Beat the lunch box blues

If ever children have a finicky food preference, it will be outed the moment it is placed between two slices of bread. It is a morning – or evening, depending on how busy the day is – endurance test in many households and is often enough to defeat most parents. It is a thankless task. No wonder we resort to the default position of vegemite, or peanut butter, or Just Tomato Please, stuffed between white bread, crusts removed. We send our children off to school, ever hopeful that this, today, will be the day they eat it all up.

To help you gird your loins at the prospect of having to make lunches nutritional and interesting for the rest of the back-to-school year – and truthfully, because one more day of ‘just Devon and tomato sauce sandwiches please, with the crusts cut off and cut into triangles’ is going to send you into a foetal position on the kitchen floor – here are some suggestions to get you going. It’s not perfect and I know that a suggestion of peanut butter – or eggs, or fish – will not be ideal for all of you especially where schools have banned such items from lunchboxes, but hopefully there should be enough in this list to encourage your children to eat up.

We can but hope. In the meantime, feel free to add your own suggestions to the list.

– ROAST VEGETABLES Use vegetables like roast potato, pumpkin, carrots and kumera and use Turkish bread or foccacia for a meal that will stick to your ribs. If you want something lighter you can use zucchini, eggplant, capsicum and tomatoes which should all be thinly sliced, tossed in oil and a squirt of white wine vinegar and baked in a 170°C oven for about 45 mins to an hour. Top the bread, add some fetta or hummus, some onion jam and a squirt of lemon juice.

– TURKEY, CRANBERRY SAUCE AND CREAM CHEESE Use shaved turkey slices from the deli for the budget option, or use some diced leftover chicken. Best eaten on Turkish bread or in fluffy round rolls. Add some cream cheese to the cranberry sauce and cover the inside of the bread with some seeded mustard then add thinly sliced turkey, the cranberry sauce mixture and a leaf of lettuce.

– SALMON AND CREAM CHEESE You can use smoked salmon slices if you’re flush, but a tin of salmon works well. Remove the skin and bones if you can, then add a squeeze of lemon juice, a spoonful or two of mayonnaise, some dill, chives, a teaspoon of horseradish cream, a tablespoon of finely chopped capers and, if you dare, a small amount of garlic. Spread a roll or bread with some cream cheese, add the salmon mayo mixture and then top with some cucumber.

– BLT When children turn their noses up at your gourmet offerings, use this as your secret weapon. You can put it in up-market sourdough, but really, the softer and nastier the bread, the better. It shouldn’t work, but it does. For a good BLT you need fresh bread, bacon, a soft leaf lettuce such as mignonette, mayonnaise, tomato, salt and pepper. It’s essential that your bacon is cooked until it’s crunchy and crisp.

– CHICKEN AND SWEET POTATO A good way to use up leftover roast chicken or barbecued chook, this can also be made with ham or salami. Multigrain or Soy Linseed bread works well for this. Combine 1 cup of cooked sweet potato, ½ cup ricotta or cottage cheese and 1 tbsp chopped chives in a bowl. Spread over bread and top with shredded chicken and sliced cucumber.

– SILVERSIDE AND SPINACH Combine ½ a cup of spreadable cream cheese with ¼ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes. Spread over a hamburger bun and top with slices of corned beef (silverside), baby spinach leaves then slices of bread.

– HAM AND CHEESE Mix ¼ cup cottage cheese with 2 tsp chopped fresh basil. Spread over a slice of bread, then top with shaved honey ham. Spread the top slice of bread with some avocado mashed with fresh lemon juice and place on top of the ham.

– VEGETARIAN Really, you are limited only by your imagination, but for me, it begins with babaghanoush and ends with hummus, each slapped onto hearty slices of wholemeal bread. Top with tabouli, sliced Lebanese cucumber, some tomato, even some oven-roasted beetroot and some sliced avocado and top with bread.

Originally appeared on Mamamia