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Building a better lunchbox

Red apple image from Shutterstock on eatlivetravelwrite.comRed apple image via Shutterstock

It’s here! Back to School. And no matter how prepared I always think I am, I never, ever feel prepared enough. Despite what you might think, it’s not just kids who can’t get to sleep the night before school starts. Teachers get nervous too, you know! I always sleep so poorly in these first few days back at school because there are so many things going around in my head – all those new names to remember, new routines to memorise, new materials to work with, new technology to master etc… Never mind we’ve just had two months off school so even just getting up and being functional (in my case, at school by 7.45am at the latest every morning) is a challenge! And then, there’s the question of lunch.

Red lunchbox and apple from ShutterstockLunchbox image via Shutterstock

Again, it’s not just kids’ lunches that need thinking about and preparing. Adults need to eat lunch as well. And even though many working adults have the freedom (and funds) to choose to eat out at lunch, many of us prefer to pack a lunch from home. But bringing your lunch from home is such a pain, right? Just as stressful as packing kids’ lunches every night, right? I’m here to tell you that a little preparation goes a long way in terms of lunch prep for adults and that with just a little extra effort, you can bring an awesome, healthy lunch from home to enjoy at your desk or in your lunchroom or (if you’re lucky) in a nearby park or outdoor space.

I’m fortunate that my school has a lunch program available to the teachers (hot food, salad bar, sandwich bar and soup every day as well as fruit and sometimes a sweet treat) so in theory, I don’t actually have to pack lunch for myself at all.  In practice, I am packing Neil’s lunch most days so often I end up packing some for myself as well.  While the lunch program offers some great choices, there are days when I know I don’t have time to sit down and eat in the dining hall (when I have to supervise the playground) – it will be quicker for me to grab something I’ve brought from home and eat it on duty (not ideal but we do what we need to, right?).  Last term, I came up with a great way to end up with a meal that looks like this:

Better lunch salad on eatlivetravelwrite.comThat would be arugula, wheat berries, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, hummus, crackers, avocado, crumbled goat cheese and some dried cranberries. Doesn’t look like much but the ingredient combination really packs a punch. A lunch like this will keep me going all afternoon (and there’s nothing worse than a hungry, cranky teacher, right?)  Bonus? Once I’ve chopped everything up a little and mixed through the hummus, it’s actually pretty easy to eat out on the playground. Looks complicated, huh? Actually, no.

With a little bit of prep on a Sunday I make my way into school on a Monday with a bag full of salad fixings to keep me going through the week (or at least a few days’ worth).

I’ll always have some kind of greens. I’m liking arugula right now.

Arugula on eatlivetravelwrite.comand some grains…

Wheatberries, couscous and quinoa on eatlivetravelwrite.comWheatberries, quinoa and couscous. Because I never know what I will feel like. And some crackers for crunch.

Speaking of crunch…

Pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries and sunflower seeds on eatlivetravelwrite.comSeeds (I like pumpkin and sunflower) and some dried cranberries are always a nice addition to a salad.

Then a little cheese.

Crumbled goat cheese on eatlivetravelwrite.comI like crumbled goat cheese right now.

And some kind of dip…

Hummus on eatlivetravelwrite.comA big tub of hummus is cheap and easy to prepare (or buy) and goes a long way.

If I’m feeling decadent…

Avocado and jam jar for making salad dressing on eatlivetravelwrite.comHalf a small avocado feels so luxurious in my lunch. And that jam jar? In case I feel I need dressing. I have olive oil, balsamic and mustard at work (I keep them with my cooking club things!) and might bring a lemon if I wanted some dressing. I don’t always want some but the jam jar gives me the option to make a small amount.

What else do I always have on hand at school?

Yoghurt and a banana on eatlivetravelwrite.comI always have a large tub of yoghurt in the fridge and fruit of some sort. That would be my morning or afternoon snack. A large container is cheaper to buy and less wasteful than individual ones and I am lucky there is fridge space to store it.

Whilst it’s not a “lunchbox” per se, it IS my version of brown bagging it for lunch. Requiring just a little preparation and planning on the weekend and some assembly time, this is the type of lunch you’ll be happy to sit down to. I also love the “assembly” part – having all sorts of different choices (depending on what I have chosen to bring that week) gives me a chance to “cook” a little during the work day – a nice break from the stress of teacher life!

