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Sunday, 2 September 2012

Send Your Love In A Lunch Box - Back to School Lunch Box Planner

Back to School Lunch Box Planner

The past week had been all about getting the kids in the mood for school. Creating back to school excitement, is not easy especially when the kids grow enough to understand that school means routine and work, while vacations are all about doing fun things! So we try... we take them to choose fun school gadgets, the bags, fun pens and pencils, cool shoes and trainers, the uniforms... and what have you... I remember when I was a student, this was the most fun part of the going back to school and readjusting to routine bit. But somehow today's kids are not as easy to please. It seems that if the pen has no buttons to click, no HD screen, or a smart option where it writes what you say, the children are simply not interested!!

'A pencil is lame mum" my son told me as we shopped! "Why do we need a pencil, when we can swipe on an iPad?"... I can understand where they come from in the sense that this is what they are growing with. Life is different. For us, no such option was available, and therefore such conversation was non-existent! How do you convince a child with iPads, iPods, PlayStation, Smart TVs, and all things electronic and smart that a pencil is important? Their whole perspective is very different from ours that an ordinary conversation and our for granted thoughts are simply not animated enough! Therefore, not interesting, lame and make no sense!

It is in the Lunch box that I found refuge from all the smart conversations. I am glad that we do not look for a talking apple, or a battery charged piece of cheese to make the lunch box interesting! And I am hoping that such day is not upon us anytime soon. Because if the cow was to become a smart dispensing machine, then we are in trouble! If we will feed on an electronic swipe bread that needs not be ingested, and goes straight through to our brain we will become idle to say the least! And if food was no longer a necessity as part of our social existence, then what would keep the notion that people are social? Virtual realities and social networks?! I am glad that somethings remain good. I am glad in this sense that we have the non-so-smart lunch box!

The lunch box, is to many parents a stressful part of the school routine. 'What shall I put in the lunch box?', 'They never eat the food!', 'Looking for new ideas to keep the lunch box interesting.'.... For that reason, a couple of years ago, I wrote an article for DubaiKidz.biz E-zine as part of their back to school special. In this article I have put together a 5-day planner for the lunch box. I have put down a collection of recipes that are very easy to make and convenient as in, they can be made ahead, frozen and reheated when needed. I have also included tips on how to keep the kids interested in the food in their lunch box, so that they actually eat it. I have decided to share that article with you here this year, because like the pencil argument, good food is important and the lunch box is a very good place to start reinforcing this thought. Instead of always going for the packaged, coloured, all-attractive processed foods, it is very important to teach kids the importance of home-made food. The goodness of good quality and natural foods. As well as the the importance of choosing healthy foods over the packaged, colourful, processed and high in sugar counterparts. So where do we start?

Lunch Box General Guidelines 
  • Keep it Balanced   
You need to make sure to include a balanced meal and snack for your kids to enjoy at school. Balanced means including all food types, focusing on vitamins & proteins, and less on fatty & sugary foods.

  • Keep them Hydrated  
Water is essential, and so is a bit of juice. Juice keeps kids stay hydrated and also provides for energy needed to carry on through the day. Opt for natural juices that have no added sugar.
(Sugary foods ruin kids palates, making the natural sugars in fruits not sweet enough for them and therefore always choosing confections for sweet instead.)

  • Pay Attention to Presentation  
Kids are drawn to colours & shapes. Take the extra step and use cookie cutters for instance to cut out sandwiches. Make sure that their lunch looks visually as appealing as processed foods are.
  • Prepare small finger foods   
Children prefer smaller size foods. They do not like diving into huge portions, or messy food for that matter. So keep it small, less messy and fast to eat. Remember they have to juggle eating and playing at break time. They are most certainly going to choose playing over eating. If their meal does not require a lot of work, time and effort to enjoy, then they are most likely to have it all. However, if eating their food is going to mean missing out on playing, to sit and spoon feed themselves, they are most likely to skip it. 

Guaranteed success – there are 2 ways to guarantee lunch box success: 
  1. Let the kids choose   Give them some options and have them choose what they like. Children are more likely to eat their food if they are not surprised, and if they were in on deciding. Discussing the options with them ahead of time, means they know what to expect, and therefore will eat their choice. 
  2. The ‘Something New’ approach  Make a deal with your child to include ‘Something Old/ Familiar’ that they really like, if they promise to have ‘Something New’ that you choose. This is a good approach for getting your children to try new food. Go easy on them, and introduce new flavours, realistically and gradually.
For more on raising kids with healthy eating habits and positive attitudes towards food, please press this link to my 'Parents Guide for Healthy Eating'. With all these tips and guidelines, you are definitely going to see results. Add a message in the lunch box like “Enjoy :) - Love You :) - I am Proud of You :) - Yummy :) ...etc” and you will be reminding your child how much you love them.

Dima's 5-day Lunch Box Meal Planner

This is my suggested 5-day lunch box Meal Planner, which you can use as is, or use as a guideline and a reference. Feel free to to mix and match and go for options that you know your kids love and enjoy. In this planner I have included 9 recipes that are popular with kids for you to try out, hoping that lunch boxing will become an enjoyable activity rather than a dreadful chore! All these recipes are simple to prepare and do not require much effort. They are good enough to serve at lunch for the rest of the family, which takes that off your backs too!

The Recipes ...

Simple Pizzas  
Cut through large burger buns and separate bottoms & tops. Spread with 1 tsp ready-made pizza or tomato sauce. Top with black olives, sliced fresh mushrooms. Sprinkle with Oregano and top with shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake in preheated oven till cheese is melted. You can add any sliced vegetables to this pizza for a vegetarian delight. You can even add shreds of chicken, chopped salami, chopped turkey...etc for a meaty pizza.

