Torture-free lunches

Cynthia Stone
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Summer has barely started and it’s nearly over. That’s plenty to induce depression, never mind having to think about packing lunches every day for the next 10 months.

I don’t have to do that, but my heart goes out to all who do, so I decided to give it some thought, try out a few ideas in my kitchen, and share what I like in hopes that you and your families like them, too.

Lunch kabobs

Nothing could persuade me to eat a wet, mushy sandwich that’s been squat between a cold pack and a juice box for several hours. Do you blame your kids for complaining? Then there are those of us who prefer foods separate and distinct, not mixed together on a plate, much less in a lunchbox. This might be a viable alternative to resolve both problems at once. Naturally, you can make as many kabobs as you like, adding or omitting those items your family likes or does not. This amount will be enough for four young kid lunches or two of the teenage variety.

4 bamboo skewers

12 1/2 to 1-inch firm cheese cubes — cheddar, mozzarella or Swiss, maybe

12 crunchy pickle slices—bread and butter are my choice

12 grape tomatoes, bell pepper chunks, celery slices or another vegetable you like

12 ham chunks (or any cold cooked meat)

12 pineapple chunks or whole strawberries (or other firm fruit)

12 whole wheat bread cubes

1 cup ranch dressing for dipping

Alternate cheese, pickles, vegetables, meat, fruit and bread on skewers. Wrap as tightly as you can in plastic wrap. Divide ranch dressing among small sealable containers. Refrigerate or use ice packs to keep cold.

Banana bran chocolate chip muffins

Why are muffins only for breakfast? An apple, a few cubes of tasty cheese, and one or two of these makes a great lunch — in fact, it’s one of my favourites. If you want to up the nutrition factor, substitute up to half the flour with whole wheat. Omit the chocolate chips or substitute chopped nuts if you prefer, but the sweet hit is fabulous in these. This recipe makes 12 large muffins.

1/2 cup soft butter or margarine

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

3 medium ripe bananas, mashed

1/4 cup buttermilk or soured milk

2 tsp. vanilla

2 eggs

1-1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup wheat bran

1 tsp. each baking powder and baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt (1/2 tsp. if using unsalted butter)

1/2 cup chocolate chips

Beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Beat in bananas, buttermilk, vanilla and eggs. Whisk together flour, bran, baking powder, baking soda and salt and stir all at once into wet ingredients, mixing just until combined — be careful not to overmix. Fold in chocolate chips and divide among greased or paper lined muffin cups. Bake at 375 F for  20 minutes or until a tester in the middle comes out clean.

Chicken nuggets and dip

Have your kids spread a takeout meal through the day, picking at the chicken nuggets and fries long after they could be called either fresh or hot? So, why do you feel guilty about serving them cold on purpose? These are delicious either way, hot and crunchy or cold and satisfying. As a hot meal, consider mashed potatoes or rice as a side. For a school lunch, add some ranch or blue cheese dressing and celery and carrot sticks, or some sweet and sour sauce with mixed fruit and veg on the side. For older kids, I’d up the chili powder a bit; for young ones, maybe not so much. This makes 24 smallish nuggets, enough for four medium servings.

1/4 cup ranch or other creamy salad dressing (light is fine)

1/4 cup milk

1 tsp. chili powder

4 chicken breasts, cut into 6 pieces each

1 cup corn flakes, coarsely crushed

2 tbsp. melted butter

Whisk together salad dressing, milk and chili powder. Add chicken pieces, cover and refrigerate at least 20 minutes but up to 2 hours. Remove chicken and shake off excess coating. Dip into corn flakes to cover completely, pressing the crumbs lightly against the chicken to adhere them. Place on a lightly greased or parchment paper lined baking sheet. Drizzle butter over top and bake at 350 degrees F about 20 minutes, or until cooked through. Cutting the chicken into even shapes will ensure consistent cooking time.

Cinnamon raisin bagel sandwiches

I’m a bagel purist and don’t have much time for anything but plain or sesame seed. Every now and again I can go one of those grainy ones, but the sweet ones with blueberries or chocolate chips or raisins are never my choice. This is the one exception I’ll make, and that’s only because I adore raisin bread, toasted and topped with cream cheese, apple jelly and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. In fact, I can’t imagine anyone turning one of these down. To up the fun factor use mini-bagels and include two or three per lunch, and don’t forget a fruit cup to round out a pretty decent mid-day meal. This amount of filling will cover about 4 large bagels, but keeps perfectly for quite a while in the fridge.

1/2 cup soft cream cheese or cream cheese spread (light is fine)

2 tbsp. apple jelly (or jam of your choice)

6 cinnamon raisin bagels

Mash together cream cheese and apple jelly but don’t be too thorough — leave some streaks of white and pink. Spread on bagels and cut in half; wrap tightly. There are a few other lunch ideas percolating around in my brain, but I’ll save them for a rainy — or snowy — day.


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.

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