Another school year almost gone, and the what-will-I-make-for-lunch stress is about to be replaced with the what-will-I-leave-them-to-eat stress. I’m no expert, so I asked my nephew, both a teenager and a fussy eater, what he and his friends consider primo grub that they would choose at home before asking for money to go to the local take-out.
He quickly disabused me of the notion that there is anything better at home than at a fast-food joint, but given that parents won’t fork over cash every day for burgers, fries and pizza, he grudgingly agreed that there are a few acceptable alternatives.
To save you dollars and headaches, here are the results of my research into the mind of a teenager.
I hope they help you get through the summer weeks without completely losing your mind and your wallet.
A can of chili in the cupboard is an investment in sanity. As soon as you let your kids use the microwave and open the can, they have several accessible lunches. My personal favourite is chili dogs — the only way I consider wieners edible — but this dish is a close second. I’m hesitant to call it a recipe, but a list of ingredients and a sentence or two of instructions qualify, don’t you think? This amount serves a couple of teenagers.
1 snack-size bag Frito corn chips (or any other brand you have, of course)
1 can chilli — any flavour
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (or other that you like)
bottled sliced jalapenos
1/4 cup sour cream (light or regular)
Pour corn chips into a microwave-safe pie plate or serving dish. Place chili into a separate dish and microwave until steaming hot. Pour over corn chips and sprinkle cheese over top. Microwave about 30 seconds, just to help the cheese melt. Top with hot peppers and blobs of sour cream and eat it up. Salsa on the side is nice, and any chopped veggies you can talk them into eating are fair game.
You can call any mile-high combination of bread and fillings you happen to like a Dagwood, but this is the ultimate as far as I’m concerned. Make extra mayo-mustard mixture and store in its own jar in the fridge for up to a week. This quantity will feed the whole family Saturday night, or last in the fridge a couple of days for the kids to pick at.
1/2 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
1/4 cup prepared mustard
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard (optional)
2 tbsp. bottled Italian salad dressing
1/4 tsp. hot pepper sauce (optional)
hearty sandwich rolls
1/4 to 1/2 lb. each spicy salami, deli ham, and turkey or chicken breast
6 large romaine lettuce leaves
1 large tomato, thinly sliced
1/4 lb. each sliced cheddar and sliced Swiss cheese
1/2 lb. bacon, cooked crisp and well drained
12 strip-cut bread and butter pickles
pickled banana peppers (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Whisk together mayonnaise, mustards, Italian dressing and hot pepper sauce. Slice rolls through the centres horizontally and slather them liberally on both cut sides with the mayo mixture. Layer salami, ham and turkey on bottom halves of rolls.
Top the meat with a little more of the mayo mixture then add the lettuce, tomato, cheese slices, and bacon. Add pickles and hot peppers to taste, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and top with matching roll halves. Press down aggressively to achieve a mouth manageable depth and serve with potato chips.
Macaroni and meat casserole
Kids have no problem with those ridiculously small, expensive boxed frozen dinners, so why not make some of your own? This casserole is easy to double so you can serve it for dinner tonight then freeze the leftovers in lunch-sized containers. Don’t forget to write the instructions for reheating on little pieces of paper and tape them to the top.
1-1/2 lbs. lean ground beef
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper
1 large onion, diced
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. crushed chili flakes
1 small can tomato paste
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. beef bouillon paste (or 1 cube)
4 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
2 cups uncooked macaroni or other pasta
1 small bag frozen green peas
Brown ground beef in oil. Add salt and pepper, onion and celery and cook over medium heat until vegetables are starting to soften. Add green pepper, garlic, chili flakes and tomato paste and fry until fragrant and tomato paste is a little darker in colour. Add diced tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce and beef bouillon and cook, stirring, until bubbling hot and bouillon is completely dissolved. Add thyme (if using), reduce heat and simmer together about 10 minutes, until slightly thickened. Taste mixture and add more salt and pepper if needed. Cook macaroni in salted boiling water, according to package instructions, drain and stir into meat mixture along with green peas. Pour into baking dish and pop into a 350 F oven for 30 minutes. If you freeze in serving-sized containers, here are the instructions for reheating. Lift one corner of the cover and place, frozen, in the microwave on high for 3 minutes. Remove cover, stir, and lay cover back on. Microwave another 3 minutes or until steaming hot in the middle — depending on the serving size. Don’t forget to use oven mitts or a kitchen towel before you touch the container.
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, NL, A1E 4N1.