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School Lunch Project: The Deli Box

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Have you ever found yourself staring inside your refrigerator wondering what to pack for your child's school lunch? I have, often.

Three years ago, my oldest daughter began pre-school. At first, I was very excited to make lunches and had all sorts of ideas of what I thought would pack well for school. Three weeks into lunch packing with many soggy leftovers and uneaten lunches later, I was desperate to find fresh ideas.

Soon, she began asking for pre-packaged lunches filled with ingredients she couldn't have (she is allergic to phosphates and some nitrates). My poor girl begged for those colorful boxes every time we went to the grocery store, because her classmates had crackers and cheese lunches that included a sugary treat as well.

Filled with determination to help my daughter "fit-in" among her friends, I found myself making lunches that looked like what her friends were eating, but were made fresh in my kitchen. I soon became known as the "mom who made fun lunches" because the other kids began noticing her whole-wheat pancake sandwiches and cool "swords" for lunch.

At birthday parties, other moms began asking me to email recipes and give them tips on how to pack fresh lunches every day. When my email list grew to more than 100 moms, I knew I was onto something.

Since then, I've become school lunch-obsessed. I have made it my mission to help parents make fresh school lunches quickly with real ingredients. Parents have joined our community and what I call our #LunchRevolution in many social media platforms.

My oldest two are every picky eaters, and trying new foods isn't their forte. My daughter could eat pizza (nitrate-free ham and black olives) and my son would prefer a cheese sandwich in his lunch container every day. Like most parents, I want to feed my children a variety of foods that are nutritious and won't come home uneaten at the end of the day.

As a busy mom of three kids (ages six, five, and 11 months) I don't have time to cut food into cute shapes and mold rice into panda bears -- although there is nothing wrong with doing that if you enjoy it. When parents ask me what I think makes a fun lunch; I tell them that kids love familiar foods divided into compartments, rainbows of color and variety. If you can find a way to make this quickly with wholesome ingredients, you'll find an empty lunch container at the end of the day.

What's interesting is that I now find myself looking at food through a child's eyes. When I'm developing new recipes, I ask myself:

  • Will it look and taste yummy?
  • Can the recipe be made with easy to find, wholesome and fresh ingredients?
  • Can it be interactive and eaten quickly like finger foods?
  • How will it hold up (taste, shape, consistency) until lunch?
  • How will it need to be packaged?
  • How long will it take a busy parent with little kitchen skills to make?

As you can see, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes when I create new school lunches to add to our menus. Many delicious recipes never make the cut simply because they doesn't pass the simple questions above. More often than not, they taste delicious but fail because the recipe takes a long time to assemble, has too many ingredients or doesn't package well.

My hope for this column is to inspire you to make fresh school lunches. I will be sharing many of my personal and MOMables recipes along with many time-saving tips. Some weeks, I'll introduce you to other parents who have delicious recipes and who I'm honored to call friends. Little by little, you'll have a full recipe box and get to know my lunch packing community.

Today, I share with you the recipe that started it all. It's simple, delicious, easy to make and takes less time to assemble than it does to go purchase a boxed one.

The Deli Box

2013-01-14-delibox.jpg

Recipe courtesy MOMables.com

Makes 1 Lunch

Serving sizes will vary depending on the age and appetite of your child.

Ingredients:

  • Nitrate free deli ham or turkey
  • Real cheddar cheese
  • Whole grain crackers
  • Serving of fresh fruit
  • Serving of fresh vegetables

Directions:

  1. Fold nitrate free deli ham or turkey slices into quarters by folding the slice in half and once again until it looks like a square. If you have a 1-inch round cookie cutter, you can cut the ham into circles.
  2. Slice cheddar cheese in 1/8 inch thick slices.
  3. Wash, cut or slice your fresh fruit and vegetables.
  4. In a compartmentalized lunch container, assemble ingredients. Close lid and insert in lunch bag. This lunch is shown in an EasyLunchboxes container.

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