When most of the week is spent at school, likely on a pretty tight schedule, the lunch hour is as much about catching up with your friends between classes as it is a time to refuel. Eating together is a chance to learn more about the people you hang out with by seeing what they like to eat. Here, four budding young home cooks in Calgary share their thoughts and recipes for a good lunch to go.
Genevieve, 15, isn’t strictly vegetarian, but she rarely eats meat, preferring the way vegetables, grains and legumes make her feel. “Eating well is part of the overall healthy lifestyle I’m trying to live,” she says. “I’m not against meat, or greasy foods like pizza. I just feel better and more energetic when I eat fresh and natural foods.”
Even beyond her like-minded circle of friends, Genevieve says more kids her age are making nutritionally and environmentally conscious food choices. “Consideration for the environment definitely plays a role in the foods I choose to eat,” she said. “I always go for organic when possible, and free-range for poultry.”
At home or for school, Genevieve loves building what’s commonly known as a buddha bowl – a portable vessel she can load with layers of grains like brown rice or quinoa, raw or roasted beets, carrots, fresh spinach, avocado and toasted nuts, and drizzle over a dressing of garlicky tahini, herby yogurt or tangy vinaigrette.
Each individual component keeps well in the fridge, and can be ready to assemble before or even after school, when her mom, dad and sister are eating at different times.
This dish doesn’t require a recipe per se, but a collection of ingredients with contrasting colours, textures and flavours that work well when you get them all together. What you use (and how much) can be dictated by your taste – or what happens to be in the fridge. Genevieve sometimes builds hers in a glass jar, keeping the dressing separate, to take to school.
- Cooked brown rice, quinoa, faro or other grains
- Fresh baby spinach, kale or chard, torn
- Grated carrots
- Cooked beets, chopped
- Avocado, sliced or chopped
- Chopped toasted or raw almonds or other nuts or seeds
- Garlicky tahini dressing
- 3-4 tablespoons tahini
- 1 lemon, juiced (about 3 tablespoons)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons plain yogurt or water
- 1-2 garlic cloves, crushed
- Salt and pepper
Layer the ingredients in a wide bowl.
Stir the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl or measuring cup, shake them in a jar or blend in a small food processor or blender.
Combine and enjoy.
Kai J. Moorthy
Kai inherited a love of cilantro from his grandmother, who makes a dense green fresh coriander (also known as cilantro) chutney that his family spreads on buttered bread to make sandwiches. With help from his mom, 10-year-old Kai taught himself to make omelettes with a big handful of chopped cilantro, chopped green onions and a pinch of chilis. It’s all stirred together with the eggs, then poured into a hot pan; the omelette cooks quickly while he toasts his bread, then folds the egg up as it cooks, sliding it out of the pan onto his toast to make a sandwich.
“It’s really easy to make,” says Kai, who often gets up extra early to make his own lunch before school, and is starting to help make dinner in the evenings. “The omelette is something special I came up with. It would be good with cheese inside, but I like it without.”
It’s easy to double the ingredients and make a larger omelette to cut in half for two sandwiches. Kai likes to serve his with a few olives on the side.
- 2 eggs
- 1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped (mostly leaves)
- 1 green onion, chopped
- Pinch of dried chili flakes or a chopped fresh chili (optional)
- Vegetable oil, for cooking
- Toast, if desired
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, cilantro, green onions, chilis or chili flakes (if using them) and a pinch of salt with a fork.
Set a medium skillet over medium-high heat and add a drizzle of oil. When the pan is hot, pour the egg mixture into it and tilt the pan so that the uncooked egg runs underneath. As it sets, fold it in half or into a square and flip it to help it finish cooking. If you like, slide it out onto a piece of toast and eat open-faced, or top with another piece of toast to make a sandwich.
When Chazz’s large Chilean-Japanese-Korean family gets together, it always involves food. “We eat a whole variety of things, from homemade empanadas to Japanese curry,” says Chazz, who’s 12. His mom, grandma and great-grandma often cook together, and there are usually leftovers for lunch the next day. “I’m comfortable bringing anything I want to school, even Japanese curry,” he says. “It lets you get a taste of home. And when people tell me it looks weird, I’m like, ‘Yeah – and it tastes delicious.’ ”
This fall, Chazz, who starts Grade 7 this year – in Alberta, that means moving to a new junior high – plans to pack onigiri for lunch, two-bite rice balls (or in his case, round-tipped triangles) shaped by pressing sticky rice into plastic molds, then wrapping a strip of nori around the base, and rolling in or sprinkling with furikake, a Japanese seasoning made with dried fish, seaweed, sesame seeds, sugar, salt and often MSG. He likes packing them with teriyaki chicken or beef, or pressing a piece of meat into each onigiri as he shapes it. “They’re easy to eat,” he says, “especially when I’m hanging out with my friends. Lunch is the main time we get to talk, without anyone interrupting us.”
Cook as much sticky rice as you like on the stovetop or in your rice cooker, and once it’s cool enough to handle, roll it into balls or press it into rice molds.
- Cooked sticky rice
- Bits of cooked teriyaki chicken or beef (optional)
- Nori (seaweed sheets)
Press the sticky rice into small molds or roll them into balls, shaping the rice around a small piece of meat if you like. Cut small (about 1-inch long) strips of nori with scissors and wrap a piece around the base of each, where you might pick it up with your fingers. Sprinkle the tops with furikake, or spread some onto a small plate and roll the edge of the rice in it to coat.
Willem Van Rosendaal
Willem, 13, is a self-described pizza fanatic, but finds it less than portable, so he’s been making (or helping to make) these pizza packages since kindergarten, stuffing them with ham, leftover sausage or salami, sometimes using pesto instead of tomato sauce or wrapping the dough around a piece of cheese and a pepperoni stick. Having grown up with a mother who’s a food writer (me), Willem is used to trying new things. And while he loves typical fast food like hot dogs and pizza, he also appreciates well-made versions of them with good ingredients and a less processed taste and texture. “It has to be decent, not too cheap,” he says. “The only problem is, if you bring something really good to school, everyone else will want to try it.”
Similar to calzone, these stromboli are compact packages that aren't too saucy and allow for all sorts of pizza-esque fillings. A batch lasts all week, individually wrapped and tucked into the freezer to grab and go. They’re just fine at room temperature, much like a cheese bun or pizza pretzel, but could also be warmed in the microwave.
Feel free to swap thinly sliced pepperoni, veggies or other pizza toppings to roll into each piece of dough. This recipe makes six.
- Pizza dough
- Tomato sauce or paste
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 12 slices Black Forest or honey ham (about 100 grams)
- 12 slices (or 1 cup grated) Provolone, Edam, havarti or mozzarella cheese (about 150 grams)
- 1-2 roasted red peppers, chopped or cut into strips
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
Divide the dough into 6 pieces and roll each into an 8-inch circle. Spread each with a spoonful of tomato sauce and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and layer with ham, provolone and red peppers.
Roll the dough up burrito-style, folding the ends over, and place them seam-side-down on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with beaten egg and cut a few slashes in the top of each roll to let some steam out.
Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden. Let cool slightly before serving.