Along with most everything else, lunch has felt different this year, most of us having eaten more midday meals at home than we were accustomed to. And while the precarious return to school brings graver concerns than what to pack for lunch, we still have to eat, and whether you’re staying in or taking it to go, that noon nosh provides a much-needed respite.
Given restrictions to where kids can eat this year, food that is easily contained and assembled will be in order. Inspired by the bite-sized ingredients in the compartmentalized containers of Kraft Heinz’s Lunchables, here are some ideas for a simple but interactive meal, whether in the lunchroom, at a desk or somewhere in between.
Bread, cheese and charcuterie is a simple, traditional English midday meal, a combination as grazable for one as it is fit for a party. Such an assemblage could be as upscale or little-kid-friendly as you like, depending on your choice of cheeses, breads and accoutrements. Younger kids have fewer preconceived notions about traditional food pairings – whatever they like to eat that can be transported and nibbled has great lunch potential. Enlist their help in the selection process, because any efforts toward an interesting/nutritionally balanced meal won’t matter if they don’t actually eat it.
Pack: salamis and other deli meats, pepperoni sticks, cheese, pâté, hard-boiled eggs, baguette, fruit, radishes, pickles, tiny jars of mustard or other preserves.
The traditional assortment of small dishes designed for grazing throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East is an ideal framework for portable lunching. Dips and spreads, flatbreads, olives, briny cheeses, stuffed grape leaves – they all travel well, pair well, keep well in the fridge and are delicious at room temperature. Make them from scratch or pick them up at the deli.
Pack: kibbeh, falafel, thick dips (such as hummus or labneh), mini cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, tiny carrots, olives, stuffed grape leaves, halloumi or feta, flatbread.
Simple, familiar, and teen-friendly, toast is an ideal vehicle for all kinds of tasty things, both sweet and savoury. Toast made in the morning will stay crisp until you load it up to eat; pack it dry, buttered or drizzled or brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt. At lunchtime, spread and pile on your favourite things as you eat.
Pack: ricotta or other soft cheese, small jars of jam or honey, roughly smashed beans or chickpeas, small tins of oil-packed tuna, roasted veggies, a ripe avocado, a soft-boiled egg, crushed nuts (if they’re allowed where lunch is going) or anything else you can rummage from your fridge – saucy leftovers generally do well spooned onto toast.
At the ready
If your kids are learning remotely this year or coming home for lunch, having a stash of prepared items in the fridge will help everyone. Think of these as homemade convenience foods without the excess packaging – they’ll keep well in your fridge for at least a few days, and don’t need to be kept hot or cold to be delicious.
Hard boiled or jammy eggs: Gently lower as many eggs as you want to cook into simmering water and set the timer for 10 minutes for hard-boiled eggs or 7 to 8 minutes for eggs that are a bit soft/sticky/jammy. Run under cool water to stop them from cooking and store in the fridge.
Cooked grains and beans: Simmer a pot of rice, quinoa, barley, farro or other grains or pasta, or a pot of beans, chickpeas or lentils. Soft beans and chickpeas can be drizzled with olive oil and pesto and roughly smashed and lentils can be dressed with oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper to marinate in the fridge while they wait to go into salads or grainy bowls, or onto toast, flatbreads or crackers.
Soft flatbread or sturdy bread: Flatbreads can scoop dip, be spread with or wrapped around things, and bread can be toasted and spread or topped with whatever you rummage from your cupboard or fridge.
Thick dips: Hummus, muhammara, salsa, labneh and other dippable, spreadable things taste better after a day or three in the fridge, and can be served with veggies, crackers, bread or tortilla chips, or spooned into or over a salad or grain bowl.
Leftovers: Making extra dinner while you’re at it is an easy lunch solution, whether roasted chicken or fish is turned into sandwiches and wraps or stews and baked dishes are simply reheated on another day.
Sauces: Garlicky yogurt, tahini, vinaigrettes and flavourful fresh green sauces will pull cooked grains, beans, leftover meat and veggies together into an interesting salad or grain bowl.
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