organic tomato paste, or more, depending on
your desired thickness
sea salt & pepper
- In a medium saucepan, on medium-low heat, heat the oil.
- Add garlic, saute until golden brown. Add herbs, saute until fragrant.
- Pour in stewed tomatoes, heat through.
- Raise heat slightly and add tomato paste, stirring to combine completely. Bring sauce to a simmer for about 5 minutes. Simmer longer if a thicker consistency is desired.
- Remove from heat and blend to desired texture. Season with salt and pepper.
This is a great recipe for bread scraps. It also works as a Sunday prep recipe, to have for grown-up lunches or Monday night dinner.
12 slices worth of bread scraps
3/4 lb. grated cheese (whatever cheeses you like)
1 lb. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
2 cups cooked bacon, chopped
12 eggs, beaten
3 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons sauteed onion
1 teaspoon dry mustard
salt & pepper
- Arrange half the bread scraps on the bottom of a greased 9 x 13 glass pan. Layer cheese, then spinach, followed by bread and bacon.
- Top with remaining bread scraps.
- Combine remaining ingredients, and pour over the layered ingredients. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Bake pan uncovered in a 325°F oven for 55 minutes or until egg mixture is cooked all the way through.
Salad in a Jar
Makes 2 cups (fills one 16-ounce jar)
The beauty of this recipe is its versatility. Use your favorite salad ingredients to create and re-create different variations.
2 tablespoons lemon vinaigrette
(fresh lemon juice, olive oil, touch of honey, salt and
pepper to taste)
1/2 cup Lacinato kale, washed, ribs removed, chopped to
3 tablespoons garbanzo beans
3 tablespoons diced cucumbers
3 dried Medjool dates, seeds removed, chopped
1 tablespoon almond pieces
- In a small bowl, whisk vinaigrette ingredients until combined. Add 2 tablespoons to a jar.
- In the order listed, layer the remaining ingredients into the jar. Cover snuggly with lid.
- When you’re ready for lunch, toss the ingredients in jar until coated. Plate and enjoy!