Cooking School

Easy lunch recipes: Let's do lunch

Author: Canadian Living

Cooking School

Easy lunch recipes: Let's do lunch

"Let's do lunch" can mean many things. But for most of us, preparing for that nourishing break can be a challenge. Whether packing up a satisfying lunch box for the kids, making sure a hungry teenager eats the right stuff or wrapping up something appealing to take to work, menus often need inspiration. So we've asked the experts for suggestions. Here's their array of dishes that everyone will look forward to and solve the what-to-pack-for-lunch dilemma.

Nutritious lunch box
• Please kids when they get tired of sandwiches and send hot pasta dishes in vacuum flasks. To boost nutrition, prepare the dish yourself using whole wheat pasta. Throw in some vegetables, such as tomatoes and celery, to liven up taste and add nutrients.

• Make cream-type soups richer by using milk instead of water. The added calcium is great for growing bones and healthy teeth.

• Boost nutrition in sandwiches by gradually switching to whole grain breads. Whole grains are an important source of fuel and a good source of needed fibre. Try adding more vegetables to the sandwiches, just like they do in the submarine shops.

• Switch to whole grain baked items, such as Mini Carrot Cranberry Muffins, instead of store-bought chocolate-covered bars and bakery items.

• Increase nutrition in drinks by packing beverages that are 100 per cent pure fruit juice or cold milk.

Page 1 of 5 -- Learn how to prepare lunch for the little ones on page 2

Lunch boxes for little ones
By Judy Scott Welden

So what's the state of today's lunches at school? After visiting schools in Ontario's North Simcoe area, here's what I learned. From veggies with dip to noodles in a cup, the foods kids want to eat can range from really good to very poor choices. Even worse, older kids may skip lunch altogether to save cash, calories and time. These are not wise decisions since studies show that to learn well kids need to eat well.

Creating the delicious and balanced lunches that growing kids need is easy. Include at least three selections from the four food groups in Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating: grain products, vegetables and fruit, milk products, and meat and alternatives. To help inspire you, we've asked students what their favourites are and here are the thumbs-up choices and easy ways to make them healthy. So get ready to make your grocery list while you read on.

Mixed Caesar Salad
Garlic breath is no problem for Jessica Lajner, who loves Caesar-style salad in her lunch once a week, along with a tortilla wrap stuffed with luncheon meat. Mom stays happy when Jessica rounds out her lunch with seedless grapes or a pear. To keep the tasty and nutritious salad fresh, pack the dressing on the side for kids to pour on at school. A portion of this salad is great to boost the day's vegetable intake.

Baked Macaroni, Tomatoes and Cheese
Before Codi Miles skateboards with the other boys at lunchtime, the Grade 5 student loves to open his lunch box and find fruit and leftover macaroni and cheese. Steaming hot pasta has the energy from complex carbohydrates that Codi, an active 11-year-old, needs — plus the cheese is a good source of calcium, an essential mineral crucial for growing children. Double the cheese, if you like. This recipe is simple to serve for supper, and leftovers make a great packed lunch the next day.

Salsa Wrap
Eleven-year-old Daniel Iurincic loves the special lunch wrap his dad invented. "My dad rips the top of the paper towel that holds my wrap so I'll know how to eat it," explains the soccer star. Roll the wrap as directed or just roll up as shown in the photo. Add yogurt and fruit salad to complete the lunch.

Mini Carrot Cranberry Muffins
Katie Zeitel, a Grade 1 student, works up quite an appetite skipping with her friends at lunchtime. One of her favourite treats is a store-bought chocolate chip muffin. During the past few years, many commercial muffins have become very large in size and are often high in fat. For children, a mini-size is more appropriate. Adding carrots to the batter is another way to eat vegetables that are a rich source of vitamins and minerals. You can sprinkle mini chocolate chips on top before baking.

Easy Homemade Pasta and Vegetable Soup
"I don't like sandwiches because they get stuck in my retainer and are hard to eat," says nine-year-old Tyler Grainger, who brings a vacuum flask filled with hot soup or pasta every day. Round out lunch with fruit and milk.