Cheaper, healthier and quicker to put together than going out for food, this type of lunch is so easy to customise – make big batches of grains/ pasta/ rice on the weekend, add in some greens, some healthy fats and some protein and you’ve got yourself a great lunchtime meal. For me, bringing in larger quantities of the ingredients saves me time each night or morning and also saves me the “what will I want to eat for lunch” each day. By giving myself some options, I’ve got some choices each day that I make when I’m about to eat, not hours before!

Neil’s lunch, on the other hand, works a little differently and will most likely look something like this:

A better lunchbox on eatlivetravelwrite.comWhen I am planning meals for the week, I will always factor in making enough so that Neil will have some leftovers for however many lunches he needs (he sometimes eats out or has lunch catered in so doesn’t bring his lunch every day).  Today, for example, he’s got a mini meatloaf, some arugula, a tomato from our garden (not cut so it doesn’t make the arugula all soggy by lunchtime), some baby carrots, hummus, a mini cheese, a yoghut and a banana.  About the carrots – I KNOW, I should totally cut carrot sticks myself and sometimes do but these arrived in our last organic fruit and veg box so I’m using them up. Also, I know many people buy these baby carrots because it saves time so who am I to judge – I’d rather people eat baby carrots as a snack than chips.  And about that cheese? Even though I take my own goat cheese and portion it out, I know Neil has nowhere to store food from day to day so he gets a Babybel. Not the height of sophistication but sometimes if I have time I will portion out some more interesting cheeses.  The yoghurt is an individual-sized one because, again, he has nowhere to store a large tub from day to day.

Neil might not eat all that – sometimes the fruit or the yoghurt will come home, or sometimes even the carrots because he didn’t have time to eat them – but at least there are some decent healthy lunch options for him, and certainly I know it’s way better than the food available around where he works.  Just like my lunch, it involves a little advance prep – making sure I have some staples (veggies and dip, cheese, yoghurt) on hand and planning our evening meals so there will be leftovers for his lunch.  If I’ve done all that, it literally takes me 5 minutes to pack this lunch for him.

I hesitated posting our lunch choices because maybe people will be shocked that “Mardi doesn’t always make everything from scratch”.  You know what? No, I don’t always make everything from scratch but that’s ok. It’s human. And very normal.  And it makes a homemade lunch a bit more approachable for many people.  I mean, if you’re just using a few bits and pieces (dips, pre-cut carrots, even!) that are store-bought, it’s still way better than buying your lunch (not to mention cheaper!).

When I wrote about what the Food Revolution means to me, I talked about the path to real food being a journey, not a destination. And here’s the thing: That lunch of Neil’s is pretty darned healthy. So is my “big salad”.   Are they intimidating for the reader? No, I don’t think it is. Is it a better lunchbox than the one Neil might find if he bought his lunch? I think so.

This post is in response to one of the Food Revolution Ambassadors Monthly Challenges for September 2014 which asked to take a peek at our lunches.  I’m also submitting it to Jamie Oliver’s Better Food For All lunchbox challenge.

Because lunchboxes aren’t just for kids.

How do you build a better lunchbox?

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3 Responses to Building a better lunchbox

  1. Mr. Neil September 2, 2014 at 11:20 #

    Now the key is also avoiding the many “interfering” possibilities at lunch-time, that are NOT so healthy. You know…the office candy jar, snack machine in the canteen, someone going out to a burger joint and offering to pick you up fries.

    As someone with a sweet tooth, it takes a lot of fortitude to avoid those ju-jubes! ;-)

  2. Geoff September 2, 2014 at 19:27 #

    OK, I go back a long way… but in the 50s – if you were at school and your parents (mother, of course) didn’t pack you a lunch …. you had
    Recess time: cream bun
    Lunch: One pie (meat pie for the N Americans) or pasty (no meat, just veges within a pastry crust and pronounced pastee)
    bottle of soft drink.
    Yum
    I know, I know… it’s all frowned on these days… but I did like this stuff. And, still today I find the term “exciting salad” oxymoronic.
    Nice post, Mardi.

  3. Coco in the Kitchen September 3, 2014 at 00:55 #

    You’re right, we focus so much on what we feed our children that we often forget to think about what we feed ourselves.

    I hate it when I haven’t packed anything decent and have to get something just to kill my hunger.
    It’s often something disgusting, unhealthy and taste like a shoe.

    Love your lunches. They’re so healthy. I love that there is a lot of variety, too.
    No one wants a boring lunch!

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