I did a BIG List of Lunch Ideas Post a year or so ago – right before we began our journey to live a more “paleo-ish” lifestyle and ditch inflammatory grains and disease-and-obesity-causing sugar. We were really doing well with our low-grain and sugar diet until my oldest teen started slipping up. The closer he gets to 18, the more he thinks he deserves a cheat every day (or two). I’m coming to grips with the fact that I have to let go… which is hard when he’s eating sprouted grain toast and honey in front of his little brothers (who are decades away from 18)… but at least he’s now aware that food is the key to health care, and he is aware of what “cheating” the diet will do to him.
It is harder to live a non-processed life when you homeschool. Let’s face it – homeschool moms are already doing fifteen jobs or more. I’m the teacher (of grades 11, 10, K and PS), the janitor, the school “bus” driver, the landscaper, the reporter (blogging), the PR rep (email), the homeschool field trip-coordinator for our local co-op, the homemaker, the school-portrait-taker (photographer), and the accountant. The title of “Chef / School-Lunch-Maker” adds just another spinning plate to my already acrobatic act – but one that is REAL important and affects all the others.
It’s much easier to learn (pay attention) when you are well-fed. It’s much harder to sit still and focus when you are full of junk food.
And so, this year, I thought I would do an update on the kinds of things our newly organic/healthy Paleo-ish family will most likely be filling our bellies with at lunch time:
Updated Big List of Lunch Ideas (Paleo-ish / Gluten Free Friendly)
This year we are doing things a little differently from last year because we are mostly off of sugar and grains. We eat a little steel cut oats, quinoa, brown rice, and some ancient grain blends or sprouted grains, but we limit them. I’m trying to focus on veggies, meats, moderate amounts of fruits, healthy fats and water intake.
I do more of a “Weston A. Price” diet than Paleo (of course, I’m totally not there yet with the organ meats – and I am not giving up my chocolate, but most of the nutrition info makes way more sense than caveman Paleo does to me). Basically, we are trying to eat as little processed foods as we can – and as organic as possible – with as little sugar content (of any kind) as possible. The only sugars we use are organic maple syrup, organic fruit juices, organic coconut palm sugar, raw honey, and liquid organic vanilla stevia drops. Most of what we drink is WATER. In moderation, we might also drink a little bit of coffee, chicory (Dandy Blend), tea, kombucha, milk (raw if possible), coconut milk, almond milk, and unsweetened flavored sparkling waters. That said, I’ve had to come up with a list of ideas because it is easy to fall into the trap of just grabbing the same few things every day. That gets boring – and then you cave in to the whining about a quick trip to the drive-thru for bunless burgers (which is a viable option if you are out and about).
Here are a few of our new “gluten-free” and “paleo-ish” friendly lunch ideas:
1. SAUSAGE, POTATOES & KRAUT
You can go crazy here — add any veggies you like to the mix. You can do traditional Polish style with kraut, add bacon and chives to make a baked potato flavor (toss a bit of cheese on top at the table), do sweet potatoes and kale with it (toss in pumpkin seeds or cranberries for fun), or if you like it hot, you can chop jalapeños or other peppers in – or use habanero saurkraut (courtesy of Uncle Joe). You could make this with just about any type of sausage your family likes.
2. PATTY MELTS & FRIES
Sometimes when we eat out, we go to In and Out and get their “Flying Dutchman” – which is 2 meat patties covered in “cheese food” and home-cut french fries. Freddy’s Custard and Steakburgers has a great patty melt, also – you just have to order the burger without the bun. You can probably do this at most hamburger places. I’ve known friends that have done it at McDonald’s as well – for a Celiac child. What is done at the burger joint can be done at home, though – and probably a healthier alternative to fast food. If we have to do a drive-thru, though, this is our typical choice. I used to make a “welfare burger” with cheese melted on top a lot when the kids were little (original recipe from Hillbilly Housewife). The juices from the meat patties taste wonderful blended in with sautéed green beans. My kids are green bean fanatics. Maybe that will cancel the fries out? Or you could bake your fries at home and get rid of some of the added grease. If you do make them at home, this Food Network Oven-Baked French Fry Recipe is awesome (by Jeanette Barber).
