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What's in that lunch bag?

Updated on November 16, 2013

Insulated Lunch Bags

One for my son and one for my step son
One for my son and one for my step son

Gone Cold on Hot Lunches

Our school offers a hot lunch provided by the same supplier used by the 501 school district in Topeka. My children had been eating the school provided lunches since kindergarten. I always thought that it was good for them to get a hot meal during the day. It was very cost effective, running about $2.50 per meal. It was also convenient for me because I did not have to spend time making and packing lunches.

Ah, but the price of convenience is usually quality and this was no exception. The children, especially the oldest (who has inherited his mother’s critical palate) began to complain about the lunches. Little things at first like a dish was bland, or something didn’t taste good, or the bread was hard. I didn’t think too much of the complaints really because I recall my own school lunches with mixed feelings.

The food quality seemed to be getting progressively worse though, and the complaining increased. I picked the oldest up from school one day and he told me he had found a piece of rubber in his ravioli. I was alarmed by this, but he hadn’t saved the rubber and later admitted that it might have just been a really overcooked piece of pasta.

Then came the fateful day when he presented me with a small baggie labeled “Proof”. Inside the baggie was a piece of a white bread tie--just a small piece, maybe half an inch long. Where did the wire come from? It came from my son’s mashed potatoes. I was appalled for a number of reasons.

First, why was there a foreign object in my son’s food at all? Why would there be a small piece of bread tie? It had obviously been cut. Why would this white bread tie be imbedded in white mashed potatoes? This situation had all the attributes of being intentional.

We complained to the school, and they complained to the supplier, and that is all I ever heard about the situation. The maternal and foodie alarm bells had sounded though, and that was the last hot lunch they ate.

Now, I’m packing cold lunches for the boys and for the grown ups in our house. I am trying to be inventive about it. The goal is to provide them with quality, flavorful, healthy, and diverse lunches that they clearly cannot obtain from the current lunch program offered by the school.

This experience has really piqued my interest in lunch--the history of lunch through, and the history and status of America’s school lunch program. I’ll not get into the history too much in this hub, but stayed tuned for a historical hub and more lunch recipes and ideas.

Sandwich for Lunch

Pumpernickel and Rye Swirl Bread
Pumpernickel and Rye Swirl Bread
Turkey, Tomato, and Provolone
Turkey, Tomato, and Provolone
Yummy Sandwich
Yummy Sandwich
Healthy Lunch
Healthy Lunch

Sandwiches

There is popularly held belief that the invention of the sandwich can be attributed to John Montagu. The 4th Earl of Sandwich wanted food that he could eat with one hand. There is some debate over exactly how this happened. Some historians insist that the Earl was a gambling man and didn’t want anything to interfere with his game—not even lunch. Others say he was something of a workaholic and didn’t want anything to interfere with his work. Either way, the sandwich (as we know it) has been around since the 1760’s.

Some historians believe that the Earl got the idea for the sandwich during his excursions to the Eastern Mediterranean. There he likely saw stuffed grilled pita bread, and various other sandwich-like dishes. The simplicity and ease of lunching on such a creation likely appealed to him.

The sandwich makes an excellent lunch food because it’s easy to make, portable, and there are endless combinations to keep it from getting boring. This does not, in this humble writer’s opinion, give anyone an excuse to fixing the same old sandwich everyday for lunch. Variety is the spice of life, so they say, and yet the average American child will have consumed 1500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by the time they graduate from high school. Lunch time goes by so quickly that we should have something to pleasure our palates with.

I’m not saying there’s anything particularly wrong with the old PB&J. Peanut butter is an excellent and inexpensive source of protein. In today’s super markets there’s a wide variety of peanut butters and almond butters and chocolate hazelnut butters to choose from. There is also an endless array of jams and jellies and preserves that can be bought or made at home. I just want to encourage people to change it up from time to time. My boys have a friend who brings the exact same lunch to school every day and it just boggles their minds.

Beyond the world of peanut butter and jelly there are also many meats and cheeses that make great sandwiches. Ham, turkey, chicken, corned beef, and pastrami just to name a few. Each meat can be diversified further by flavor and preparation. Consider just the many kinds of ham available. Don’t be afraid to use your leftovers, either. I’ve had many a tasty meatloaf sandwich. Leftover roasts and Crockpot cooked meats make excellent sandwich filler.

Different types of bread exist beyond the plain white bread. Hearty rye, and fluffly sour dough, and breads made of different grains like oats or flaxseed can really help liven up a sandwich. We eat a lot of sourdough sandwiches at my house, and we also love pumpernickel and rye swirl. Consider trying a wrap instead of using bread. If you can make a sandwich with it, it can go into a tortilla, pita, or even some fresh lettuce leaves.

There are numerous sandwich spreads and condiments as well. Flavored mustards are all the rage on the super market shelves. There are also flavored mayonnaises, miracle whip, and salad dressings to help liven up your lunch. I have also used hummus in place of mayo. Don’t be afraid to make your own sandwich condiment. Try whipping some mayo with your favorite herbs like fresh basil or cilantro for some added flavor.

Leave room for veg! Top your meat and cheese with some healthy veggies like tomato, onion, fresh spinach, or shaved carrots. Add some pickles. Get beyond the ordinary and try some bean sprouts, avocado, or cucumber. You can even do away with the meat and cheese and just have vegetables. Coniser all the goodies you can get on your sandwich at Subway and all of your favorite vegetables. My family likes turkey and provolone on rye and pumpernickel bread with tomato, red leaf lettuce, red onion, and hummus.

If you have a favorite sandwich, I hope you will take the time to mention it in the comments section!

Maybe you could branch out even futher and turn your sandwich into a muffin.

Lunch Muffin Ratings

Cast your vote for Lunch Muffin

Lunch Muffin Cook Time and Yield

Prep time: 20 min
Cook time: 25 min
Ready in: 45 min
Yields: 12 muffins

Lunch Muffin Tips

I have intentionally left the meat and cheese generic in the ingredients list because you can use ANY meat or cheese. Lunch muffins are a great way to use up leftovers...including leftover turkey from Thanksgiving. You can also add some finely diced jalapeno to spice things up.

Lunch Muffin Ingredients

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Corn MealBaking PowderEggOlive OilCream Style CornVirginia HamShredded Cheese
Corn Meal
Corn Meal
Baking Powder
Baking Powder
Egg
Egg
Olive Oil
Olive Oil
Cream Style Corn
Cream Style Corn
Virginia Ham
Virginia Ham
Shredded Cheese
Shredded Cheese

Lunch Muffin Ingredients

  • 3/4 Cup Cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 Cup Flour, Unbleached
  • 2 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 Cup Milk
  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • 1 Egg, Beaten
  • 1 can Creamed Corn, 8 ounce (small can)
  • 1 1/2 Cup Cheese, Shredded
  • 1 1/2 Cup Meat, Diced
  • 1 tsp Chili Powder

Lunch Muffin Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit. Place muffin cups in the muffin pan.
  2. Combine corn meal, flour, baking powder, salt, and chili powder in a mixing bowl.
  3. In another bowl, beat the egg and mix in the milk, olive oil, and creamed corn.
  4. Fold the wet and dry ingredients together until mostly blended, a few lumps are okay.
  5. Fold in the meat and cheese.
  6. Fill the muffin cups with the mixture and bake for 20 to 25 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean).

Lunch Muffin Pictures

Batter
Batter
Into the Muffin Tin
Into the Muffin Tin
Fresh out of the Oven
Fresh out of the Oven
Ready to Eat
Ready to Eat

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