Wednesday, January 29, 2014

we all live in a yellow submarine

As this year has worn on, I've learned that what we as adults would find boring - the same lunch every day for weeks on end - is actually comforting to kids. We may not like packing the same dull lunches day after day, but they like eating them.

And so, my kids have settled into a routine:

Monday - ham or turkey & cheese sandwich with baby spinach, yoghurt or cheesestring, banana, one other fruit or vegetable
Tuesday - see above
Wednesday - replace "apple" with "bag of plain popcorn for school fundraiser"
Thursday - pizza from school, snacks from home
Friday - egg salad for 5 year old, ham or turkey & cheese for 8 year old

It's easy to plan for. I have my fun mixing up the fruit / veggies they get based on what's on sale or tasting especially nice in a given week. And they come home with empty lunchbags, so either they're feeding seagulls or I've hit on a winning formula.


This week, store-made sub buns were on sale at my favourite grocery store, so I decided to give it a try. Mix things up a bit. I bought the buns and asked the boys if they'd like subs for a change this week.

"WOW!" said 8 year old. "Like from Subway?"

"I LOVE Subway!" proclaimed 5 year old.

Here's the funny thing. The toppings on their subs are exactly the same as what they've been having on their sandwiches. Turkey or ham, cheese, baby spinach, mayo, little bit of spicy mustard.

But they are on a SUB. This is COOL. The other kids in the class are, apparently, ENVIOUS.

We have a winner, folks.

Is it any less boring for me? A little, actually. It's nice to hear "mom, that lunch was delicious! Can we have it again?" Now I'm trying to think of ways to repackage other favourites. I guess it's all in the presentation.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Haters Going To Hate, Nicole's Going To Lunchmate

As you know, my children come home for lunch. I can count on one hand the number of kids who go home for lunch in our school of 520 children. I don't mind it; we are a twelve minute walk/ two minute drive to the school, so other than pattering back and forth to the school six times a day, and always having to schedule appointments in the space in between drop off, lunch, and pick up times, it's a pleasure. I like to see the kids in the middle of the day, they like to have a bit of downtime at home, I don't need to worry about them freezing on the playground when the temperature is only slightly above the minus-20 cutoff, and the dog is always happy when he sees his people come home, hopefully to accidentally drop a bit of lunch on the floor.

Plus, I get to serve the children a hot lunch*!

*Hot lunch meaning toasted bagel, plus non-hot fruit and cookies.

That's the drill from Monday to Thursday, anyway. Fridays are different because those are the days of early dismissal; the children finish school at 1:10. This means that they have a fifteen minute "nutrition break", and I need to pack as much nutrition as possible into that nutrition break for a couple of reasons. Friday afternoons mean long hours at the playground, hanging out with friends at home, or doctor/ dentist/ haircut appointments. In any case, they need to be sufficiently fueled for our free afternoon, but they also need to be able to eat quickly.

And so on Fridays I join the ranks of practically every other mother in the country, packing lunches that I am reasonably sure are going to get eaten. I make them "Lunchmates".

Before you slam your laptop shut or, less aggressively, click on the "close window" button, I have actually never purchased a Lunchmate in my life. I know there is a furor surrounding them and their lack of nutrition, not to mention the environmental impact. But I tell you this: I can really understand the appeal. I am someone who actually secretly likes getting meals on airplanes, everything in their little compact container. I loved getting hospital meals because look! A tiny thing of milk to pour on the little bowl of oatmeal, so cute! I also, less weirdly, like getting room service for the same reason. So I can really understand why Lunchmates are appealing: they're cute, they're neatly contained, and they require almost zero effort on the part of the lunch packer.

But! They are nutritionally deficient, the containers are landfill-bound, and they are also expensive. Here's what I do: I have two Bento-style boxes I bought at my local Co-Op. I put a bunch of crackers in the large "sandwich" part of the container. I put a stick of pepperoni (nitrate free!) and some carrots, grapes, or berries in the smaller parts of the containers. I put a couple of cookies, a muffin, or some banana bread in a separate container, fill a water bottle, and BADA BING BADA BOOM. Lunch. The containers always come home mostly empty and the children are ready for a Friday afternoon of fun and/or appointments.