3. OVEN-ROASTED CHICKEN with VEGGIES & BROWN RICE
Small whole chickens are a breeze to cook. Rinse the chicken, use a long knife to slice along the backbone on either side and remove it (Google ‘Spatchcocking a Chicken’) and lay flat on a parchment lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle evenly with sea salt. Pepper if you desire. You can throw veggies in to bake with it, or not. Cook for 1 hour at around 400 degrees or until golden brown and skin is crisp. The juice that surrounds it is HEAVENLY. I cooked one last night surrounded by halved brussel sprouts – the only seasoning I used was salt. Baked chicken is our quick and easy meal – and the starter for so many others (using left over chicken and the bones to make broth with).
4. FRIED RICE
Brown rice makes a superb Asian fried rice. If you have pre-cut “stir-fry veggies”, it will be even that much quicker. The first time you make fried rice there’s a bit of a learning curve, but if you like fresh veggies and healthy brown rice and avoid MSG, extra sugars, and preservatives; you’ll be glad you added this dish to your family favorites. I could make it in my sleep now – and this is my eldest’s favorite meal, so it goes over well at lunch time and inspires more cooperation for the dreary second half of the school day.
5. SOUP, CHILI or STEW
The possibilities are endless here. The main key is having the right ingredients and tools. I always start with home made chicken broth – and I often use my stick blender if I want to make a creamy soup (or hide ingredients like onion or mushroom). An easy chicken and rice, chicken and vegetable, mexican or southwest chicken and veggie, or Thai coconut chicken soup are our favorites. My kids also really like a baked potato soup. I used to make a chicken enchilada soup that was our family fave… but we don’t eat a lot of corn any more and it had nearly 2 cups of masa. My southwest chicken soup has a similar flavor, but minus the corn (and sometimes I add cream to make it less spicy).
6. BENTO (muffin tin lunches/food art)
I still love to do Bento and don’t do nearly enough of it – because it’s time consuming. Since we don’t do a lot of grain (even organic grain), I would alter things a bit. I have an entire Pinterest board dedicated to Bento because I keep thinking one of these days I’ll find time to start doing this on a regular basis. You can do a lot of things with food – be creative. If you are avoiding grains and sugar like me, you can play around with the ideas on my Pinterest board and substitute other items that sound healthier.
Follow my Bento board if you want some awesome and artistic food ideas to add aesthetic value to your eats!
7. LETTUCE WRAPS or SALADS
I make salads that include protein of some sort at least once a week. Sometimes we get them at places like Chipotle, Verts Kebaps, or Jason’s Deli, too. If we do sandwiches, we usually use sprouted grain bread or lettuce wraps. We don’t do tortillas that often (maybe once every two weeks we will have cheese enchiladas with them and try to use blue corn organic if it’s within the budget).
Lettuce wraps can work with most any sandwich – even a backwards BLT! Or you can go the extra mile and use leftover chicken (shredded is best) to pan fry with Asian flair and turn them into actual Lettuce Wraps with a dipping sauce (or an Asian salad like the one pictured above). You could serve this with a bit of brown rice, too. Last but NOT LEAST: TACOS wrapped in lettuce – one of my favorite things on planet Earth is a taco. Or less messy: taco salad. Yum!
8. STUFFED VEGGIES
We love stuffed bell peppers, tuna-stuffed jalapeños, pizza zucchini strips, and twice baked potatoes – all are not difficult to throw together for a thirty minute meal (especially if you plan ahead and have your ingredients chopped or are using leftover meat). Some are quick, easy, and require no cooking like the dish above, and others…
Require a few steps and some baking. One favorite we like to eat at dinner time are brown rice and deer meat stuffed bell peppers with cheddar melt on top. These make quick and easy leftovers for the next school day, too. My little ones prefer the goulash filling to the peppers, I will admit… but I can usually get them to eat a few bites, and there are tomatoes, onions and other herbs in the stuffing. I sometimes serve this with apple slices or carrot slices to round it out if they refuse to eat the peppers. I’ve seen this same dish in stuffed tomatoes, also.
