For me the act of bringing a bag lunch to work used to ebb and flow like the tide.
I’d start the work week with the best intentions. Sunday nights I’d tell myself I’d pack my lunch every day to save time, countless calories and money. But that usually lasted about, oh, a day or two.
One obstacle was that I worked within walking distance of multiple restaurants serving grub that was far more interesting than the stuff I’d packed. It was way too easy for me to choose an alternative.
As chief lunch-packer at our house, even when I’m planning ahead, I’m less than realistic about what the significant other and I will actually eat.
Last week I thought I was doing great by making a Paul Bunyan-size pot of vegetable soup. I figured that would be a no-brainer – until day three when we were both souped out.
So from me to you, with a little help from J. M. Hirsch, author of “Beating the Lunch Box Blues,” here are a few brown bag tips that might make you or any pint-sized tummy happy come midday.
Bologna sandwich ad nauseam?
According to Hirsch, a working dad, a creative frame of mind is your best weapon against dull lunches. He suggests there’s nothing wrong with re-purposing dinner leftovers into lunch for yourself or the kids the next day. By making more than you need at dinner, you have something to work with in the morning.
But I’m not talking about just any random joining of bread and meat.
For a quick barbecue chicken sandwich, Hirsch tosses leftover chicken with bottled barbecue sauce, heats it in the microwave and packs it into a thermos with a bun on the side. This nifty trick works with grilled meats or leftover meatballs.
Roasted vegetables are easily transformed the next morning into gazpacho by combining them with canned tomato soup. Leftover rice can be turned into fried rice and served in a Thermos.
It helps to experiment with different types of sandwich breads like pitas, mini-bagels, tortilla wraps and English muffins. Even if your child only likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, try smearing the two spreads between leftover pancakes or frozen waffles and see what happens.
Other simple but contemporary ideas from Hirsch include peanut butter or other nut butter spread over a whole-wheat tortilla, topped with a whole banana and strips of apple or pear, and then rolled up.
If it’s possible, let the eater be part of the lunch-making process, whether it’s at the grocery store or in the kitchen. It’s harder to complain when they’ve packed the lunch themselves.
With three daughters and now grandchildren, I’ve put together a lot of lunches over the years. A lot of lunches. What I learned was what works for a 6-year-old, may not satisfy the same kid at 10. And it definitely won’t delight a teenager. Well, actually nothing does, so don’t even try.
Lynn Kessel is a freelance food columnist. For more of her recipes, visit southshore.tbo.com and enter the search words Lynn Kessel.
Smashed White Bean and Avocado Sandwich
2 15-ounce cans white beans, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 slices multigrain bread
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 cucumber, thinly sliced
2 avocados, pitted and thinly sliced
5 ounces arugula or sprouts
Combine the beans, olive oil and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Roughly mash until it all comes together but is still a little chunky. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Divide the bean mixture among four slices of the bread, spreading in a single layer. Top each with some red onion, sliced cucumber, avocado, and arugula or sprouts. Season with additional salt and pepper. Top with the remaining slices of bread and serve.
Yield: 4 sandwiches.
Source: Adapted from www.realsimple.com.