If your children hate sandwiches but love Cheerios and pancakes, give them what they want in their lunchboxes. Many breakfast foods are healthy, portable, and easy to prepare — in other words, perfect for packing. In the right combinations and with a few twists, they make fun and satisfying lunches. Here are a few ideas:
Mini Bagels: Most kids have enjoyed bagels from the time they were allowed to teethe on them. Use this familiar breakfast item to deliver nutritious filling combinations including cream cheese and jam; avocado, tomato and a strip or two of bacon; or peanut butter and banana. For freshness and convenience, preslice bagels and keep them in a zipper-lock bag in the freezer. Remove them as you need them to make sandwiches. They’ll defrost on the countertop and, at school, throughout the morning so they’ll be ready to eat at lunch.
Oatmeal: The nutritional benefits of oatmeal — which contains protein, fiber and plenty of vitamins and minerals — are well-known. If your child likes it in the morning, he or she will like it at noon, especially if it is supplemented with milk, berries or chopped fruit, nuts and just a little bit of a favorite sweetener, such as brown sugar or honey. Pack the oatmeal in a good thermal container that you’ve preheated with some boiling water, so it stays warm until lunch. Pack fruit, nuts and sweeteners in separate containers. They’ll be more appetizing this way and are fun to mix in, along with some milk available in the lunch room.
Eggs: It’s not practical to pack a plate of scrambled eggs. Instead, whisk some eggs together with chopped frozen spinach, or any other omelet filling your child enjoys (ham and cheese, mushrooms and sausage, peppers and onions are all good), and bake in muffin tins. Egg muffins will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer, and are delicious and nutritious when eaten cold from the lunchbox.
Cereal and Yogurt: It’s not a crime to pack cereal for lunch, and have your child add milk at school. Nor is it against the law to send yogurt. Kick it up a notch by using your child’s favorite whole grain cereal to make cereal bars, adding nuts for extra protein. As an accompaniment, whirl up a smoothie in the blender with fruit, yogurt and some ice cubes to keep it cold in a thermos. Don’t forget the straw.
Waffles: Mini frozen waffles are a fun substitute for bread. Pack a couple in a container with dividers, along with some ham and cheese and let your child put together mini sandwiches with these ingredients. Include some mustard or maple syrup in a small container for dipping.
Keeping Food Safe
Bacteria proliferate at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees. To avoid food poisoning, make sure your child’s food stays cold or hot until lunch.
Perishable items such as eggs, milk, yogurt and lunch meat will not only taste better when kept cool, but will be safe to eat. When it makes sense, refrigerate or freeze items before packing so they are already cold. If there is a refrigerator in your child’s classroom, make sure his or her lunch winds up inside it. Invest in an insulated lunch box and a few ice packs to keep in the freezer. Throw two frozen ice packs into the lunch box along with food and it will stay at a safe temperature of 40 degrees for several hours.
To keep hot items hot, fill an insulated food container with boiling water and let stand for a few minutes. Pour the water out, place well-heated food inside the warmed container, and seal immediately.
1⁄2 cup frozen blueberries
1⁄2 cup plain yogurt
3 or 4 ice cubes
Combine banana, blueberries, yogurt and ice in a blender and blend until smooth. Transfer to a thermos to keep cold for up to 5 hours. Makes 1 serving.
MAPLE-WALNUT CEREAL BARS
3 cups plain unsweetened toasted oat cereal (like Cheerios)
3⁄4 cup chopped walnuts
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1⁄4 cup light brown sugar
1⁄4 cup pure maple syrup
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄8 teaspoon cinnamon
1. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Spray bottom and sides with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Combine the cereal and nuts in a large bowl.
2. Combine butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, salt and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue to boil for 1 minute, then immediately pour over the cereal and nuts and stir to coat.
3. Pour into the prepared pan, pressing down with a rubber spatula. Let cool completely and break into pieces. Wrap individual pieces in plastic wrap and store in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Makes 10 to 12 pieces.
SPINACH, GOAT CHEESE AND EGG MUFFINS
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small shallot, minced
1 (9-ounce) box chopped frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
Ground black pepper
5 large eggs, separated
3 ounces crumbled goat cheese
1⁄4 cup milk
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the spinach and cook, stirring, to warm through. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.
3. With an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. In another bowl, whisk together the yolks, goat cheese, milk and cooked vegetables. Gently fold the whites into the yolks.
4. Spoon the egg mixture into the prepared muffin tin. Bake until the muffins are risen and golden on top, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer the muffin tin to a wire rack and let the muffins cool in the tin for 7 to 10 minutes (they will deflate a little). Run a sharp paring knife around each muffin and then use a thin metal spatula to remove them from the cups. Cool completely.
5. Cooled muffins will keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 2 days, in the freezer for 2 weeks. Pack frozen and let defrost in the lunchbox. Eat cold. Makes 12 muffins.