The school year is just a few weeks old and I’m already hitting a creativity wall. This wall is not CPS’ doing in this case, as 92.8% of the lunches the kids have had have been sent by me (one day the girl decided on school lunch and ended up with “Trout Treasures,” which are neither trout nor particularly treasured). One kid likes sandwiches, the other prefers hers deconstructed. Both like fruit but not always the same fruit. One would take a bath in my newly-created “BLT Dip” but the other was repulsed. In short, morning lunch-packing gets interesting. But with a little advance planning we’ve managed pretty well. Here’s what we’re doing.
Kids like sugar, big surprise. But most of what they get is the processed variety. HFCS isn’t inherently worse for you than regular sugar, but the former ends up in everything, owing to its indefinite shelf-life (note: things that don’t go bad are not good for you. Except for honey. That’s pretty good for you.). Anyway, we’ve been packing their lunches with cherries, bananas, pineapple, cantaloupe, watermelon, kiwi, apples, peaches and so on. It’s still sugar – so they love it – but it’s also natural. Sugar tastes good to humans because it’s good for us, just not in the quantities we’ve grown accustomed to. Put fruit in their lunches and keep a variety on hand for Thursday, when they have dance and soccer.
Lettuce is fragile and largely devoid of nutrients. Kale and Brussels sprouts are neither of those things, bringing heft and bite and the durability to stand up to being tossed around in a kid’s lunch box for six hours before lunch. Before the lacinato kale finally succumbed to summer and the ravages of caterpillars we’d slice it very, very thin, treat it with an on-the-spot vinaigrette (2-1 olive oil to vinegar mix, or to taste) and a shake of salt and crack or two of pepper. The most popular Brussels sprouts treatment so far has been this one:
Brussels Sprouts Salad
The Business End
12 oz shaved Brussels sprouts
2 oz / 3 T chopped parmesan cheese
2 oz / 3 T pumpkin seeds, toasted if you so desire
Juice of one lemon (about 3 T)
Champagne or other good vinegar (about 1.5 T, but up to you)
Splash of olive or vegetable oil.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Rinse the Brussels sprouts and then cut off the tough ends. Finely shave or shred the Brussels sprouts and place them into a mixing bowl. Add cheese, pumpkin seeds and parsley and stir to combine. Mix the vinaigrette in a Mason jar and shake. Taste it, because this is important you guys. The culinary world turns upon the oil-and-sour balance and your quest is to get it right – for you. Once you like it by itself, toss it into the Brussels sprouts mixture and stir well. You’re probably going to want to add some salt. Add some salt. Add other things you like, such as more parsley, more freshly-ground pepper. Red pepper flakes and/or feta cheese could be added.
Serve after 20 minutes or make a big batch on Sunday afternoon and mete out all week – this is a hardy, delicious roughage.
* – Warning: Your kids may not like this. Train them slowly by not making a Giant Deal out of things. If they don’t dig it, make something else…and serve it alongside the pork chops or whatever’s for dinner during the week. Kids are weird – they may like it the second time.
Cheese and Cured Meat
Some people worry about the ingredients and lack of cooking that go into salami-style meats. You know who doesn’t worry? The people who’ve been eating them the longest. Italy, Spain and especially China are somehow still populated despite the populace having been eating cured, raw meats for hundreds and even thousands of years. Buy good stuff and put it in your kid’s lunch. They’ll be sated and like kids the world over, be eating completely safe things (though a small freezer pack would be a good idea).
Salume Beddu offers the best of the locally-available products. You can find them at Hy-Vee and Schnucks at the very least. Second is what you can get from Volpi and the Columbia Area Career Center’s culinary program. I have entire portions of my freezer devoted to cured meats from CACC and am doing quite well, thank you very much.
To be continued…
Suggestion: Nuts. So far this year I’ve added an oince of almonds or pistachios to the daily lunch box. Big hit. Walnuts were not, once again making me wonder if I have the wrong child.
Ugh. Phone typing.
Good idea, Maria. The kiddos like those Blue Diamond flavored almonds but I haven’t been sending them in the lunches.
A couple points:
1. There is some reasonable scientific evidence that high dietary fructose (including HCFS) is indeed bad for you. Not settled yet, but watch for it.
2. The Chinese have a very high rate of gastric cancer, although there may be a variety of reasons beyond eating cured meats. I’d eat smoked and cured meat (as well as everything else) in moderation.