Page 2 of 5 -- Find recipes to cook for your growing teens on page 3

Teenage taste buds
By Earl Johnson

In February 2003 we published a story about chef Earl Johnson's cafeteria food at Gordon Bell High School in Winnipeg. Chef Earl's challenge - and he considers this the greatest challenge of his illustrious career — is to turn the 1,000 students' love of junk food into one of healthy, nutritious noontime breaks. We received so many requests from readers for chef Earl's recipes that we asked him to share some of his successes. Here is a selection, many of which reflect the ethnic diversity of his students. If the recipes work in Winnipeg, they're sure to get your kids off to a delicious start to a real-food lunch.

Potage Paysanne
When Earl Johnson first came to the school, he tempted students with sampler cups of soup. "I really had to push it in the beginning. I used to tell them it won't kill you! But now they trust me." This soup is one that encourages teens to eat a variety of vegetables.

Mexican Pork and Rice
Rice is a popular ingredient and menu item at Café Earl, as the students call the cafeteria. Here it combines deliciously with pork and sausages.

Meat and Potato Pie
Earl serves sour cream and carrots with this version of shepherd's pie that hails from the Korsakov region of Russia.

Mexican Lasagna
"Students like the spice in this lasagna," says Earl. "It outsells our regular lasagna." As in many of the cafeteria's dishes, the chef enlisted the help and taste buds of one of the students — this time a girl from Mexico.

Pizza Buns
This is chef Earl's version of the popular frozen pizza meals, and it is a generous serving with plenty of topping. At home, freeze the topping in convenient amounts to have on hand to satisfy pizza cravings.

Streusel Apple Raisin Muffins
With moist, spicy muffins like these, students are not tempted by doughnuts.

Catalan Soup
Earl Johnson collaborated with two students — one Spanish and one Portuguese — to refine this vegetable-and-chorizo soup.

Black Bottom "Muffins"
Although called muffins, these treats are really cupcakes in disguise. They are just one of the varieties served at the cafeteria.

Page 3 of 5 -- Discover great on-the-go lunch ideas for busy families on page 4

Lunch to go
By The Canadian Living Test Kitchen

When we polled our readers, asking what they would like to pack for lunch, we got an array of suggestions. "Some quick, healthy salads or pasta lunches would be great," says Joan Edgington of Blind Bay, B.C. Jennifer Langhorst of Edmonton agrees, saying, "Pasta or Greek salads are filling and healthy and taste great." Homemade soup is a favourite of Liz Ritchie of Brampton, Ont., and Janice Ellis of Tyne Valley, P.E.I., says, "The food that would entice me away from the cafeteria is a good homemade soup or a tasty casserole." Liz Maloan of Richmond Hill, Ont., likes "one-dish salads that could easily be prepared and carried in one container." And "Wraps are where it's at," says Sue Anderson of London, Ont. So in response to your suggestions, here are recipes to savour.

Eggplant Rotini and Peppers
Enjoy this for dinner one night and reheat leftovers for lunch the next day.

Curried Kasha Salad
Make this flavourful salad a day ahead to pack for lunch or a picnic.

Salmon Pitas with Celery Heart Salad
Grown-ups will love this salmon sandwich flavoured with a vinaigrette dressing.

Page 4 of 5 -- Find helpful tips for packing healthy lunches on page 5

Lunch box tips
A wide selection of food and reusable containers are the secrets of well-organized parents. Follow these timesaving tips and you won't struggle with last-minute lunch preparation.

• Buy hard-plastic freezer packs to keep food cool and invest in quality stainless steel–lined vacuum flasks to keep food warm. Heat the food until piping hot in the morning before packing it.

• Wash and cut vegetables to keep in the refrigerator. They are easy to pop into lunches along with a container of salad dressing or dip. Little ones with missing front teeth will love little fruit, such as grapes, strawberries, apple sections, cubed melon, pineapple chunks, peeled and sectioned oranges and kiwifruit wedges.

• Purchase low-sugar cereals, pretzels and mini whole wheat crackers in bulk to make packages of your own mix ready to pop into lunches for a popular snack.

• Make extra helpings of your kids' favourite dishes to reheat and pack in lunches throughout the week.

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Cooking School

Easy lunch recipes: Let's do lunch

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