Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Better Brown Bag

With the school year in full swing, I find myself making a lunchbox for my 5-year-old three days a week. He looks forward to the days that he stays at school for lunch and loves every minute of eating with his friends. I’m also a mom who likes to pack lunches when we are in the car for much of the day. My homemade food is always a better choice than anything I can find in a drive-through.

Whether the lunch is for little ones or for grownups to enjoy at a desk, the brown bag is now taking a turn for the better. Dress up that lunch away from home to be a meal that makes the morning worth the wait. With a little style, any brown bag lunch can be as delectable as lunch at your favorite restaurant.

Take some time to choose the perfect lunch box to encourage the family to be excited about the midday meal. Lunchboxes vary almost as much as sandwiches. There are cooler bags, metal boxes, cartoon printed containers, plastic cartons, and many more. Brown bags are compostable, so they are always a good choice. For a reusable option, I like insulated lunch bags and reusable (and dishwasher safe) sandwich bags. Check out for an almost endless array of options.

Don’t forget food safety when lunch is away from home. It’s simple - cold foods need to stay cold and hot foods should be hot. Use a thermos for liquids. For an extra cold thermos, rinse it with ice water before filling. For hot items, rinse it with hot water first. Ice packs are a must for a properly packed lunchbox. Clean-up after lunch is part of the challenge of lunches on the go. Load up a small pack of baby wipes in each box for quick hand wipes or desktop crumb cleaning.

Small Children
Because kids don’t like too much change with their food, making lunchboxes for little ones can be difficult. Try cutting vegetables and sandwiches with fun shaped cookie cutters. Put cheese on candy apple sticks (these don’t have the pointy ends like skewers). Add a sticker or fun notes to the lunchbox for a special treat.
Keep cool items cool by freezing little water bottles or juice boxes. By lunch, they will have thawed and kept lunch cold in the meantime. Try pasta salads with noodles in exciting shapes like letters and animals.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Stars

2 slices whole wheat bread
All-natural crunchy peanut butter
Favorite flavor of jelly

Spread peanut butter on one side of one slice of bread and jelly on remaining bread slice. Combine bread slices with peanut butter and jelly touching each other. Use a star-shaped cookie cutter to cut out sandwiches.

It’s all about the look for teenagers and their lunches. The lunchbox must be cool and the food can’t be worthy of gossip. Lunchtime favorite spreads like hummus and spinach artichoke dip are wonderful on pita chips or toasted bread. Muffins can be nutritious and filling for a long afternoon of classes. New tea blends are quite a luxury packed in a thermos.
Pack up snack mixes with nuts and dried fruit or granola. With a low-fat vanilla yogurt to make a quick parfait, lunch is healthy and mirrors a coffee house favorite. Wraps are also a popular way to get some nutrition in a busy teenager.

Black Bean Hummus

2 garlic cloves
1/2 - 1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Tortilla Chips or Pita Chips

Pulse garlic and jalapeno in food processor until minced. Add beans, tahini, lime juice and process for one minute, stopping once to scrape down the sides.
Add olive oil in slow stream while food processor is running. Add salt and pepper.
Serve with tortilla chips or pita chips.

Makes 1 1/2 cups

Saving money is one of the best perks of making your lunch. Since you’re already saving, choose an above average sandwich, like goat cheese and roasted peppers, to treat yourself. Try eating lunch outside of the office for a change of scenery. Saving time and gas by not going out to lunch is yet another benefit.
Leftovers often make the best lunches. Save that leftover morning coffee and take it along for icing down for a noontime pick-me-up. Grilled veggies from the weekend can make a Monday lunch the best. Add a good piece of bread and lunch is a mini gourmet break from the work day.

Chevre and Cucumber Sandwiches

4 ounces garlic and herb goat cheese, room temperature
1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
1 English cucumber
1/2 (16-ounce) loaf very thin whole wheat bread

Mix goat cheese and cream cheese together using rubber spatula.
Slice English cucumber into 1/8-inch slices.
Spread each of 14 slices bread with 2 teaspoons goat cheese mixture. Top 7 slices of bread with 4 slices cucumber. Top with remaining slices bread. Remove crust and slice each sandwich into 2 or 4 triangles.

Serves 6 to 8