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When I became a mother, I also became obsessed with the healthy, delicious picture perfect bento lunches on different food blogs and websites. I loved that it was fresh and healthy. However, I didn’t have the time and patience it took to prepare the way it was presented. So, I experimented and adapted.

I was adamant because I cherish the thought of the children finding “love in their lunches” in the middle of their days. I, in turn, look forward to opening their lunchboxes at the end of the day to see if my “experiments” worked by way of an empty lunchbox.

Firstly, tips to ease your lunchbox prep.

Fried garlic makes a delicious addition to almost every dish. Photo credit: A Beautiful Plate
  1. Have a constant stock of fried garlic and shallots, which are thankfully available at the local shops or markets fairly cheaply. The kids love them and you can sprinkle sparingly or generously onto the rice/noodles or new recipes that you worry may not fly. Japanese seaweed (shredded) helps give food a Japanese twist too!
  2. Include a staple of red and yellow peppers, cherry tomatoes, carrots, tomatoes, spring onions, coriander, cucumbers and fresh lettuce in your groceries. It gives the illusion of fibres and colours. They are easy to prepare as well. Freshly chopped spring onions and coriander, and washed salad leaves, with the water residue carefully drained away, can be stored for a couple of days.
  3. Invest in a food processor if you are able too. It is cheaper in the long run when you can shred blocks of cheese for pasta and sandwiches. Shredded carrots (good for storing for a few days) are a great way to increase the vegetable content in the children’s meals.
  4. Get food containers with compartments (or good friends who know that you have a bento box obsession and buys you gifts of compartmentalised lunch boxes). Otherwise, small containers or silicone cupcake holders from Lazada works just as well.
  5. Train your children to eat food that is not piping hot.
  6. Meal plan. I used to sneer at it, but now I swear by it as it releases a lot of brain space.
Silicon cupcake holders are a great way to compartmentalise a lunchbox. It adds colour too! Photo credit: Serious Eats

Day One: Steamed chicken with rice

Marinate the chicken in soya sauce, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, salt and pepper and steam for 30 minutes. Add rice wine for a non-halal version. I add fried garlic to the rice and additional fried shallots on the side. Add a colourful medley of cherry tomatoes, green pepper and corn. Garnish with spring onions or coriander.

Colourful food makes it more appealing, especially veggies! Photo credit: LovelyWeeDays

Day Two: No meat pasta 

A jar of pesto. I learnt that with some olive oil, additional Italian herbs and fried garlic, the (expensive) jar of pesto can go a longer way. Feel free to ignore the serving label and add the pesto to taste. Boil the pasta and mix everything up. I add in shredded cheese to buff up the protein in addition to the pine nuts in the pesto. If you want, add some cherry tomatoes.

I discovered pesto when I was at university. 20 years later, this simple, humble, delicious sauce is enjoyed by my children. Photo credit: Healthy Food Guide

Day Three: Leftover chicken and anchovies noodles

Boil noodles for eight minutes and soak in a mix of sesame oil, light soy sauce, olive oil and pepper. Mix in the leftover chicken, top it with some fried anchovies (if any) and coriander. As the sauce is salty, I make sure that there are some plain vegetables, such as boiled broccoli, cauliflower or carrots.

Which kid would not like noodles steeped in soy sauce?
Photo credit: theseasonedmom.com

Day Four: Spaghetti Bolognese made from scratch 

Though to be fair, this needs 30 minutes for the aromatic sauce to simmer. My secret ingredients are chicken stock and Italian herbs, in addition to the (over)load of garlic and onions.  For a healthy twist, I blend fresh tomatoes instead of using canned tomatoes, though I tipu with puree. I use minced beef that has been marinated overnight with salt, pepper, and yes, you guessed it, fried garlic.

There are many recipes out there for a quick and easy Bolognese.
Photo credit: Errens’ Kitchen

Day Five Lunch: It’s a wrap with Bolognese wraps

I spread butter to prevent the Bolognese from soaking through. Lay the lettuce, put the meat, but not the sauce, and sprinkle some shredded cheese.  I add corn which is boiled the day before by putting it in boiling water for eight minutes. The water from the boiled corn makes good stock as well.

My son loves wraps because they can use their hands to eat. I love wraps because I can make leftovers go further.
Photo credit: Natural Balance Foods

Remember to assemble a medley of fruits in your kid’s lunchbox. It is not only for the added vitamins but for the vibrant (and appetising) colours too.

There you have it – five easy, quick, healthy, lunch ideas that also contribute to a zero food waste home policy!