9. EGGY STUFF and BRUNCHY BREAKFAST FOODS
Did you not eat eggs for breakfast? Well, then – eat them for lunch! You can boil them, fry them (love them on top of kale and chopped purple potatoes – sprinkled with bacon), or stick them in a stew. Just kidding on the stew part. Yuck! OR – have an egg sandwich with shredded cheese, lettuce, and bacon strips – complete with mayo (wrapped in lettuce or on sprouted bread). A breakfast taco is great – try to find yourself an organic corn tortilla or a gluten free ancient grain tortilla for you die-hard flour tortilla lovers who want to say goodbye to bleached flour (I’m going to eventually win you over to this if you keep reading here). Or… what about quiche, fritattas, egg-salad, and deviled eggs? You could even throw some scrambled eggs into your Asian fried rice instead of chicken to add protein. (Pst. Egg yolks are NOT bad for you – and there’s no such thing as good and bad cholesterol.)
Organic, farm-fresh eggs from bug-eating, happy chickens are yummy. If you really want to make your kids happy, mix up a batch of paleo pancakes (we do this about once or twice a month, but we use up a TON of pecans making the batter, and that gets expensive – my favorite recipe is from “Paleo Indulgences“). Whatever you do, make sure to serve it all with bacon.
10. SNACKY LUNCHES
There are days when there’s no time for preparing ANYTHING. For these days, we have a “snacky lunch”. My kids love these kinds of lunches because we all love to snack and there’s very little clean-up involved. Pictured above is a “meat-roll-up” sandwich alternative with arugula, goat cheese, zucchini slice, herbs, and turkey. I served it with hummus, Boulder 3-ingredient potato chips (sugar-free), and a daily serving of kombucha (probiotic drink). This is a super easy and FAST lunch. You don’t have to be unhealthy to eat fast.
Your healthy choices can give “fast food” a new definition! READ YOUR LABELS. Get educated. If you don’t know what it is, it probably isn’t good for you.
I’m not advocating commercially processed foods, but there are quite a few quick and healthy minimally processed foods out there made by small health-concious companies which deserve a mention. I listed a few of them below along with all our other favorite snacky lunch items:
– meat sticks by Shelton’s (my fave is jalapeño turkey) that don’t have added sugars or preservatives
– avocados (I could eat them for lunch every day)
– berries or sliced fruits
– yogurt with nuts or dried fruits
– raisins or your own dehydrated fruits
– jerky (haven’t found a favorite brand and we don’t yet have a dehydrator, but I love beef jerky and I’m in search of a great recipe for home-made)
– pickles or pickled vegetable mixes (we like Bubbies)
– dark chocolate with stevia instead of sugar (we love Lily’s and CocoPolo)
– frozen peas or pickle juice pops (something about the cold that my little guys love)
– hummus with veggies or Boulder Olive or Avocado Oil potato chips (both of which don’t contain added sugars)
– sweet potato chips
– cheese slices (raw if possible) or sticks (we buy yogurt cheese sticks by The Cultured Way that are lactose-free)
– pre-made grain-free or sprouted grain muffins, scones or cookies
– buckwheat pancakes with raw honey or organic maple syrup
– rolled up nitrate and sugar free meat-roll ups (like the one pictured above – Applegate Turkey lunch meat)
– nut mixes / trail mix
– guacamole or salsa with organic blue corn chips
– seasoned baked chick-peas
– quartered sprouted grain PBJ’s with St. Dalfour’s naturally sugar-free jelly/jam and organic peanut-butter (I like almond butter, but my kids hate it – and I only give them a small cut of the sandwich because we are trying to cut back on total daily sugar intake even from natural sources)
– tiny salads
– grape tomatoes
– meat/cheese/lettuce or veggie stacks (mini-breadless-sandwiches) with a sugar-free condiment like home-made “paleo mayo” or spicy mustard
– tiny sausages (always served with active “probiotic” kraut – we love our kraut)
– Half of a Peanut Butter Cookie, Pecan Pie or Apple Pie Larabar (these have dates and are super sugary – only natural sugars – so we limit these … these are our three favorite flavors, but my mom loves the Carrot Cake one… be aware that the ones with chocolate chips are not sugar-free)
– plantain chips
– unsweetened applesauce
– organic red Amish popcorn
– bacon slices (or turkey bacon)
– Snap Kitchen makes some really great cold-pressed juices without added sugars that include veggies to round out a meal
And if that isn’t enough, I found a link online with THE MOTHERLOAD of Paleo-Friendly lunch ideas and links. I’m always the last person to know things, so you probably have her bookmarked already… but Nom Nom Paleo has some super ideas at her site: Paleo Lunchbox Roundup. I can’t wait to try her zucchini noodles and meatballs idea. That will require a little more time than I’ve been able to donate to lunch hour the past couple of weeks… but we’ll see if I can squeeze it into the next menu.
