Get the idea: No heat lunchbox ideas
In Mumbai I have seen the famous dabbawalas — men on bicycles or pushing carts with lots of tiffin carriers marked with strange symbols — who deliver hot food to office workers from the workers’ own kitchens. Is there a hole in the New Zealand market for such a system to provide lunch to workers?
This sort of lunch, however simple, sounds like a great idea but would require the complex organisation that takes place in Mumbai. The good thing about a lunch like this is that you could have food as good as you get at home, because if you know how to cook and want to eat an unadulterated diet of real food, the best food is always at home.
Another just-as-good idea is to take what all old cultures have for lunch (unless they have access to cheap, traditional street food): leftovers from the night before. My daughter generally does this for her lunch at uni, so often we make extra dinner with the next day’s lunch in mind.
What if you can’t cook and want a healthy lunch? Keep it simple. Ignore all that ridiculous nutritional advice flying around about superfoods and suchlike (it is usually connected with marketing something) and pack a lunch of things such as additive-free bread, cheese, fruit, traditionally made cold-cuts, smoked fish or boiled eggs.
If you want something more elaborate, see below. With kids it’s slightly more complex, as they just want to fit into whatever peer group they belong to as far as school lunch goes. That didn’t stop us giving ours leftovers, but they still wanted small packets of potato chips and so on like their friends.
Remember, parents are hardwired to feel guilty if a lunchbox comes back with the contents uneaten.
But when thinking about this, my seasoned parent logic kicks in and for healthy kids I realise an uneaten lunch can just mean “not hungry”. Perhaps this is an occasion for a gentle reminder that some kids don’t get any lunch, so count yourself lucky.
Old cultures don’t have special food for children, apart from limiting things like chilli and alcohol, and they seem to get on fine. The daughters of our Italian friends eat everything, there is never a question of choosing from a children’s menu in a restaurant, for example. Eating what the adults eat is how they learn to eat and like food.
It is the marketing of so-called children’s food that messes thing up — making kids want what often is junk food — and makes many parents provide special food for kids, which in effect doubles the food-providing workload. We realised this early with our kids and just said to them, without being mean: there is plenty of good food in our house, if you don’t want to eat it then don’t. They soon ate when they were hungry and they now eat everything.
Hot food for working lunches depends on a thermos or a microwave and can be the usual things like soup or any leftover that’s better eaten hot. Add a piece of fruit to your lunch and omit all sugary drinks, including juice.
Easy suggestions for lunchboxes that don’t need to be heated, won’t break the bank or have you slaving in the kitchen the night before could be . . .
To state the obvious, buy some sushi. Traditional Japanese food that is meant to last the day, and is delicious. Avoid the stuff covered in mayo or with strangely flavoured chicken or fake seafood and stick to vegetarian and raw fish — that is, the traditional flavours. Add a piece of fruit.
Sourdough bread sandwiches stuffed with flaked smoked fish, a little sour cream, chopped dill, capers, sauerkraut, sliced gherkins and baby spinach leaves.
Cold Chinese noodles tossed with sesame oil, chopped roasted peanuts, toasted sesame seeds, Japanese soy sauce, sliced spring onions and a little Chinkiang vinegar — bought shredded Chinese roast pork or duck are optional. Don’t forget the chopsticks.
It sounds weird to some people but tastes delicious — a cold omelette, wrapped around a classic Greek salad of crumbled feta, halved cherry tomatoes, cucumber chunks, pitted kalamata olives and red onion dressed with red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Pita bread optional.
Fry up last night’s leftover rice (or keep some in the freezer and use it as required) with chopped ham, sliced celery, peas, mung bean sprouts, finely chopped ginger and garlic, chopped coriander and a big splash of naturally brewed Japanese soy sauce. Once it’s very hot, stir a beaten egg through it, cool it, put it in a container and refrigerate until needed.
Take a small pottle of Thai sweet chilli sauce to go with it. (Don’t leave cooked rice sitting around at room temperature as it may contain the spores of bacillus cereus which can activate if left sitting, and poison you. Sushi is different as the salt, sugar and vinegar in it act as a preservative.)
Puree a can of drained borlotti beans with lemon juice, garlic and a little extra virgin olive oil, then season so you have a bean puree to spread on flatbread with paper-thin slices of prosciutto, leftover broccoli or any other vegetable, or baby cos leaves.
Make extra roasted chunks of kumara, pumpkin, potatoes, carrots and parsnips that you can have with whatever you are eating for dinner. Next day place in a container and add green olives, sliced spring onions, chopped parsley, crumbled feta and a dressing of balsamic vinegar and a little extra virgin olive oil.
Eat fried bratwurst for dinner and next day slice the extras, add to leftover boiled potatoes, capers, chopped dill and parsley and thin-sliced celery. Toss with sour cream, cider vinegar and Dijon mustard.
Make up a jar of toasted pumpkin and sesame seeds, roasted sunflower seeds, roasted pinenuts, almonds, hazelnuts and brazil nuts. Keep it in the fridge so the nuts and seeds don’t become rancid. Use plenty of this mix sprinkled over a salad of baby cos lettuce, sliced avocado, chopped coriander, roasted red capsicum and semi-dried tomatoes. Dress with lime juice and avocado oil and eat with additive-free flour tortillas.
Hot-smoked salmon, thin-sliced celery, carrots, red onion, several paper-thin lemon slices, parsley sprigs and some capers stuffed inside crunchy French bread, spread with plenty of aioli.
Make a cold version of a reuben sandwich by spreading rye bread with mayo and mustard and filling it with sauerkraut, thin-sliced gruyere cheese and lots of thin-sliced corned beef.
Drop some raw prawn cutlets into boiling salted water until cooked. Cool, slice, toss with cold leftover boiled pasta, spinach leaves, chopped red onion and a mix of unsweetened yoghurt, a little mayo, lemon juice and a hot sauce like Huffman’s Original Chilli Sauce or Kaitaia Fire.