It’s back-to-school season once again in the Philippines!
Every parent knows what this means. Aside from all the expenses associated with the enrollment process and purchasing school items, getting the kids to eat nutritionally substantial meals while in school has been an ongoing dilemma.
The problem with just handing our kids some lunch cash is that we can’t be completely sure what our kids are actually buying, how the food was prepared, and if our kids are making wise choices for their meals. Most parents prefer sending their kids to school with home cooked lunchbox meals but then there’s this other common dilemma to deal with when it comes to that: “What lunchbox meals do I make that my kid would be excited enough to eat?”
Lunchbox meals shouldn’t always consist of fried, sugar-loaded and processed food. Processed food and ready-to-eat sugary snacks might be the most convenient options for the busy parent because you can just easily find them at any supermarket, they’re relatively cheap, and when it comes to cooking methods, frying is no rocket science. I understand the temptation there, but it’s not good for your kids. Moreover, lunchbox meals should look more appealing to our young connoisseurs. In my humble opinion, every parent should put more effort – and make time – into putting together healthier and more visually palatable lunchbox meals that will not only help provide the nutritional needs of our growing, active kids, but will also be enjoyable for them to eat.
That’s why I thought of sharing with you guys a few surprisingly easy to prepare “gourmet” lunchbox meals and I’m calling it “gourmet” because these are meals that not many parents would consider for their lunchbox meal plan but would frequently order them when dining out. Well, who says lunchbox meals can’t be as exciting as a gourmet meal from a restaurant?
This is not to suggest that you should stop making the lunchbox meals that your kids have loved and enjoyed in the past. Rather, this is just to give you more options and your meal plan a bit more of a variety.
You’ll be surprised at how quick and easy these mouth-watering dishes are to prepare!
Surprisingly Easy Gourmet Lunchbox Meals
Some of the following recipes were inspired by various recipes I came across online and in my own collection of cookbooks. I tweaked them a little bit according to how I have personally prepared (or would prepare) them for my own kids. Feel free to tweak them also to suit your own (or your kid’s) taste.
Why fry ‘em when you can bake ‘em?! It seems to me that everyone’s well aware now that frying is not the healthiest cooking method there is. However, this doesn’t mean your kid can no longer enjoy his usual fried favorites such as chicken nuggets. This recipe gives this classic kiddie fave a healthy twist.
Pack the ketchup or prepared barbecue sauce for dipping separately. Do not pack with any mayonnaise or cream-based dipping sauce because sauces that require refrigeration such as these, can’t be left out to sit at room temperature for more than two hours. If room temperature is above 90°F (or 32°C), then the ‘two-hour rule’ becomes even shorter.
This is a smart way to get your kids to eat more vegetables and the Primavera sauce is one of the easiest pasta sauces to make. You can pretty much add whatever vegetables you or your kid likes. If your kid is really, really not a big fan of vegetables, try processing the vegetables along with the liquid ingredients in a food processor until you’re left with a smooth, creamy sauce. This way, your kid won’t even know the difference.
My choice of pasta for this recipe was fusilli because they’re fun to look at and they also come in tri-color which makes the whole dish even more vibrant! Fusilli is also less messy than spaghetti.
Suggestion: Pack the grated Parmesan cheese separately in a mini-resealable bag (2.2cm x 2.8cm).
For this recipe, pork can also be used instead of chicken. Just raise the oven temperature to 425°F if using pork, and cook for 20-25 minutes, flipping the meat over halfway through.
Suggestion: Best paired with Mashed Potatoes or Herbed Rice, and Buttered Vegetables.
This recipe for Herbed Rice is very simple, very easy and very flavorful too! It was born out of a strong desire to jazz up our usual rice and make it more interesting without making it into another fried rice. It turned out to be a big hit with my daughter! Since then, I’ve been cooking my rice this way more often than I thought I would.
Suggestion: Since you will be making this for a lunchbox meal, it would be better to make the Potato Chips instead of the Potato Fries because fries become soggy after a while. Pack the malt or apple cider vinegar in a separate container. You can also use other dipping sauces that your kid likes.
Once again, this is another smart way to incorporate vegetables into your child’s diet but this time, it’s Asian-style!
If you don’t have the Japanese soba noodles or Chinese egg noodles, you can use regular spaghetti. This is not a very “picky” dish so make use of whatever type of noodles you can find. You can also use other types of vegetables for this recipe.
Every child loves Mac ‘N Cheese! Need I say more?
This version of Indonesian Nasi Goreng is kid-friendly in the sense that no chillies had been added to this recipe, and only a very small amount of the Sambal (or shrimp paste, if you don’t have the Sambal) is asked for. You can also totally skip the Sambal or shrimp paste if your kid isn’t very fond of the flavor or if he’s allergic to shrimp. Just adjust the amount of the Kecap Manis and/or salt to suit your taste. What you should be aiming for is a perfect balance of sweetness and saltiness.
Another reason that I chose to include this dish in this post is because this Indonesian staple food does come with a fried egg (or sunny-side up) on top, so how cool is that!
Suggestion: You can also serve this with some prawn crackers but pack it separately in a small ziplock bag to retain its crunchiness. This dish is also great with Pork Satay.
The pork satay will turn out just as fine if grilled the day before and gently reheated the next morning for your kid’s lunchbox meal. You can use chicken for this recipe, instead of pork; and you can also use an electric grill or a turbo broiler if you don’t have an open grill. While it won’t have that smoked flavor, it will taste just as delicious.
Suggestion: Just to be safe, if you’re making this for your kid’s lunchbox meal, unskewer the pork after it’s done grilling, and pack the peanut sauce separately. This is a wonderful accompaniment to your Nasi Goreng. If you’re going for the “no-rice” meal, this recipe, paired with the Steamed Shrimp Dumplings will make an equally satisfying meal.
This burrito is loaded with ground beef, rice, potatoes, beans, cheese, tomatoes and lettuce! Everything your child needs in a balanced meal literally rolled into one!
If you’re making lunchbox meals for two or more kids, and you don’t have enough chicken breasts to make into a full chicken meal that will feed everyone in the family, this recipe will be the solution to that problem. You can slice up the Chicken Cordon Bleu rolls after it’s done baking, evenly divide the slices among the kids, pair it with Fusilli Primavera or Mac ‘N Cheese (to some people, there’s no such thing as “too much cheese”, haha!) and everyone’s guaranteed to be extremely satisfied!
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