Lunch Box Rescue

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By Charlotte Abrams

A lot has changed in the 20 years since my mom packed me a lunch and sent me off to school: A few fast-food chains have increased their commitment to sustainability and organics, vegetables have moved from side dish to main course and brown-bag lunches have turned into bento boxes.

Gone are the days when parents could reflexively stuff a PB&J and potato chips into a bag and call it lunch. These days we’re faced with the culinary challenge of providing variety and, most importantly, nutrition that keeps kids fueled and happy.

When dealing with kids’ developing taste buds and desire to exercise their right to refuse, nutrition is often sacrificed for familiar foods that actually get eaten. Fear not: You can have both. We’ve taken brown-bag classics and amped up the nutrition and excitement for a delicious packable lunch—brown bag or bento box.

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NACHO KALE CHIPS

Serves 4

1 cup raw cashews

¼ cup water

3 tablespoons lime juice

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for coating pans

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon chili powder

½ teaspoon smoked sweet paprika 

1 bunch kale, stems discarded and leaves torn into 2-inch pieces

1   Heat oven to 325°F.

2  Combine all ingredients except kale in the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth, scraping down sides as needed. Distribute kale between 2 lightly oiled baking sheets. Use your fingers to lightly coat each kale chip with nut mixture.

3   Bake until crispy, 15 to 17 minutes, tossing once. (They will continue to crisp as they cool.) Store remaining nut mixture covered in fridge for up to a week.

GREEN LEMONADE

Serves 2

2 cups kale, stems discarded

2 lemons, peeled

2 large apples, cored

Blend all ingredients in a powerful blender with 1 cup water until smooth, adding an additional cup of water as needed. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer. (Or push all ingredients through a juicer.)

NOTE: Change the color to red by replacing the kale with beets. During cold and flu season, be sure to add a chunk of ginger to the mix.

Caribbean Chicken Wrap

Adapted from Chef Larry Eels, Hyatt Regency Orlando

Makes 16 slices

1 (15.5-ounce) can low-sodium black beans

1 tablespoon tomato juice, more as needed

1 teaspoon lime juice

1 tablespoon minced cilantro

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 (14-inch) whole-grain flour tortillas

1 pound leftover roast chicken, cut into strips

Large red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and cut into strips

Ripe mango, peeled and cut into strips

Ripe avocado, peeled and cut into strips    

1  Drain beans and reserve about half of liquid. Puree beans in a blender with some reserved liquid until smooth; add tomato juice, lime juice and cilantro, adding more liquid a bit at a time, to form a smooth paste. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

2  Spread black bean paste in a single thin layer over entire tortilla. On the bottom half, closest to you, lay one row each of the chicken, peppers, mango and avocado.  Roll over it once and squeeze tightly. Repeat the rows and roll over the filling again and continue rolling until the tortilla is rolled up. Wrap the roll tightly in plastic wrap, twisting ends to seal.

3  Refrigerate roll overnight, and up to 3 days. When ready to serve, unwrap and cut desired amount of slices on an angle with a sharp knife. The remainder can be rewrapped and refrigerated for another lunch.

4  Pack with a side of jerk sauce, jarred salsa or even ranch dressing.

NOTE: Wrapping the roll tightly will keep the avocado from turning brown in the fridge. For a vegan version, try slices of firm tofu or tempeh.

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OATMEAL COOKIES

Makes 2 dozen 

4½ cups old-fashioned oats (not instant), divided

¼ cup flax meal

2 teaspoons baking powder

1½ teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup coconut oil or vegetable oil

1 cup mashed sweet potato or canned pumpkin puree

½ cup pure maple syrup

¼ packed brown sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1  Heat oven to 350°.

2  In a food processor or blender, add 2½ cups oats and process into a very fine meal, then add flax, baking powder, cinnamon and salt and pulse until combined. Add oil, mashed potato, syrup, sugar and vanilla and process until combined.

3  Transfer mixture to a bowl and stir in remaining oats. Drop golf ball–sized mounds onto parchment paper–lined baking sheets, and flatten each with the palm of your hand; they will not spread while baking. 

4  Bake until golden brown at edges, about 15 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes on baking sheets before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

NOTE: These vegan, wheat- and nut-free cookies can double as both breakfast and dessert. Try adding raisins or even chocolate chips for a special treat.

OB_2014_2The healthiest school lunches are often the simplest. Stock up on these basics and let your kids pack their own lunch by picking one or two from each group.

HEALTHY GRAINS

  • whole grain bread
  • corn tortillas
  • whole grain crackers
  • homemade granola

HEARTY PROTEINS

  • nut or sunflower seed butter
  • cheese slices or sticks
  • hummus
  • plain yogurt
  • hard-boiled eggs
  • nitrate-free lunch meat

RAW FRUITS AND VEGGIES

  • citrus wedges
  • grape tomatoes
  • strawberries
  • baby seedless cucumbers
  • carrot sticks
  • sugar snap or snow peas
  • edamame
  • pears
  • mini sweet peppers
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