If you're new here, welcome! I'm a busy wife and mother (we're in the process of adopting again, though it has been a difficult road), and we've recently begun homeschooling our boys. I also own a small sewing business called Rose & Ruffle, where I make old-fashioned nightgowns for babies and girls, among other things. And I LOVE to cook! It's important to me that my family is eating good food, and lunches can sometimes be a challenge, especially since only one of my kids likes regular ol' sandwiches.
Here are my tips for surviving those long years of making lunches.
Plan ahead as much as possible
When chicken wraps are on the menu for tomorrow's lunch, after dinner when the oven is already heated up, I'll toss a few breaded fillets (I like the Tyson ones in the freezer section) in to bake; or I'll cook up a plain chicken breast with a splash of olive oil. Make a little extra salad with dinner and save some out for your wraps the next day. Thinking this way has really helped me over the years.
Sometimes I'll bake things earlier in the morning, and this works too, as long as I remember to do it! One of our favorites are crispy chicken patty "burgers" - spread a little mayo and/or honey mustard on a bun, add baby spinach, then the chicken, and wrap in foil for a yummy hot lunch. I know that "freezer chicken" isn't the healthiest option available, but we don't eat it everyday, and all the fruit and veggies balance it out. Balance, people.
Think outside the box
The lunch box, that is. We love to have French toast or eggs for lunch sometimes. They pack well (I cut the toast in strips and send a small container with syrup for dipping) and are a fun change of pace. For the eggs, toss in some milk or half-and-half, sausage or bacon, onions, mushrooms- whatever- and pour them into muffin pans; I use foil liners now because I've had horrible issues with sticking. Easy, quick and nutritious! I always pack lots of fruit with the French toast sticks.
I stock up on good quality tortellini and ravioli from the freezer section when it goes on sale because they make the best hot lunches on the go. It takes less than 10 minutes to cook the noodles, drain them, and plop them in a container. Use a little jarred sauce or make your own, and add some chopped baby spinach- the steam softens it just right and it "blends" right in. Three of my kiddos like some cheese sprinkled on top, too.
Pizza also packs well - I use foil to wrap it and keep it warm. Sometimes I make up mini ones with my own dough or store-bought dough, and other times I rely on ready-made frozen pizzas. I don't stress over it.
Plain pasta works too. I make a quick cheese sauce by microwaving 2-3 Tbsp butter for 30-45 seconds, adding a Tbsp or so of flour and stirring; add about 1/4 cup of milk and heat again. Next, add several cubes of cheddar (or another cheese) and stir until well blended. It may need another 30 seconds in the microwave. Pour over noodles and you've got fast, delicious mac'n cheese without that powdery stuff.
Fake it with a bagel
My non-sandwich eaters don't really mind if their sandwich comes disguised in served up on a bagel. I really make them happy if I have time to toast the final product for a few minutes. Maybe I should put up a tip jar in my kitchen like the ones I see at Panera. ;)
Have a snack for lunch
I've had the biggest smiles from some of these "snack" lunches. I cringe when I see those preservative-laden lunchable things at the store because how hard is it, really, to toss a few crackers, cubes of cheese and some deli meat into a container? Which is exactly what we do on occasion, sans nasty chemicals. Toss in several different types of cheese with some Wheat Thins or other crackers, and lots of fruit and/or veggies, raisins, nuts...anything goes! When my boys were small, they loved it when I packed a toothpick for them to "stab" their diced fruit. Okay, I think they still like it even if they won't admit it.
Have a wonderful weekend!