Back to Basics

5 Tricks to Not Packing the Same Lunch Every Single Day

September  2, 2016

It can feel like asking for a mountain to juggle eating well while tackling the intensity of the fall work or study load. But! If you keep a few cardinal ideas in mind—and your fridge and pantry stocked with some key players—great eating is always close by. Here are five ideas I always turn to, as chronicled on the (Not)Recipes app.

Melina Hammer
Melina Hammer
With a bunch of wild blueberries to use up (and already having made a galette) and lots of backyard purslane, I made a version of a salad from a chef who inspired me years ago. Toast some hazelnuts and crush them, shave some good hard cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano, and pulverize whatever fresh herbs you have nearby to make a loose dressing. This is perfect beat-the-heat eating. #lickingtheplate #salad #purslane #Blueberry #hazelnuts #nut #herbs #Parmesan #parmesancheese #berry

1. Always have cheese and nuts around.

Unless dairy isn't part of your repertoire, always keep a wedge of hard cheese like Parmesan in the fridge. Also have a variety of nuts, stored in jars to be reminded of their usefulness and beauty, in the pantry. This is one of the basics mentioned in my new book Kid Chef, which describes culinary fundamentals in an approachable way, to empower you or that budding chef in your life to make terrific food.

In a moment, a special-feeling salad like this one can materialize and make a salad a more substantial meal (cheese and nuts are both healthy fats).

Melina Hammer
Melina Hammer
When you cannot make one choice, make a bunch of special experiences by pairing different flavor combos on toast. Boiled potato, mustard, and chives, pork rillettes and pickled onions, sungold tomatoes and garden basil, sharp cheddar and quince paste...bonus, this makes for a super, impressive presentation. #lickingtheplate #egg #pickled #jam #cheese #potato #mustard #rillettes #tomato #basil #basilfrommygarden #pork #toast

2. Mix and match

Mix-and-match flavors make a meal feel luxurious. Food travels well on toast and is easier to handle when you're going from one class (or appointment) to the next.  Arranged neatly in a shallow container or wrapped in parchment, it's like having a picnic wherever you go.

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I make a version of these toasts when I have only a little bit of a lot of things. One egg? The last couple pickles in that jar on the top shelf? A spoonful of your favorite jam? Use flavor combinations you love, then riff on them.

Fatty cold cuts or pâté love a little puckery pickled something on top. Salty cheese says yes please to fruity jam. Late-season tomatoes and fresh herbs are instant friends. Make a mustardy mini potato salad with the remaining couple tubers staring at you from that bowl on the counter. This (not)recipe is about imagination, and not wasting bits of food.

Melina Hammer
Melina Hammer
Travel food worth eating. For a road trip out of town (and picnicking away), I arranged these simple but varied, tasty vittles: hard salami and Dijon mustard, a good variety of pickles, like cornichons and olives, a hard and soft sharp cheese, membrillo and crispy flatbreads to go with, boiled tiny potatoes, a couple juicy local tomatoes, and a shaved crunchy salad loaded with herbs. Party time. #lickingtheplate #f52party #sausage #mustard #tomato #cheese #olive #cornichon #pickle #zucchini #jalapeno #cheddar #washedrind #potato

3. Pretend you’re on a picnic

Combining quality elements—both store-bought and fresh—leaves time to focus on your latest assignment or creative project, no doubt due around the corner. Good olives or cornichons, crackers, a semi-hard cheese, membrillo or jam to go with, and some savory charcuterie, paired with a couple peak-fresh elements, all pack up well and will feed you like royalty. 

In this on-the-go feast, I boiled tiny potatoes, drained and chilled them, then day-of packed them in a little container and brought sea salt and mustard to dab them in. Leave fruit whole and pack it inside a container too, keeping a potentially bumpy itinerary a distant concern. If they're perfectly ripe, any serrated plastic knife will make juicy wedges of them in no time, a memorable high-point to your picnic adventure. And you can use the now-empty container the fruit traveled in for scraps or waste, kept tidy until you're in a place to dispose of them.

Melina Hammer
Melina Hammer
Broccoli, potato, garlicky mascarpone galette, in Parmesan-black pepper pastry. #lickingtheplate #mascarpone #broccoli #potato #egg #garlic

When toasts or a sandwich are a good idea but you want extra oomph, make a galette. Yes it takes a little extra time, but that's what weekends are for. Biting into a wedge of this pastry is happiness epitomized, perfect pick-you-up food. 

Make enough dough to freeze an extra disk (or two) in the freezer, then thaw in the fridge when you have a plan. Again, it's about flavor combinations and making a little adventure of them. This galette is the idea of a gratin or a casserole, cradled by delicious, flaky crumb. Blanch the vegetables and pat dry. Create a barrier in between the pastry and filling to help keep the pastry crisp when baking—some form of cheese is highly recommended! Fold the pastry and brush with egg wash, then chill it for at least a few hours to ensure it holding its shape when met with the screaming-hot oven.

Melina Hammer
Melina Hammer
Maybe a funny breakfast, but soothing and bright at the same time. Soba with nutty radish top pesto, quick steamed kale (just to soften the membranes), and fermented spicy green garlic. #lickingtheplate #greengarlic #pasta #breakfastbowl #soba #radishgreen #kale #breakfast #norecipe

Sometimes there is more green matter to use up in the fridge than I know what to do with—a good problem to have. Pesto is a good umbrella for all kinds of hearty greens, and makes a nourishing, filling meal when generously tossed into whole grain pasta.

In this dish, I steamed the lacinato kale and added it to the radish tops. (You could also use arugula, blanched kale, mustard greens—experiment!) A sprinkled spice or pickle/ferment garnish creates more nuance and punch. Here, I used a homemade fermented green garlic. You can use capers, quick pickled onions, thinly sliced lemon peel, chili flakes, aleppo pepper, sumac.... There are many delicious directions to travel.

Juggling the rigors of school or work, keep it simple. Be patient with yourself as you get adjusted and find your stride. Make room for "food adventure" over the weekend, lining you up for success during the next busy week. And most of all, know that amazing eating doesn't have to be complicated. 

For more tips for kid-friendly cooking, check out Melina's book.

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Melina is the author of 'A Year at Catbird Cottage' with Ten Speed Press. She grows an heirloom and pollinator garden and forages wild foods at her namesake Hudson Valley getaway, Catbird Cottage. Melina loves serving curated menus for guests from near and far seeking community amidst the hummingbirds, grosbeaks, finches, and the robust flavors of the seasons.