The best part? The cost. Here is my breakdown for the cost of the lunch, not including the baked goods:

Crackers: $3.49/box. I get about eight servings out of a box. Cost: $0.44/ serving.
Pepperoni: $8.99 for a pack of 20. Cost per stick: $0.45.
Carrots: $2.99/ 2 pound bag. I worked this out to $0.23 per serving of carrots.

Total cost: $1.12. I don't know what Lunchmates cost but I assume it is much more for smaller, less nutritious servings. It takes me approximately five minutes to put together, which is more than zero minutes, but still pretty reasonable.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

I got a case of January-itis

I am not a fan of January. It's the month that makes me feel incompetent; it makes me doubt my deepest, most ingrained skills. I have no gumption, and that extends to making lunches. The other day I fantasized about filling the kids' lunch bags entirely with popcorn. Maybe burying a full can of Coke in the popcorn. It would be like a nutritionally defunct treasure hunt. The kids would love it, to be sure, but the lack of protein and vitamins would result in a mood crash that would hurt me in the end. So I made pasta salad instead.

It didn't go well. I chose to boil shell-shaped pasta and when I rinsed one of the shells with cold water to test whether it was cooked enough, there was sneaky, sneaky boiling water hiding in the shell. NINJA water, that spilled onto my tongue and lip burning me painfully.

"I liked that pasta salad, Mom, but what was that weird stuff in it?"

"Oh, those were mama's taste buds baby. I didn't need them any more. Apparently."

Still, the pasta salad was good. I find that it's a nice break from sandwiches and thermos fare. And it's super flexible. Just boil some noodles (quinoa or rice would work too) and then chop up whatever veggies you have on hand and throw them in. Leftover chicken or salmon gives it a nice protein boost, if you have any. Then you can either mix in some bottled salad dressing (I used Renee's Greek) or you could mix up your own with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a touch of sweetness - honey, sugar or even maple syrup would work.

Isn't that easy? And here's the best part: We're one lunch closer to spring.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Slow Like Molasses

The post-Christmas month of January - partly a relief (THE KIDS ARE BACK IN SCHOOL! THERE PROBABLY AREN'T ANY LARGE FAMILY GATHERINGS FOR MONTHS!) and partly a huge let-down because all we have to look forward to now are several more months of winter and  trying not to freeze to death. But let's stay positive: THE KIDS ARE BACK IN SCHOOL! And on a negative note, we must continue to feed them while they are at school and whatever early September enthusiasm I had for school lunches is long, long gone.

One of the things I like to rant about on Twitter - partly for fun and partly BECAUSE IT IS TRUE - is that people should eat more molasses. Yes! Stop using expensive corn-syrup-y cactus juice and instead use delicious, cheap, iron-rich molasses! I also like to rant about this in person.Obviously, I am very fun to know. I am also correct because molasses is excellent.

Also excellent: many years ago I sent away for a molasses cookbook offered for freeee by a molasses company and they sent it to me and it has been a delight and a comfort ever since. I've always thought the recipe for Frosted Molasses Bars looked delicious and last night I made them for school lunches today and WHAT DO YOU KNOW, they're AMAZING.

Frosted Molasses Bars
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup Fancy molasses
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
(The recipe called for 1/2 cup chopped walnuts and 1/2 cup raisins but of course I didn't add those because I am not a monster.)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9x9 square pan.

Cream together butter, sugar and egg and add the molasses and vanilla.
Sift together all the dry ingredients add to the molasses mixture alternating with milk.
Bake for 35 minutes.

When it's cool, frost with a frosting made from:
3 c. icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup softened butter
2 tbsp Fancy molasses
2 tbsp milk (I needed more than this).

Cut into bars.