Sandwiches. By the time I’d graduated from high school, I never wanted to see one again.
We have a great hot lunch program at Michael’s school, but when he first started, he was such a picky eater, I knew there wasn’t much point signing him up, because he’d only eat half what was presented to him. Still, today, he can’t handle anything even remotely spicy, so we’ll probably continue to pack lunches for him every day.
Here are some ideas for back to school lunches for both yourself and the kidlets, that go beyond boring sandwiches.
Leftovers: whatever you make for dinner the night before, make extra, and send it in for lunch the next day. I do this with pasta, or I’ll make a big soup on the weekends, and I do it with pizza night, as well.
Wraps & rolls: I’ll often take a tortilla, and spread a little mayo and mustard on. Then, I’ll lay down some sliced meat, grate some cheese, add some lettuce, olives, salt and pepper. I roll it up, and slice it in half. You may need a toothpick to hold it together… Michael also likes peanut butter and banana sushi.
Salad in a Jar: I now make these for my lunches, and Michael likes them too!
Bentos: kids like finger food. Bentos are great for that, because they keep all the foods separate. You can literally build them a four-food-group lunch with bentos, but putting something from each food group in each of the little containers. Michael likes cucumbers and ranch dressing, so bentos are also perfect for that. You could make your own version of Lunchables with crackers and cheese and a little meat and some fruit and/or veg. You may find bento boxes at your local dollar store, or check out Raspberry Kids. Check out this post for some ideas about what to pack in your bento.
Food safety: Michael has a dual-compartment lunchbox: one for cold and one for regular. I also have a wide-mouth thermos for him for hot foods. You can buy little cold packs at the dollar store to keep cold things cold, or freeze juice boxes or small bottles of water for dual purposes.
I must confess, I don’t actually like salad all that terribly much. Say what you want, but making a peanut-butter sandwich or grabbing some cheese and crackers is a much speedier lunch for me when I’m working, rather than going through all the washing, peeling and chopping to make a salad. And then, there’s always a tinge of dissatisfaction when I’m done eating a salad. And I’m often hungry again a couple hours later.
In order for me to really enjoy a salad and feel satisfied by it, it needs to have protein (to last me longer), texture, and sweetness. It needs to be complex. Hearty. A pile of lettuce with a few shredded veg on top ain’t gonna cut it.
The solution to all my dilemmas exists in 4 words: Salad in a Jar. Now, Salad in a Jar is the Pinterest phenomenon that’s been around for at least a couple of years. But for some reason (probably because I’m not turned on by salads), I never tried one until a couple of weeks ago. But now I’m hooked.
It answers all my problems: issues of time, money, satisfaction, and healthy eating can all be solved by Salad in a Jar.
Here’s how: you book some time on Sunday (it’ll probably take you less than an hour), and put together five of these things for the week. Then, they just live in the fridge, and every day, on your way out the door, you grab one. You have two options: you can pour your salad into a large bowl at work, or you can shake the bejesus out of it in the jar (to distribute the dressing) and eat it straight from the jar. Either one works, although the bowl option is more elegant and easier to eat, while the straight-from-the-jar option is more convenient, as you can eat it anywhere. It’s entirely up to you.
Here’s how to build the ultimate Salad in a Jar.
Lettuce: I like romaine or green leaf. Iceberg… not so much ($1.29).
Vegetables: whatever you like. You get to decide. I like carrots ($1.99), cucumbers ($1.29), sweet grape tomatoes ($2), and sugar snap peas ($1.67).
Grains: grains are awesome to add to your salad for texture, but also for some much-needed B-vitamins and for extra fibre. You can use cooked quinoa (about $5/bag), barley (less than $2/bag), buckwheat groats, or bulgur. Any of these is likely available in bulk quite inexpensively, a week’s worth should only cost you about $2-3.
Protein: I need protein! A salad alone won’t keep me going. I like to add hard-boiled eggs ($1.89 for 1/2 dozen), some canned tuna ($.99), canned chickpeas ($.89), or even leftover cooked chicken or shrimp.
Something sweet: I like fruit in mine to give the salad a sweetness. You can either use a dried fruit, like apricots, dates, cranberries or raisins ($2-4/per package), or fresh, seasonal fruit, like sliced strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, figs, or peaches (which are all selling for $2-3 per package right now).
Something crunchy: while the vegetables themselves certainly have a crunch, I like nuts or something to give my salad a textural component. You could use any kind of nuts or seeds, lightly toasted, or tortilla chips (bought or homemade). Roasted chickpeas would also be good. While nuts can be expensive, seeds, like pumpkin can be bought for less than $2/per bag, or you can simply buy at a bulk store, and pay less than $5.
Cheese. Yeah. I need cheese. The end. It adds both protein and creamy mouth-feel. You should be able to get enough cheese for a week’s worth for $3-5.
Dressing. Use your store-bought favourite, or make your own. (about $2.50)
If you’re careful, you should be able to purchase all the ingredients you need for your week’s worth of salads for $20. That’s $4 per lunch! Awesome.
When it comes to jars, you have a few options. I like the 1 litre Bernardin Wide Mouth Jars. You can buy a dozen for $13.99 at Canadian Tire, or you can try your luck at the Sally Ann or Value Village. Another option is Dollar Stores. I saw some cute 750 ml wide-mouth snap-top glass jars at my local Dollar Tree for $1.50 each. What’s important is that it’s big enough to hold a hearty salad, and has a tight-fitting lid.
1. Start by doing any cooking or toasting you need to do, to let hot things get as cool as possible before building your salads. Hard-boil eggs, toast seeds or nuts, and cook your grains.
2. Next do vegetable prep: cut and wash and spin dry your lettuce. Slice or shred your vegetables. Grate your cheese. Wash and chop your fruit.
3. Once everything is prepped, you’re ready to assemble. Line up your jars, and start by putting a couple tablespoons of dressing in the bottom of each one. This is incredibly important, because this is how your salad stays crisp. Then layer in your ingredients starting from the hearty to the more delicate. First up: hearty vegetables: carrots, peas, cucumbers. The next layer is grains. The next layer is cheese, and then proteins. You can also keep the proteins separate, and just throw them in at the last minute, if that makes you more comfortable. Now add your sweet fruits, tomatoes, and your textural component. Your jar should now be about halfway full. Fill the rest of the jar with lettuce.
4. Screw or snap on the lid on tight, and store them in the fridge until ready to eat. That’s it! You just saved time and money, and you have a delicious, healthy lunch for every day this week.
What’s your favourite Salad in a Jar recipe? I’d love to hear in the comments section below.