Just to keep it real, here’s what we’ve eaten for the past week at lunch time:
Monday – Asian Veggie Fried Brown Rice
Tuesday – Chicken Sausage, Garlic Sour Kraut, Chopped Pan-fried Potatoes
Wednesday – Ramen Noodles (once in a blue moon treat!), Hummus, Boulder Potato Chips, Carrots, Raisins – Mom had a leftover brisket and mayo sandwich on sprouted grain bread (another once in a while treat – since me and grain, even sprouted grain, are not friends)
Thursday – on the menu: Spicy Smoky Southwest Chicken Soup (which we nixed for more sausage and kraut because we had a bunch – besides mom who had a meat stick and a Snap juice mix… and ended up moving the SW soup on the menu planner to tonight’s dinner spot)
Friday – on the menu: Snacky Lunch (or my grandma used to call it “Musco” for “everything must go” that’s in the fridge)
I’m going to have to get real creative next week since our grocery budget is already spent. I suspect that “leftovers” will be on the lunch menu a few days.
At the beginning of the school year we got an amazing box of goodies for lunch time from Annie’s and a few other items from various kitchen and school lunch product-makers …
Here are a few of the products we’ve gotten to try out that make picnics, field trips, and on-the-go homeschool lunches less difficult and wasteful (and allow you to make your “slow food” at home a little more convenient):
Bento-Ware Lunch Boxes
Cute color-coordinated Bento boxes for taking your food art (or just a regular lunch) on the go. Field-trip and Picnic friendly. (Affiliate Link)
U-Konserve Leak-proof Stainless Steel Containers
(Dishwasher safe, BPA – PVC – Phthalate – Lead FREE, food-grade stainless, super cute snack-size lunchbox companion – my fave has the see-through lid)
Squeez’Ems & Pack’Ems by Booginhead
(Both Squeez’Ems and Pack’Ems are dishwasher-safe, easy-to-clean, BPA, PVC and phthalate-free.)
What cool lunch tips do you have for the school year? What are your favorite lunchwares? What are your favorite healthy lunches? Do you teach your kids to cook at home – and if so, what meals are they good at making without your help? I’d love to see how other homeschool and stay-at-home moms feed their kiddos. I love adding new things to our menu to change things up so they don’t get dull.
This post was my Post 4 for the “Almost Back to School” series I started before school began. Sorry for being a little slow to finish it! We have had two colds, a conference, a few service projects, a fall camp, and numerous other distractions that have slowed my ability to keep up with the website during our short first 3.5 weeks of school.
Instead of covering homemaking, I decided to narrow down and focus on lunch since I needed a list of ideas before making out the rest of our October menu. I’ll have to cover chores and cleaning routines some other day. You would know this by the state of my house right now; so, feel free to send a maid over any time!
Join me as I finish up our planning and preparing phase for 2014-15 back to school in this post series…
Here are the posts, linking up as I write them…
Almost Back to School Series Intro
Post 1: Starting with God
Post 2: Getting Organized
Post 3: Planning, Scheduling & Preparing (including printables)
Homemaking Mostly Grain and Sugar Free Lunch Ideas
Post 5: 2014-15 School Year
Have an amazing – delicious – and healthy school year!