by Brenda Tan
SCHOOL lunch times have been in the news – why are our kids having their mid-day meal so late?
I’ve taken to preparing a packed lunch for my daughter. It takes me 10-15 minutes in the morning.
I invest in good thermal food containers that keep food hot or cold for a long period. I also plan a weekly menu so that I’m not usually stumped for what to cook for her. Moreover, this menu is a guide that gives me flexibility. If we have lots of leftover from dinner, I can simply reheat and pack it for her as lunch. I also take note of her favourite foods and what works well for her meal and what don’t, so that the meal can be refined.
Here are some tips and tricks, and recipes, for packing a lunchbox meal:
Tips for packing school lunch
Tip #1 – Prepare the food container
To ensure that the thermal food containers are at their optimal temperatures, put in boiling water and seal the container while cooking. Then, when the food is ready, pour away the water before putting the hot food into the container. Do likewise using ice cold water for cold foods.
Tip #2 – Calculate nutritional value over a whole day rather than in one meal
While I try to ensure that the lunch follows recommended food groups and servings, sometimes it’s difficult to do so with a packed meal. It’s easier to remember that if the kids do not get their serving of fruits and vegetables at lunch, they can do so in a snack when they get home.
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1. Japanese cold noodles with dipping sauce
My children’s number one favourite and very easy to make.
Soba noodles (or udon noodles)
Katsuo Atsukezuritsuyu (soba sauce)
- Cook the noodles in boiling water for about 5 minutes.
- Cool the noodles in ice water.
- Strain the cold noodles and put it into a cold food jar. Garnish with sesame seeds and cut seaweed.
- In a watertight container, dilute soba sauce with water.
- Kids can either dip the noodles in the sauce or pour the sauce over the noodles to eat.
I purchase the noodles and sauce from Daiso or from any Japanese supermarket.
2. Fried rice
It’s easy to prepare the ingredients ahead and store it in the fridge. Cooking the fried rice takes only a few minutes and the rice keeps its heat very well for lunch as a balanced meal.
Leftover meat from dinner, diced (or marinated raw meat, diced)
Leftover vegetables from dinner, diced (or frozen vegetables)
1/2 onion, chopped
- Heat up oil in a frying pan and fry the chopped onions. If using raw meat, cook the meat when the frying onions turn fragrant.
- Add the rice and stir-fry to break the rice up. Add the leftover ingredients or the frozen vegetable. Fry and mix the ingredients well.
- Move the rice mix aside and crack the egg into the frying pan. Stir-fry the mix again and incorporate the egg.
- Add pepper and salt to taste.
- Put into a warm food jar.
A variation to fried rice would be to make rice pancakes. Leftover rice and frozen vegetables are mixed with eggs into a batter, with a little salt and pepper. The batter is spooned into small round pancakes on a hot frying pan to cook. When the rice-and-egg batter firms up, the pancake is flipped and is done.
3. Noodle soup
Noodle soup is easy to prepare ahead and delicious for lunch. The trick is to keep the soup hot in the thermal food jar and to add it to the noodles and vegetables when it is time to eat. My daughter found it easier to pour the hot soup into the noodles so I usually pack the noodles in a lunchbox that can accommodate the soup. This meal is good for older kids as it might be difficult for younger children to deal with hot soup.
Leftover soup broth from dinner or use chicken stock for the base
Slices of fish cake
Leafy vegetable like chye sim, cut into one-inch pieces
- Boil noodles and vegetables until cooked. Drain and put these in a lunchbox.
- If using chicken stock, fry some chopped onions and garlic before adding the stock to give the soup more flavour. Add the fishballs and fish cake slices. When the soup boils, pour it into a thermal food jar.
4. Spaghetti aglio olio
Another favourite of my kids, this only requires three basic ingredients:
Olive oil (enough to coat cooked spaghetti, about 2 tablespoons)
Minced garlic (usually half a teaspoon for one portion)
- Cook the spaghetti in water, with some salt and olive oil added.
- While the spaghetti is almost done, in a separate large frying pan, fry the minced garlic in the olive oil on medium heat until fragrant.
- Drain the spaghetti, leaving about 1 or 2 tablespoons of its water with the noodles.
- Add the spaghetti and water to the frying pan. Stir to combine well with the garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Depending on the kid’s request or whether I have the ingredients on hand, I sometimes add chopped tomato or mushrooms, or even bacon to the spaghetti.
5. Easy macaroni and cheese
Another family favourite, but for packed mac & cheese in the morning, I make a “cheater” version.
Elbow macaroni (or fusilli pasta or any kinds of pasta)
Cheddar cheese, 1 slice
- Measure how much pasta could fit into the container. Then pour enough evaporated milk to cover all the pasta. If you don’t have evaporated milk, just use plain milk. The evaporated milk gives a creamier texture to the mac & cheese. Pour out the pasta and milk into a microwave safe dish and heat it up for about 2 to 3 minutes. (You don’t have to fully cook the pasta as it will continue to cook in the thermal jar for the next 4 hours.)
- If you don’t have a microwave, just estimate the amount of pasta and evaporated milk you’ll need. Boil the pasta (using water) until it is semi-cooked. Drain it and then continue cooking the pasta in the evaporated milk.
- Add a slice of cheddar cheese to the dish and stir to mix well. If the milk dried out too fast, just add milk or water to the dish. Add salt and pepper, dried herbs like oregano or basil, to taste.
- If using the microwave, put the dish back into the microwave for another minute to melt the cheese. If using the stove, just make sure to stir the cheese into the pasta until it’s melted.
- Put the mac & cheese into a thermal jar for it to continue cooking.
Easy and healthy snacks
These are easily packed into small lunch boxes for the kid’s breaks:
- Nuts (eg. almond, peanuts, cashews). Buy in larger quantity. Pack the amount desired into the kid’s airtight lunch boxes to reduce waste.
- Fruits (eg. grapes, apple slices, blueberries, strawberries, cherry tomatoes, kiwi fruit, melon, bananas). Fruits tastes better if cooled and kept in a cold thermal jar. For small fruit items like grapes or blueberries, it may be faster for the kid to eat them if they are skewered on a food pick.
- Cooked chickpeas. I buy this in a can, drain the water and heat it up in a microwave with water and a stick of cinnamon. The chickpeas are then cooled before packing them into a lunch box.
- Vegetables (eg. celery sticks, carrot sticks, cucumber sticks, corn cup).
- Cheese sticks or cheese cubes. To ensure cheese keeps well, I usually put them in cold thermal jars.
- Hard-boiled eggs. To make it fun, I usually use an egg mould to shape the eggs.
- Sandwiches and buns. These are great stand-by for a quick snack box.
Read our other stories on primary school late lunches:
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