Yes, there is such a thing in chilly NZ! I have been sending my boys off with a hot lunch for 3½ years and have never looked back. During the winter it’s lovely and warming for them to eat a cooked lunch, and for me it’s the simplest and quickest way to get a lunch packed. Let’s explore how:
A food thermos (same as a regular thermos but with a wider neck). There are many on the market; mine are 3½ years old and bounce well! You may also want to invest in some very cheap spoons so that when one doesn’t return home you’re not short an heirloom.
How to keep things hot:
Filling the thermos with boiling water and leaving it for 5 minutes warms the inside and helps maintain the temperature. Filling the thermos with very hot food will mean the food is still warm 5+ hours later but not too hot to pose a problem.
Filling the thermos with food is the simplest part. There are almost limitless possibilities. The first thought is usually soup or stews, and these do work well. But don’t stop there, check out the many other kid-friendly options that are a perfect antidote to cold days.
1. Soups and stews
Try lovely homemade broths, chowders, bisques, borscht, tom yum. Pick a cuisine and there is a hearty soup perfect for the thermos. If you’re looking for more filling options, then add noodles, rice or potatoes to the soup. Or send crusty bread to dip.
2. Pasta or noodles
Loading up the thermos with the favourite pasta and a vege-stuffed sauce is the perfect way to up the greens for the day. Send with some grated parmesan, or top up with crumbled feta or pesto to give the pasta a punch. Noodles with an Asian-inspired sauce and some stir-fried veges are magic, too.
3. Jacket potatoes/kumara
Throw in a potato with dinner and have the perfect filling lunch ready to go in the morning. Just reheat, slice and add favourite toppings: butter, sour cream, grated cheese, baked beans or chilli.
Cook extra roasted veg on the weekend and fill the thermos with potatoes, parsnips, carrots and beef/pork/chicken. Gravy would be the proverbial icing … Or a big vege bake in cheese sauce, or mixed with tuna, noodles or a tomato-based sauce.
5. Chicken – in all its forms
Drumsticks (they just squeeze in), wings, nuggets or just nicely roasted. Or if you’ve made a winner chicken breast recipe, don’t keep it for yourself …
6. Fish and chips
We have Sunday night fish and wedges, so Monday is fish and chip lunch. Add some ketchup or tartare sauce and even a few peas and it’s a great nutritious meal.
Brown rice is full of nutrients and goes well with so many cuisines. Send a risotto or fried rice, or marry with flavoursome sauces – a curry or chilli con carne.
Hearty dishes made from lentils, beans or mince are excellent lunch box fare. Serve over rice or mashed potato or add sour cream or grated cheese to give them a lovely rich flavour.
9. Sausages and eggs
Standard breakfast food makes for winner lunches. Most kids would be rapt to find a sausage in the thermos. Scrambled eggs or an omelette, fried mushrooms and baked beans … keep thinking ... even a fried egg (which will survive unbroken until lunch – just wield the spatula with care).
There’s no reason not to send a pizza or a burger on occasion. Slam-dunk winners make for empty returns…
Judith Yeabsley is a mum of two boys who is passionate about healthy food for kids. She runs a food art website, theartofnutrition.com, focusing on presenting fruit and veges creatively. She also works to change the food environment in schools, community groups and lunchboxes. For information on this and great recipes, see theartofnutrition.co.nz.