Something to Try in the Lunchbox: Deconstructed Salads

You guys, few things move me to violent language like packing the lunches.  My husband had to listen to a string of expletives just a few moments ago, in fact, as I faced the week ahead with dread.  If, like me, you dread the lunchbox-related shopping, planning and packing, here are a few ideas to get you through the urge to curse.



Ha ha!  Just kidding.  Seriously, if you have time to make your kids’ lunches look like this, then we cannot be friends.

My friend Amy makes every Tuesday a Taco Tuesday, and Youngest has come to love her taco salad.  It’s infinitely customizable to fit your “eat up the fridge” offerings, and it’s the inspiration for these deconstructed salads.

Deconstructed salads are what, to my mind, bento boxes and leftovers were made for.  Slice a few extra veggies with dinner the night before or use up leftovers.  Picky eaters can keep the ingredients separate, nothing gets soggy, and the presentation gets top marks.  Five or six compartments, five or six ingredients, and you are good to go.

Taco Salad: lettuce, chopped sweet peppers, corn, black or kidney beans or chicken or beef strips, and, in the tiniest compartment, a few crumbled tortilla chips.  (They are like magic pixie dust!  Give them two chips’-worth of crumbs to put on top of a salad, and they think they’ve hit the jackpot!)

Salade Nicoise: tuna salad, hard-boiled egg, lettuce, olives and bread sticks.  Ooo la la.

Greek Salad: lettuce, grape tomatoes, black olives, feta and chick peas.  Mini-pita on the side.

We tried these snack-sized Li’l Oliver green and black olives from Sardo, and they are perfect for packed lunches.

LilOliver (3)


Fruit Salad: Why not?!  Send it with some greek yogurt and a mini-bagel, and breakfast for lunch is done!


Lunchbox Ideas from Iogo

cat'sLast weekend, I took my eight-year-old son and two friends along to Iogo Yogurt’s cartooning afternoon with Jo Rioux, the Canadian author of the graphic novel Cat’s Cradle, much loved by said son.  They got to make their own art and Jo came around to talk to them about their work.  (If your kids enjoy cartooning, they can join Iogo’s competition to design the cartoons for their yogurt tubes.  See details here.)

And while she did that, a dietician talked to the grown ups about some new ideas for the lunch boxes.

First: respect the child.  That means respect his or her appetite, likes and dislikes, and abilities.  If your children are able, get them involved in all stages of the lunchbox preparation, from shopping to planning to prepping to packing.

Second: fill in the blanks.  Lunches should have one of each of the following: a meat or meat alternative, vegetables, fruit, a grain and a dairy product.  The dietician had these foods in separate containers for three separate meals, so my son had a chance to go up to the table and do a bit of mix and match with the various selections.  Being able to treat the exercise as a puzzle was a really helpful way to get my son engaged, and it would save time in the mornings if we had a selection of foods already packaged up and ready to fill in the blanks.

And he gave us some great ideas too.  My favourite was muffin tin omelettes: mix up your omelette batter as you usually would, pour into a greased muffin tin, fill with your favourite vegetables and cheese, bake in a 350 oven for about 20 minutes and voila!  He recommended 12 eggs for a 12-muffin tin, but I used six eggs and milk.  I filled half with red pepper, half with mushrooms and topped all of them with old cheddar, but of course, the possibilities are endless with this, and you can jam all kinds of veggies into one of these things.  They work hot or cold.  What I love about this idea is that it’s one-stop nutrition, with the protein, veggies and dairy all in one.  I’ve also done this with frozen mini-pie shells to make mini-quiches.

Another great idea was a do-it-yourself soup.  Send a thermos with only the hot broth in it.  In separate containers, send the kids’ favourite pasta and veggies and meat or meat alternatives.  He had soba noodles, tofu cubes, eda mame and grated carrot for a Japanese theme, but there are so many twists to this idea.  The kids can add the various ingredients at lunch time, the hot broth will warm the whole lot up, and the kids have the fun of “cooking” at lunchtime.

We all went home with samples of Iogo yogurt tubes, which I put straight into the freezer.  They work wonderfully well frozen (they keep a nice texture), and they keep the food in the lunchbox cool until lunch, thereby doing double duty as ice packs and healthy treats.