Tears in the lunchbox

Cynthia
Cynthia Stone
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Don’t even try and tell me it’s about the money you spend on new clothes, books, gym shoes and bus fares. And it can’t be the nagging campaign you’re about to start — nag them to go to bed, nag them to get up, nag them to do homework.

These things are aggravating for sure, but they don’t make you cry. If the conversations I’ve had with parents over the last week are any indication, what you really shed tears over are kids’ lunches.

Every year I try to find a few new ideas, but I don’t think it’s about variety anymore. I think it’s about finding something your kids will eat without complaining … too much.

So today’s recipes aren’t necessary innovative or unheard of, but maybe you haven’t thought about them for lunch.

Pancake Sandwiches

I can eat breakfast any time of the day, so why not in a lunch bag? A box or bag of dry cereal with a container of milk wouldn’t hurt them in the morning, so why is it so bad at lunch time? Likewise egg casserole leftover from Sunday brunch — tastes great cold the next day.

But my all-time favourite breakfast for lunch? Pancakes. Make them small so they aren’t floppy, and pack these with a little piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap between to keep them from sticking together. Include a small container of table or maple syrup for dipping and these are ready for lunch. But for something a little more interesting, turn them into sandwiches. You even get to choose savoury or sweet.

2 tbsp. white vinegar

2 cups milk

2 eggs

2 tsp. each sugar and vanilla (for sweet pancakes only)

1-3/4 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

pinch salt

2 tbsp. melted butter or margarine

Fillings:

soft cream cheese and strawberry jam, lemon curd or maple syrup

peanut butter with half as much honey

caramel or chocolate spread — don’t forget some fruit on the side

peanut butter and crisp bacon, crumbled

process cheese spread and salsa

hummus and thinly sliced red or green bell pepper

soft cream cheese and minced mixed veggies

For the pancakes, stir vinegar into milk and set aside for 5 minutes. Whisk in eggs, along with sugar and vanilla for sweet pancakes. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Dump into wet ingredients and stir together quickly — don’t worry about a few lumps. Stir in melted butter. Drop spoonfuls into a lightly oiled frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook on one side until big bubbles break the surface; flip and cook a few more seconds on the other side, just until golden brown. Cool and spread with any combination of fillings you can think of that your kids will like, pairing them up to make sandwiches or rolling them like cigars. Wrap tightly, chill and put in the lunchbox with a frozen juice or icepack.

Sliders

Young kids don’t have access to microwaves at school, and older kids complain the lineup is too long or it’s not cool. Hot or cold, these are fun and fabulous for lunch.  I wouldn’t want a hot burger without condiments, but they slide down just fine without further dressing when they’re cold. But pack some little packets of ketchup, pickles, or lettuce and tomato just because you can.

2 hot Italian sausages (optional)

1 lb. lean ground beef

1 small onion, grated

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper

12 soft picnic buns

Remove casings from sausages and place in a bowl with beef, onion, garlic, salt and pepper. Combine with a fork first so you don’t have to handle the mixture too much, then shape into 12 small (up to 16 if you want them to be really small) patties. Make them larger in diameter than the buns because they will shrink. Fry, grill or broil until cooked through. Serve right away on split buns or refrigerate until it’s time to pack lunch. Put the burgers on the buns, top with cheese if you like, and wrap tightly.

Chicken and Cheese Pasta Casserole (or is it Salad?)

Isn’t cold macaroni casserole really only a pasta salad in disguise? If they like it hot, they’ll probably like it cold, but you get to choose. Serve this for supper, then reheat and pack in a thermos for lunch the next day. Alternatively, pack it to eat cold. If your kids love macaroni salad, stir in a spoonful of mayonnaise in the morning. A buttered roll or slice of bread and lunch is solved … I mean, served. This is a great way to use up leftover chicken or turkey, but it also tastes good with cooked ground beef, in which case you can substitute tomato juice or canned diced tomatoes for the chicken broth.

8 oz. macaroni or other medium-sized pasta

3 tbsp. each butter or margarine and flour

1/2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme or a pinch of dried (optional)

pinch cayenne pepper (optional)

1 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup milk

1-1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups chopped cooked chicken

1 to 2 cups blanched (or frozen and thawed) broccoli florets

1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs combined with 2 tsp. melted butter (optional)

Prepare macaroni according to package instructions and set aside. Melt butter in a heavy pot. Whisk in flour, along with thyme and cayenne pepper if using. Cook a minute or two then stir in broth and milk. Cook, stirring, until simmering, thick and smooth. Add cheese, salt and pepper, stirring until cheese melts. Gently stir in cooked macaroni, chicken and broccoli. Pour into buttered casserole and top with buttered breadcrumbs if you like. Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes or until bubbling hot and golden brown on top.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c-o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, N.L., A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

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