Beyond basic brown bag

August 28, 2002|by Lynn Little

It's time for school! Not only do we think about books and backpacks, but we also need to think about lunch - what to pack, how to pack it, how to keep it safe and appetizing, and how to fit making it in the already jam-packed schedule.

There are numerous timesaving tips and hints that make packing a quality lunch a real breeze.

Use some of these tips to transform your brown bag lunches from ho-hum to something worth digging into:

Prepare one or two weeks' worth of sandwiches ahead of time and freeze. You'll save time by having to get all the "parts" together only one time. A frozen sandwich will thaw to the perfect temperature by lunchtime. To keep bread from getting soggy, you will want to spread both slices completely with softened butter or margarine.

Not every sandwich component will freeze well - follow this guide:

  • DON'T FREEZE fresh vegetables, hard cooked egg whites, very fresh bread, jelly, or fillings that are mostly mayonnaise.

  • DO FREEZE peanut butter, cream cheese, processed cheese, lunchmeats, salads (tuna, chicken, ham, etc.) made with just enough mayonnaise to hold together.

  • Cut sandwiches into different shapes, then tightly wrap each sandwich individually in plastic wrap, over-wrap in foil, freezer paper or bags. Store sandwiches for freezing in a box to prevent crushing. Use frozen sandwiches within two weeks.

  • While you're at it, freeze cookies or brownies ahead, too. They are bagged and ready to pack, and more likely to be available when you're packing a lunch - you can avoid the "somebody ate all the cookies!" dilemma.

  • Bored with basic bread? Try a tortilla roll-up instead of a ho-hum sandwich. There are regular and wheat soft tortillas, and also flavored ones - tomato, spinach and jalapeno. These tasty wraps are accepted by even the most discriminating eaters - just refer to them as pink or green tortillas if you pack for a "veggie-avoider."

    The fillings can vary with your creativity - you can use traditional sandwich fillings such as meats and cheeses, peanut butter, hummus and cream cheese; and you can add chopped or dried fruit or fresh vegetables to provide crunch as well as nutrition!

  • If a frozen sandwich is not keeping your lunch cool, how about a frozen juice box? Look for "100 percent juice" on the label - it provides good nutrition and natural sweetness to the meal, and needed fluid for active children (and adults) who forget to get a drink through the day. Again, the frozen box will thaw by meal time, but keeps the lunch cool and appetizing as it defrosts! Keep in mind that the containers are likely to sweat while thawing, so wrap your food well to keep it from getting soggy.

  • To complete the blue-ribbon brown bag, add some sure winners such as baby carrots - they are ready to pack, super nutritious and delicious. A small bag of dry, ready-to-eat cereal adds crunch and interest to lunch, as well as providing important vitamins and minerals. Dried fruit - as simple as raisins, or as exotic as you desire - makes a durable, nutritious sweet that stands alone or dresses up yogurt or a sandwich.

  • If your child likes salads, include bits of leftover tuna, chicken or beef for added protein.

  • Jazz up peanut butter sandwiches by including sliced bananas, honey, marshmallow fluff, sliced apples or pretzels. It's not the same old sandwich anymore!

  • Instead of a plain brown bag, pack your child's lunch in an insulated container that holds a reusable cold pack. A widemouth thermos container works great for soups or chili. Use small plastic containers to store food safely.

  • You are not alone in your quest for the best brown bag lunch. There are many web sites and cookbooks available on the topic. Here are a few to checkout:

    Last, and definitely not least: Add a sticker, a thoughtful, personal note, a funny holiday napkin, or a special treat every once in awhile - it will make your day and your child's.

    Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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