Quick Back-to-School Lunches for Traditional Cooks

The following post is from Kate of Modern Alternative Mama:

source: Meneer Zjeroen

In most areas, it’s about time to go back to school.  We’re not exactly in “back to school” mode ourselves, because my oldest is only 4 1/2, and we’re homeschooling.  But we are planning to start kindergarten this year, I have a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, oh — and we’re expecting baby #4 in March.  We need quick lunches that can go with us as much as anyone else does!

Some people are okay with buying the little packages of meals at the store.  You know, your standard white-bread-and-bologna sandwich with a package of chips or crackers and a juice box.  It’s what I grew up on.  But those who are into real food — and especially traditional food — aren’t going to find a lot of pre-made options out there.

Still, you want to save time.   What to do?

Quick, At-Home Options

These options are better off at home, because they’re messier and/or require a bit of cooking.  They’re great if you have a few minutes to slip into the kitchen while your children are working on something, then ignore for 10 minutes and lunch is served!  Good, in other words, for moms of younger kids or homeschooling families.

Pita Pizzas — I make a double or triple batch of pitas all at once (it’s a bit time-consuming) and freeze them.  It’s 5 minutes of prep to add sauce, cheese, and any other toppings (often times I don’t bother), and it’s customizable.  I have a kid who doesn’t like tomato sauce — no big deal, I leave it off hers (I use olive oil instead).  10 minutes in the oven, and they’re done.  These can be served with fresh fruit slices or home-canned fruits, and a salad or fresh veggies and dip.

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup — If you’ve canned tomato soup, that’s a no-brainer: just open the jar.  If not, you can still use some tomato puree and quickly sauteed onion to make some.  It can cook for 10 minutes while you make the sandwiches.  We like to use sourdough and cheddar for ours.

Cheesy Potatoes — These need awhile to bake, but you can put them together the night before and stick them in the fridge.  Lay a slice of uncured ham on top, or some chicken legs or breasts, sprinkled with a bit of salt and onion powder.  It takes one minute to stick it in the oven.  I like to steam some broccoli to go alongside.

Baked Potatoes — Stick these in the oven an hour before lunch and ignore.  Serve with butter, real bacon bits, steamed broccoli, sour cream, chives…really whatever you like.  You can even serve with leftover chili, if you have some on hand.

Taco Salad — This is one of my kids’ favorites.  It takes just a few minutes to brown the meat and add homemade taco seasoning.  Serve with corn chips, lettuce, salsa (fresh or home-canned, depending on the season), guacamole or avocado slices, raw cheese, sour cream, etc.  Black or pinto beans are yummy and cheap and can stretch this meal, and you can choose to add rice, too, if you want.  Everyone customizes their own, and you could keep all the toppings pre-cut in the fridge for a couple days of quick meals.  If you prepare these in the morning, these can go with you, too.

Veggie-Meat Pasta — I use my surprise spaghetti sauce for this (it’s really packed with nutrition!).  I make a big batch and keep it on hand.  Then, all I have to do is quickly cook the pasta.  Brown rice pasta is good, or you can choose to bake a spaghetti squash if you’re grain-free or just don’t want to use pasta.  My kids actually love the squash option.  With the sauce on hand, this lunch comes together in minutes.  If you make it ahead of time (that is, the pasta too), and don’t mind cold pasta, this one can go with you.

Quesadillas — Grab a tortilla (ideally, homemade…do a big batch in advance) and add some cheese, leftover meat (if you want), and veggies.  It takes a few minutes to heat through, and that’s it.  Serve with guacamole, sour cream, and/or salsa.

Pizza Balls – Make a big batch of these and reheat them in 10 minutes — so simple!  Serve with tomato sauce for dipping.

Philly Cheesesteak Pockets — Vary the veggies, meats, and cheeses in here for any type of easy, hot, pocket-style sandwich!

source: Br3nda

On-The-Go Options

While we are often at home for lunch, there are days that homeschooling takes us on field trips, or we just plain have a play date.  Many of you are probably needing to pack healthy lunches.  Here are some great ideas for these times.

Leftovers — If you don’t mind eating them cold, pack whatever you had for dinner the previous night for lunch.  Cold fried chicken, cold mashed potatoes, cold pasta…whatever.  If it’s a soup (and made with homemade stock that might ‘gel’), heat it up and put it in a thermos to go.

Hard-boiled Eggs — Make some hard-boiled pastured eggs and send them in a lunch box.  They’re easy and fun for most kids, and very nutritious.

Nut-Butter Sandwiches — I make my own soaked, dried nut butters (because my kids can’t eat nuts if I don’t do this) and put them on homemade bread.  If your kids aren’t a fan of bread or you’re trying to cut back on sandwiches, send along fruit and veggie slices to dip into the nut butter instead.

Banana Muffins — These are grain-free and packed with protein (not to mention low-sugar).  They make a great snack or part of lunch.

Sausage Balls — These are actually really good cold.  Add a small cup of tomato sauce for dipping if you like (and know your kid won’t make a big mess with it!).

Salad — Not all kids will eat salad, I know.  Mine do.  Sometimes it’s a matter of adding items they really want.  Try adding some beans, meat, cheese, crispy nuts, etc.  Send the dressing on the side so they can dip or pour as they like, and so it doesn’t make the salad all watery by lunch time.

Fruit — Send whole, fresh fruit (bananas, apples, oranges, grapes, cherries, blueberries, etc.), or cut fruit, or canned fruit (preferably home-canned).

Cheese Cubes — My kids are all big fans of these.  I cut up cheddar or mozzarella or whatever cheese I have on hand into small cubes and add them to their plates at lunch time.  These can go to school, the park, or anywhere.  You could even cut a couple pounds at once and freeze them for later.  Sometimes I splurge and buy whole milk mozzarella string cheese, which they also love.

Pigs-in-a-Blanket – These are a perpetual favorite.  I love them heated with ketchup, or cold and plain.  It doesn’t really matter.  Make a big batch of these and freeze them, too.  Choose nitrate-free hot dogs for the healthiest option.  (If you don’t love the hot dog option, the bread is a soaked crescent roll recipe and you could fill with cream cheese, jelly, other other types of meat too!)

Hopefully that’s a lot of ideas to get you started.  Most days we’ll be eating one or more of the above options!  Speaking of which, I need to get my meal plan together and start soaking dough so I can have more of these on hand….

What’s your favorite quick lunch option?

Kate is a wife and mommy to 3 and is passionate about God, health and food. She has written 7 cookbooks and is planning to release more in 2012. When she’s not blogging, she’s in the kitchen, sewing, or home schooling her children. You can find her at Modern Alternative Mama or contributing to Keeper of the Home.