I remember feeling satisfied with a rotating menu of PB & J and turkey or chicken sandwiches packed inside my sturdy tin lunchbox when my mom used to pack school lunches for me back in the 1970s. There is something very comforting for a child about sitting down in a big bustling lunchroom and unpacking a taste of home that was made with care and love by Mom or Dad.
Now that I’m a parent, I pack a little bit of my heart each day along with the good nutrition and flavors in Solomon and Celia’s lunch bags. Perhaps because I cook something new almost every night at home in the course of my recipe testing, our kids are used to a lot of variety. Consequently, I often pack leftovers from the previous night’s dinner for their lunches. I know the kids are getting something healthy and homemade, and I love that my dinners do double duty.
Lots of dinners can be turned into tomorrow’s lunches. Solomon and Celia are delighted when I pack things like:
Leftover pasta or pizza
Cooked meats like chicken, meatloaf, or steak (save little condiment packages from takeout food to use as dips.)
Soup, stew, or chili packed in a thermos (to keep the food hot for hours, we first fill the thermos with boiling water for about 10 minutes, then empty the water and fill the thermos with the hot food.)
Black beans and rice or other rice salads such as the Saffron Rice and Bean Salad below. (Tortilla chips or a whole wheat tortilla are great accompaniments for this.)
For more ideas for healthy school lunches, I shared 30 ideas in my recent
Six O’Clock Scramble blog post.
This delicious and kid-friendly recipe, originally from my college roommate Christine Richards (who is now a family doctor in Wisconsin), tastes divine, and is so colorful that it brightens up any meal. You can also make it heartier by adding cooked shrimp or chopped turkey sausage to the salad.
Recipe: Saffron Rice and Bean Salad
10 oz. yellow (saffron or Mexican) rice
15 oz. canned black beans, drained and rinsed
6 plum or Roma tomatoes, diced
1/2 red onion, finely diced (about 1 cup total)
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar, or more to taste
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, or more to taste
1/2 cup fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley, chopped (optional)
Cook the rice according to the package directions.
While the rice cooks, put the beans, tomatoes, and onions in a large serving bowl. Add the warm rice to the bowl, and top it with the vinegar, oil, and cilantro or parsley (optional). Toss it thoroughly. Serve the salad warm or cold, wrapped in warm tortillas if desired. (The salad can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)
Preparation and Cooking time:
Number of servings (yield): 6, about 1 3/4 cups
What are your kids’ leftovers to bring to school or daycare for lunch? Please share in the comments below.