How to take your lunch on a culinary adventure
By Adam & Kristin Kleinert
First, please allow me to apologize. Most FamFitter articles have been penned by my wife, Kristin (aka “The Smart One”). She is in her first year as a full-time special education teacher, taking a few college courses, coaching elementary cheerleading and killing it as a mom like always. So, for now, you get me.
This even busier lifestyle we’ve taken on has given me the opportunity (sarcasm) to help out with a few more duties around the house. Aside from writing this article, one area in which I have enjoyed helping is with the kids’ lunches. When I started, my routine consisted of getting up and then trying to throw whatever I could into a lunch box. If there wasn’t time for even that, it was cafeteria lunch for my crew. This lasted until my oldest son challenged me to think differently.
Elias, a freshman in high school, is very serious about whatever sport is currently in season. He’s always putting in extra work trying to get an advantage. (We are diligently working on getting him to apply that same enthusiasm toward his schoolwork.) Not getting enough out of school lunches or what I was packing, Eli asked if there was a way to not only get more food in the lunch box but he wanted healthier food as well. This was not a request I was expecting from a 14-year-old, especially one who shares my love for doughnuts, pies, cinnamon rolls… Well, you get the point.
I began thinking about the protein (chicken, lean beef, etc.) and how I could supply veggies that would be welcomed. I started with some simple dishes like chicken & rice, pork tacos, spaghetti (pasta made with garbanzo beans) and meatballs. These were usually things I could put together from what we ate for dinner the night before. A saving grace is that he has access to a microwave in the high school, which allowed me to be a little more creative.
Soon our oldest daughter, Sydney, and Kristin were eyeing Eli’s lunches. These two are not picky by any means, but if food is not cooked to their liking, you may often get a bit of an upturned nose. To my delight, they loved my lunch-packing as well. Thus, I found myself having to figure out how to put together three reheatable, to-go lunches for not one but three people every day.
Now, I’m sure you’ve heard of the concept of food prepping, but let me just reinforce how great it is. I cook on Sundays for the week and make lunches not only for Kristin, Sydney and Eli but for myself as well. I have made a habit of spending part of the day cooking several proteins, some veggies, a baked-good and batch of granola. It feels good knowing I can give my loved ones a little help on their busy weekdays.
You may recall we have four children. I know at least some of you are thinking I’ve completely ignored my younger two, Molly and Brahm. Well, only slightly. They ask me to make their lunch as well, but I am not yet able to give them the same treatment since they do not have access to a microwave in elementary school. I do tell them that if they’d like me to pack their lunches, I won’t pack junk.
This policy did not go over well at first, but we have evolved to a point where they are packing their own lunches with some supervision. Where Brahm and Molly tried before to pack chips, pretzels, popcorn and crackers (you know, the four main food groups according to kids), after some initial coaxing, one of the first things they look for now is even salad (!!). This might be my favorite part of our school lunch culinary adventure: seeing all my kids expanding their pallets and trying to make more conscious choices without a push from this parent.
Here are a few of our favorite dishes:
CHICKEN FRIED RICE
A weekly go-to in our house. This dish is extremely versatile. Don’t feel like chicken? Try pulled pork, turkey and kale meatballs or tofu. Don’t have broccoli or carrots? How about peas, edamame, cauliflower or asparagus? Just raid the fridge and pantry, and see what great new take on this classic dish you can come up with.
• Cubed Chicken
• Fried Rice
– Soy Sauce
– Shredded Brussel Sprouts
– Shredded Carrot
– Toasted Seseame Seed
Here, just cook as much as you want. You know your family better than I do, so I’ll refrain from telling you how much to make.
I bake chicken breasts and then cube them on Sundays. For the fried rice, I usually start with about 4 cups of rice. (I like to cook the rice on Friday or Saturday and let it dry out in the fridge for a few days.) In a wok or large saute pan, I start with a little oil and add some chopped onion. I then add in the rice and let it sit for a minute to try and crisp it up just a bit. Next, I’ll add a couple of eggs and scramble them in. Add your soy sauce to taste, and at the end, I add the vegetables. I don’t want to overcook them. I like them to still have a little bite. Last, I top it off with a little toasted sesame seed.
COCONUT/ALMOND PROTEIN COOKIES
The Kleinerts like dessert! Some of the entrees may not have been as well received if my crew did not have a little something sweet to chew on afterward. These little cookies are low in sugar and pack a protein punch. The recipe below uses dried blueberries and cherries, but if you like chocolate, substitute the fruit for chocolate chips and the vanilla protein powder for chocolate.
• 5 T Coconut Oil
• 1/2 cup Brown Sugar • 1/4 cup Pure Maple Syrup
• 3 Eggs
• 5 T Coconut Flour
• 1 Scoop Vanilla Protien Powder
• 1 cup Oatmeal
• 1 t Salt
• 1/2 cup sliced almonds
• 1/4 cup chopped pecans
• 1/4 cup chopped dried berries
Melt the coconut oil. Mix in brown sugar and maple syrup. Whisk in eggs. In a separate bowl combine flour, protein powder, oatmeal and salt. Add wet ingredients. Mix in nuts and berries. Scoop onto cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 until the edges are brown (about 10 minutes). Makes about 18.