Thank you, Joanna Rullo, for offering inspirtation in this blog on vegetarian lunches!
There are some days (weeks? months?) where I just can’t believe it is time to feed my son, Charlie, again! The task of providing three nutritious, balanced meals a day that he will eat is frequently daunting. I am lucky that Charlie is a “good eater” he is willing to try a lot of food and has a good appetite. With that said, it is by no means easy to feed him. Some days things are a big hit, other days he won’t touch the exact same dish he loved last week. Some days he begs me for something, that by the time I put it in front of him, he no longer wants it and refuses to eat. It can be really frustrating, to put it mildly.
This post includes some of the easier things I make for Charlie’s lunch, that usually (but not always!), are a hit. I typically try to include a protein, vegetable, fruit, and dairy. I usually put in a few ounces of cheese, because I assume he will at least eat the cheese if all else fails. We live one block from a Trader Joe's, so you will notice a TJs heavy diet! Sure, I had a fantasy that all our food would only come fresh from the farmer’s market before I was a parent, but the reality of parenthood has made frozen and pre-made food a very appealing option!
Things that require some, but minimal cooking:
Tortellini and broccoli: We eat this an embarrassing amount in our house, but it is easy quick to make, easy for Charlie to eat, and sneaks in two vegetables plus the protein. We buy the spinach tortellini from Trader Joe’s (for our family of three, two packages makes enough for all of us for dinner plus lunch for the next day or maybe two days!). I buy a bunch of broccoli (the precut kind on particularly busy/rough days). I add the tortellini to the boiling water, and then add the broccoli to the same water. I boil for 3 to 5 minutes (I just make sure the broccoli is cooked). Some days I over cook the broccoli so it breaks down a lot and clings to the pasta, some days I leave it a little more al dente so that there are florets mixed in with the tortellini. I drain water, drizzle with olive oil and parmesan cheese, and dinner is ready for tonight, and the bulk of lunch is ready for tomorrow.
Sweet Potatoes (the bright purple ones at Monterey Market are always a big hit!)--This is a very easy go-to vegetable that Charlie almost always eats is boiled yams or sweet potatoes. He has been a big kick of loving the dark purple ones! I like that I can give him exciting colors on his plate that aren’t full of artificial dyes. I drop a scrubbed sweet potato into boiling water and cook it until I can easily slide fork into it. I drain the water, and once the sweet potato has cooled slightly, I pull off the skin, then I cut it into bite size pieces and drizzle it with oil or butter. (You can cook yams in the microwave too, they tend to be drier, but it works when time is a big factor). One medium sweet potato/yam can usually be stretched two to three meals.
Delicata Squash--Charlie can eat two whole squash, if I let him! I use a vegetable peeler to take off the skin (but you don't have too! The skin is edible, but Charlie isn’t a big fan of it). I cut the squash lengthwise, scoop out the seeds (making sure to get all the fibrous pieces). I slice the squash in ½ inch strips. I place on a greased baking sheet, and lightly coat the squash with olive oil. I place in a 425 degree oven and roast for about 8 minutes, then flip the slices over and roast for an additional 8 minutes or so.
Frozen Succotash (well, Soycotash from Trader Joe’s)--On the days when I cannot find time to prepare any vegetable, Trader Joe’s “Soycotash” to be really helpful! It is a frozen mix of edamame, corn, and bell peppers. Charlie likes it, potentially because he likes to say the word succotash!
Hard-boiled eggs--Charlie loves peeling eggs! They are an easy, contained make-ahead dish. Truth be told, I really have a strong aversion to eggs, but I have found that I am willing to get over a lot of my aversions if it means Charlie is going to eat happily and it doesn’t require a ton of effort on my end!
Dr. Praeger's Veggie Burgers or other Trader Joe's veggie patties--These frozen patties are fast to heat up and are a quick way to get veggies into Charlie. They travel pretty well, and are a helpful on the days/weeks where I haven’t made it to the store for fresh vegetables.
Things that require no cooking:
Baked Tofu--I am a vegetarian, so Charlie is familiar with to eating tofu, so maybe this won’t be as big of a hit with all kids? I buy the pre-marinated baked tofu (usually teriyaki) and just slice it up like cheese in Charlie’s lunch. It very quick source of protein that is easy to eat and not very messy!
Primavera Tamale--Butternut Squash tamales with Cheese by Primavera (sold at Whole Foods, Monterey Market, Natural Grocery, Berkeley Bowl) are a SUPER fast way to get veggies and protein into Charlie. 90 seconds in the microwave and we a lot of the food groups covered. They are not cheap, but they are lifesavers on busy weeks, and I feel good knowing that he ate some veggies.
Side orders--Sometimes when I am out and picking up lunch or dinner, I will check out the sides menu to see if there is anything good for lunches. It is a great way to incorporate veggies you won’t typically think to cook or things out of your comfort zone. I often get a side of beans and rice while picking up a burrito! Or a vegetable side.
Plantains (Maduros)--Charlis loves plantains, and why wouldn’t he? They are like candy! I have found that cutting up plantains and mixing them with something like black beans or diced up tofu makes food he might not be as likely to eat much more appealing. I get plantains as a side order from Tacubaya, Casa Latina, and Cholita Linda.
Snack plate lunch--The weeks when Charlie asks for something only to reject it once I have prepared it, I often give up and just rely on a snack-lunch. Some days all I can manage are things like slices of cheese, cut up fruit (apples, clementines, berries), plain whole fat yogurt, sliced cucumber, avocado slices.
Sunflower Butter Sandwich--Dave’s Bread have 5 grams of protein per slice. So that plus a little sunflower butter is a quick nutritious lunch. It is a class and quick way to prepare lunch that isn’t temperature dependent.