Egg Rolls
To make 2 egg rolls, in a small bowl, beat 2 eggs add 1 tbsp milk or cream, add chopped chives or dried oregano. Sprinkle with salt & little black pepper. Heat 1 tsp butter in a skillet, and add ½ egg mixture, spread like would a crepe or pancake. Cover and cook till cooked through. As soon as egg is cooked through transfer to a plate, top with turkey & shredded cheese, and roll. Repeat with the remaining half.

Chicken Spring Rolls
Make chicken filling: heat 2 tsp vegetable oil, add 1 crushed clove of garlic, 2 green onions finely chopped and stir until softened but not browned, add1 small carrot shredded finely (optional) and 150g chicken mince and stir. Cook till chicken is cooked through. 
Place 1 tbsp across 1 square spring roll sheet. Tuck sides in and roll out. Deep fry or oven bake rolls until lightly browned, drain. Serve with ketchup or sweet & sour sauce. 
You can prepare ahead, by preparing the rolls and filling them, then freezing them, till needed. Fry or bake the quantities needed only. 

Sausage Rolls
Use cocktail sausages for this recipe. Cut 2 ready-rolled puff pastry sheets in half lengthways. Cut squares big enough to cover a cocktail sausage. Place sausage in the middle of square, brush one side of pastry with beaten eggs and roll pastry to cover the sausage. 
Line a baking sheet with baking paper, spray lightly with oil. Place prepared rolls on baking sheet and brush tops with beaten eggs. Bake in preheated oven (400 F) till golden. Serve with ketchup.

Mini Chicken Pies 
Worth all the little extra work!! Preheat oven to 375F. in a saucepan combine 200g chicken breast fillets with 1 ½ cups chicken stock. Cook, covered about 10 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Remove from heat, reserve ¾-cup stock, and chop the chicken finely. 
In a saucepan, melt 1 tbsp butter, add 1 medium onion, finely chopped, and 1 celery stalk, finely chopped. Cook until soft. Add 1 tbsp plain flour and stir to mix. Gradually add stock stir till boiled and thickened. Add chicken and chopped parsley, and stir 1 tbsp cream. Let cool. Grease 2 (12-hole) muffin pans. Cut 48 rounds (about 6 cm diameter) from 6 ready rolled puff pastry sheets. Press 24 rounds into each of the muffin tin holes. Divide chicken mixture into them. Brush cases with eggs and top with the remaining 24 rounds and press edges with fork to seal. Cut a small cross on top of each mini pie to allow steam to get out. Bake for 25 minutes or until browned. 
Can be frozen and reheated.

Sheppard Pie
The same as the chicken pies, except change the filling. 
For Sheppard’s Pie filling: in a saucepan, heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil , add 1 medium onion, finely chopped, and 1 clove of garlic, crushed. Cook till soft but not browned. Add 300g minced meat and cook stirring occasionally until browned all over. Add 1 can peeled chopped tomatoes, chopped fresh parsley, 1 tbsp tomato paste and 1 small cup of chicken stock. Cover the pan and bring to the boil then simmer for 15 minutes. Uncover, and cook for a few minutes until liquids reduce. 
Transfer to blender and blend ever so lightly (to give the meat a smoother texture that is more appealing with toddlers). Divide the mixture between the pastry cases as in chicken pie. Top with boiled potatoes & carrots (finely chopped). Top all with pastry round. And continue as in Chicken pies.

Zaatar & Cheese Swirls 
Zaatar can be bought in most supermarkets at the herbs section. You can use cheddar cheese or parmesan & mozzarella cheese for the cheese swirls. 
Preheat the oven to 375 F, cover a baking sheet with baking paper & spray lightly with oil. Brush a ready rolled puff pastry sheet with olive oil. Sprinkle top with zaatar or cheese or both and roll into a large sausage. Cut the roll into circles. Place the circles, swirl side up onto prepared baking sheet , press lightly to show swirls. Brush tops with little olive oil. Bake till puffed and golden. 
Store in an air-tight container.

Chocolate Dipped Fruits
Melt some chocolate over double boiler, but do not over heat. Once melted remove from heat, and stir to cool for 3 minutes. Dip desired fruits ½ way through in melted chocolate and place on baking paper sheet to dry. You can sprinkle dipped fruits with desiccated coconuts, or crushed cookies. Can be done with white, milk or dark chocolate.

Raisin cookies
The ingredients: 100g butter, 100g cream cheese, 100g caster sugar, 75g flour, handful raisins, 65g white chocolate chopped (optional). 

Preheat the oven 350 F. Top a baking sheet with baking paper & spray lightly with oil. 
In large bowl, cream butter & cream cheese together. Add sugar, and beat until fluffy. Gradually add the flour. Fold in raisins & chocolates if using. The dough will be soft. Drop heaped tsps of the mixture on to prepared baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes. 

Cool cookies on the sheet 5 minutes before removing. (you can substitute raisings with any dried fruits)

I hope that you have enjoyed this post, and that it will help you plan the lunch box meals for your kids in a more fun and exciting way. 

The Grown up's back to school Special
Learn all about your Kitchen & Cooking

Since it is back to school season, I did not want you to miss out. So staying in spirit, I have started posting a 'Kitchen Classified' Series on my facebook page, where I introduce you to your kitchens and basic cookery. From ingredients, to techniques, cooking methods, variations to even pots and pans, and different ovens...etc, all are explained there, one item at a time. So make sure to like my page and check it out regularly, am positive you will find the information useful and will help you tremendously in your kitchens. Don't forget to like and share ;)

As ever, I love to hear from you, so do leave me a comment before you go and drop by again for more kitchen fun...

Happy Lunch Boxing!